Ralf Rangnick will have seen this match as he prepares to take over as Manchester United’s interim manager and pondered what he would inherit. At the very least, in a game they were expected to lose, the team showed some fight. A draw against the league leaders is undoubtedly commendable, and a huge improvement over the mess against Watford that led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dismissal.

But this was the ultimate against-the-odds, smash-and-grab effort, topped off with a healthy dose of luck. United earned what was unanimously hailed as a “huge point,” even if it served as a reminder of how far they are behind Chelsea, Manchester City, and Liverpool. Nonetheless, it will be a start.

Chelsea will likewise be perplexed – but in their case, how they did not win given their near-total control, as the draw reduced their lead over City to a point. They are the second-highest scorers in the Premier League, after Liverpool, but they are also wasteful – it was not Timo Werner’s day (again), and the displeasure was summed up in injury time when Thomas Tuchel was booked for protesting.

Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo was offside, but the head coach’s vehemence reflected his overflowing fury as chance after chance went begging. He’ll be hoping that Romelu Lukaku, another second-half substitute, will be fit and firing shortly.

Despite the fact that Rangnick is not yet physically there, it felt as if his influence was seen on Michael Carrick’s team selection, even if the caretaker disputed it, with Ronaldo being benched until he came on for goalscorer Jadon Sancho (which seemed a curious change).

Suddenly, the level of Ronaldo’s involvement appears to be a season-long trend, as he strolled right down the tunnel at the conclusion, no handshakes, no appreciation of the crowd.

In any case, eliminating Ronaldo makes it easier for Rangnick to follow suit if he so desires. With United’s technical director Darren Fletcher on the bench and carrying an earpiece, there could have been even more involvement from the German.

If this is Carrick’s final game – he might play against Arsenal at home on Thursday while Rangnick awaits his work permit – he will believe that he has at the very least stopped the bleeding with a valiant performance following the Champions League victory against Villarreal.

This was not a pleasant game, which is understandable given United’s predicament. Still, they only had three shots compared against Chelsea’s 24, and they only had seven touches in their opponent’s penalty area compared to Chelsea’s 46.

When the team sheets arrived, United’s plan was clear: a midfield of Fred, Nemanja Matic, and Scott McTominay – who almost became an auxiliary centre-back – was selected, with Bruno Fernandes playing as a “false” nine, a role he found difficult to execute. Both goals, with Chelsea captain Jorginho – who will find out if he has won the Ballon d’Or on Monday – at the heart of them, summed up the slightly unsatisfactory character of it all. “We scored two goals, one for each side,” Tuchel lamented, and it was scarcely United’s finest player’s touch that allowed them to score.

It was particularly fitting since it came after Fernandes‘ amateurish clearing from his own penalty area. Jorginho let the ball bounce terribly off his shin, allowing Sancho to sweep the ball away and find himself free on goal with Marcus Rashford nearby. Sancho shimmied to fool Edouard Mendy before side-footing in his second goal in as many games following a rocky start to his United career.

Chelsea was taken aback. Jorginho was taken aback. They’d been so powerful, yet they’d fallen behind. United had something to cling to, but they weren’t good enough to do so.

The pressure mounted after Werner’s clumsy sliced shot from a corner was a woeful miss, before Chelsea were awarded the penalty that allowed Jorginho a chance to redeem himself. He grabbed it with both hands.


Aaron Wan-Bissaka was at fault for catching Thiago Silva after swinging violently at an attempted clearance. The kick was allowed despite United’s protests, and Jorginho performed his little stutter in the build-up before sending David de Gea the wrong way. Chelsea pushed forward even more as Tuchel turned to the crowd and demanded more noise.

It felt like one team came to play and the other came to play for a draw at times.

United’s strategy was crystal clear. They didn’t have a touch of the ball in the Chelsea area until the 44th minute, when Fred was easily blocked by Antonio Rudiger, and they should have been behind by then.

The pressure mounted after Werner’s clumsy sliced shot from a corner was a woeful miss, before Chelsea were awarded the penalty that allowed Jorginho a chance to redeem himself. He grabbed it with both hands.

With Harry Maguire out, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly, the team’s key defensive combination, got off to a shaky start before settling into the game. Callum Hudson-Odoi collected a header and ran clear, only for De Gea to turn his effort away with his outstretched left leg. The ball was then passed to Hudson-Odoi, who fired a stunning right-footed drive from 25 yards past De Gea and off the crossbar, sending the goalkeeper flying into a post.

Rudiger shook his head then, and again at the last whistle, when he volleyed wildly over the bar with the last kick after being picked out unguarded at the far post. It summed up Chelsea’s wastefulness and United’s luck.

 

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