Manchester United hosted Chelsea in the final round of matches for the year. They were looking to end the year on a high after a topsy-turvy campaign so far. It ended in a goalless draw however as it was a night that highlighted the prowess of two of the best goal keepers in the land.
Clashes usually between these sides over the years have been title deciders but this this time around it was a match for survival – albeit different kinds of survival. United are currently on their worst run in 17 years – winless in 7 matches in all competitions. Their last win came back on November 21st. Their last outing on Boxing Day ended in loss to 2-0 Stoke which raised further questions about the future of Manager Louis Van Gaal especially with Jose Mourinho on the market. When asked what message he gave his side before the clash the manager just had one thing to say “Win”. The Blues were also in need of a crucial win to move them farther from the bottom. This was interim coach Guus Hiddink’s second game in charge after the draw against Watford and he was searching for his first win. A game of redemption of sorts for both teams.
United made four changes to the team that lost at the Brittannia. Wayne Rooney came back into the team after being left on the bench last time out. Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger came back into the midfield and Matteo Darmian came in at left back. Memphis, Felliani, Carrick and Jones all started from the bench. Chelsea striker Diego Costa had been suspended following his 5th yellow card of the season against Watford on Boxing Day. There was a rare start for Mikel. Zouma came in for Cahill at the back with Hazard in a false nine role. Fabregas was out with a fever.
The Red Devils started the brighter of the two sides. Attacking with much more intent and verve which has become a rarity this season. It didn’t take long for them to get the first chance when Juan Mata’s shot from Rooney’s pass hit the top bar with Courtois well and truly beaten.
The way United played in the first 20 minutes was reminiscent of the United of old- with waves and waves of attacks. Martial got in on the act after beating Ivanovic one on one and cutting in onto his right foot only for his shot to hit the bottom left of the post. Rooney tested Courtois again with a long range effort but the keeper was up to it. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before they would score.
Chelsea were not totally out of it. They had chances of their own- the first one coming from a corner which was headed goal ward by John Terry only for De Gea (not for the first time this season) to produce a top draw save to deny the Blues captain. Chelsea got a foot hold into the game getting to the end of the first half. Eden Hazard was tormentor in Chief, drawing fouls from the United players with his mazy runs and dribbles. Willian was not as effective as he had been so far this season for the Blues, rarely getting the ball to have any kind of influence. The first half ended with Chelsea on top after United domination in the early periods.
The second half started in same fashion as the first but it was the Blues who got the first chance after David De Gea was forced to make a double save from first Pedro then Azpilicueta. The united shot stopper was in fine form and his was not going to be breached – at least not easily.
Ander Herrera came close but is goal bound tap in after some fine work on the left by Martial was thwarted yet again by Courtois who made a goal line save to prevent the Spaniard from scoring. Chelsea broke with Matic but is final shot was of a player who rarely scores. He skied it. Both teams seemed to run out of steam as the second half continued. United replaced Borthwick-Jackson with Darmian. Memphis for Mata and Phil Jones for Daley Blind. Chelsea substituted Willian for Ramirez with Loftus-Cheek replacing Oscar late on.
There were chances few a far between getting to the closing stages. Wayne Rooney had a chance to steal it for United but his effort from Jackson’s cross was sky high. United had two shouts for a penalty first for Willian’s hand ball and when Mata was brought down in the box by Azpilicueta but the referee was having none of it. Both teams were looking to clinch it getting to the end but it wasn’t meant to be.
The Blues will be the happier of the two sides after their title winning ship sank to the bottom half of the table. The goal for Guus Hiddink now in the New Year will be to get them back up the top half at least. They will first of all have to put the Mourinho saga behind them and get back to the form we know they are capable of producing.
It was an improved performance from United who showed more hunger and physicality that was missing in their games of late. Probably a last ditch effort from Van Gaal to save his job.
United end the year with no win in December making this a point gained rather than two lost here. They will be hoping the New Year brings with it a change in their fortunes as they look to make the top four at least. With fans calling for Van Gaal to be axed, Could he have just earned a stay of execution with a performance like this? The coming weeks will tell for sure.