Chelsea vs Manchester United: Five things we learned as Blues miss chance to jump into top four

Chelsea 0-0 Man United: Goalless at the Bridge which suits the away side more

Karl Matchett
Sunday 28 February 2021 18:33

Chelsea and Manchester United drew 0-0 in a tight and tense game in the Premier League on Sunday.

The first half saw few clear-cut chances fashioned by either side, though the home team did survive a penalty scare when VAR advised a second look at a possible Callum Hudson-Odoi handball - but the referee stuck with his original call.

A bigger sight of goal fell Chelsea’s way immediately after half-time, with Hakim Ziyech seeing a strike saved by David de Gea and the rebound falling to Reece James, whose own effort was well-blocked by Luke Shaw.

READ MORE: Premier League fixtures and table - all matches by date and kick-off time

A succession of late set-pieces threatened a winner for the home side and Scott McTominay couldn’t make the most of one counter-attack for United, but a draw was looking predictable for most of the second half as neither team really pushed for the win.

Here are five things we learned from the game at Stamford Bridge.

Wing-back battle

This would have been a good match for Gareth Southgate to take in, with no fewer than five English full-back options on show.

Thomas Tuchel hasn’t been shy about ringing the changes on a match to match basis and that was the case again here, with notable switches from recent league matches seeing Ben Chilwell start at left-wing back over Marcos Alonso and Hudson-Odoi start on the right, following his last domestic outing which saw him come on as sub before being subbed himself.

The right-sided outlet was good early on and delivered some dangerous crosses, but he was subbed at the break for another option, Reece James. Chilwell, meanwhile, showed a spark from time to time as a good outlet and was defensively solid, though perhaps a comparative lack of game time of late also showed.

United’s pair, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, put in performances which are rather familiar: the former was more impressive, adventurous in attack and committed at the back, but Wan-Bissaka had his decent moments too.

Rotating picks

Manchester United were fairly consistent with their selections in attack for the latter part of last season, but this term there has been a greater rotation based on who is in-form or fit.

Anthony Martial, for example, was very much the starting No. 9 at the top of the campaign - but his form has been largely unimpressive and it was evident here that he has fallen out of favour.

By contrast, while Dan James and Mason Greenwood both had spells out of the team and coming in at right-wing, they were both in the side on this occasion on merit after recent definitive displays.

It shows that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will continue to switch up some of his ranks if the levels drop-off - with the obvious exception of Bruno Fernandes.

Tuchel’s search for goals

There may come a game soon when Chelsea’s domination of possession and general technical level in attack leads to a non-stop glut of goals. But it hasn’t happened yet, and instead it looks very laboured and frustrating in the final 20 metres, as Tuchel refers to it.

This was the ninth game of his reign in all competitions, with no defeats as yet, but only 10 goals scored.

They are yet to score more than two in any single 90 minutes and this was a second blank, despite 14 shots and fair openings for the likes of Ziyech and Christian Pulisic.

A fair amount of work remains for the German coach in getting his team firing on all cylinders.

Questionable form

Looking at Premier League form, United might be second in the table but they’re a million miles off being title-challengers.

It’s just two wins in seven now, which at this stage of the season would usually be considered bad enough to wreck top-four hopes.

Such is this season, though, that inconsistency is rife everywhere - other than in the other half of the north west city - and a point here is more than satisfactory for United.

It keeps Chelsea at arm’s length and it’s a point more than an injury-hit Leicester managed to take against Arsenal or West Ham earned against Man City. The gap at the very top continues to widen, but from second down to fifth is the only buffer Solskjaer will be concerned with at this stage - and it remains six points.

Top-four fight

While Chelsea aren’t catching United quickly, they will sense that their own style and being difficult to beat means they have a more than fair chance of running down at least one of the Hammers and the Foxes.

Injuries are really affecting the latter at the moment and the depth available to Tuchel could prove a massive difference.

On the other hand, this was the second of a much tougher run for Chelsea; Liverpool, Everton, Leeds and Atletico all await in the couple of weeks ahead.

They’ll need to discover that missing clinical edge as well as not put a foot wrong against sides who have shown they’re able to turn it on in big games this season, so despite quiet optimism at the Bridge it’s still not an absolute given they are doing enough just yet.

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