Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea: The race nobody wants to win, De Gea’s errors mounting and Blues’ over-reliance on Hazard
It’s the race nobody seems to want to win.
With Manchester City and Liverpool streaking away at top speed in the Premier League, the efforts of those below them to finish in the Champions League spots is one being defined by the bad, rather than the good.
While Chelsea looked more than happy to take a point from Old Trafford, their 1-1 draw with Manchester United illustrated nicely the huge gulf between the top two and those below them.
Between them Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and United have managed one win and three draws in their last nine games. The result is that momentum has stalled and each team are limping towards the 38-game mark.
United needed a win to arrest their alarming run of form and move closer to fourth place and they started brightly, with Juan Mata finishing from Luke Shaw’s clever run and cross to score against his former club early on.
But although Marcus Rashford’s pace and Mata’s movement were causing Chelsea’s defence plenty of problems, they failed to capitalise and allowed Chelsea to level before the break through Marcos Alonso.
The second half contained more yellow cards and injuries than goalmouth action. Pedro cleared Marcos Rojo’s header off the line and Gonzalo Higuain had late sniff of a winner, but sloppy touches, over-hit passes and frequent fouls made up the bulk of the action.
Out of sync Higuain
Higuain is a man in need of some performances if he wants Chelsea to make his loan move from Juventus permanent. On this showing it’s a risk the Blues can’t take.
The 31-year-old’s showing was mainly notable for the astounding number of offside calls, with the Argentine seemingly in competition with Romelu Lukaku to rack up the most flags.
His style of play constantly saw him out of sync with the pacey Eden Hazard and Willian as counter-attacks broke down and frustration reigned supreme.
Higuain has now managed just four goals in 15 games for Chelsea. That doesn’t compare favourably to the much-maligned Alvaro Morata, who had nine in 24 before he left on loan for Atletico Madrid.
Dodgy De Gea
However, Higuain’s struggles are nothing compared to David de Gea, who gifted Alonso Chelsea’s only goal by spilling Antonio Rudiger’s long shot.
The howler means De Gea has not kept a clean sheet since 24 February and has made an error leading to a goal in three of his last four games for United, following costly mistakes against Barcelona and Manchester City.
His malaise is so bad that the Spanish goalkeeper has made more errors leading to opposition goals this season than in his previous five combined.
It’s about time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned to experienced No2 Sergio Romero.
Over-reliance on Eden
Chelsea performed better in the second half, limiting United to one chance, but their lack of fluency in attack is a worry. Two of their three shots on target came in the goal incident, with the other Higuain’s effort in the 97th minute.
The Blues looked bereft of ideas in the final third, constantly deferring responsibility to the mercurial genius of Hazard.
But with the Belgian well covered for the most part, Higuain aimless, Willian ineffective and the combination of N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic ill-suited to attacking, the overlapping run of Alonso was often the sole option.
Hazard, as usual, put in a solid display but he can’t be expected to do it all himself. Maurizio Sarri needs to add more strings to his side’s bow.