Defensive improvements from both teams as Manchester United held to dull draw by Chelsea

James Ducker
·23-min read
Manchester United vs Chelsea, Premier League: live score and latest updates - OFFSIDE
Manchester United vs Chelsea, Premier League: live score and latest updates - OFFSIDE

Considering that Manchester United conceded six in their last outing at Old Trafford and Chelsea shipped three in their previous Premier League match, it is possible to argue that there was progress of a kind here. Perhaps the desperation to avoid any more defensive capitulations was partly responsible for the crippling of attacking intent on a wretched night in Manchester but, after a free-scoring start to the top flight season, this felt a particularly hard watch.

Chelsea had their goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy, to thank for the clean sheet and point, the Senegal international’s occasional eccentricities with the ball at his feet overshadowed by a handful of acrobatic saves to deny Marcus Rashford, twice, and Juan Mata.

United? Well, it was an improvement on the 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Spurs but then what wouldn’t be? Still, after a morale boosting victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday night, this was something of a leveller and, for the first time since 1972, United have failed to win any of their opening three home league matches. That is just six wins from their past 13 matches at Old Trafford in all competitions now.

If anyone was going to win it by the end, it was probably United but they were fortunate Harry Maguire was not penalised for putting Cesar Azpilicueta in a choke hold in the first half. “I thought it was a clear penalty,” said Frank Lampard, the Chelsea manager.

Edinson Cavani almost made an instant impact on his United debut, flicking the ball an inch wide of a post, but after seven months out, it is likely to take a while for the Uruguay striker to find his fitness and rhythm. United missed the suspended Anthony Martial and Daniel James once again looked out of his depth. “Overall an even game but I felt if there was going to be a winner it could have been us with those chances,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said

Edouard Mendy had a solid day in goal for Chelsea as Paul Pogba started on the bench for the hosts - AFP 
Edouard Mendy had a solid day in goal for Chelsea as Paul Pogba started on the bench for the hosts - AFP

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Having conceded three against Southampton and three at West Brom, Chelsea have had two goalless draws in the space of five days but their search for some solidity at the back came at the expense of any attacking nous or impetus. But for a booking and his substitution, it was easy to forget Kai Havertz was playing and an isolated, frustrated Timo Werner made no headway either. At least United tested Mendy. The game was in stoppage time when he beat away a bending drive from Rashford that was heading for the top corner. “He showed what he’s there for, we brought him in because of his quality and those are the moments you rely upon him for,” Lampard said.

It was a foul night and, all things considered, a foul game. Chelsea saw a lot of the ball early on but were much too passive with it and never really threatened to cut United open, with David De Gea virtually unemployed. United set up very defensively and it showed. In one 10-minute passage, they failed to reach Chelsea’s final third once but they finished the first half stronger and looked the more likely scorers after the interval. Mendy made two excellent saves in the opening period, the first with his right leg from Rashford after Bruno Fernandes and Juan Mata had combined to carve the opening, the second a diving effort to push away Mata’s curling shot.

There was a brief fingers over the eyes moment when, head down and needlessly panicked, Mendy almost passed the ball into his own net after a botched attempt to square the ball to Thiago Silva. Kepa Arrizabalaga lost Lampard’s trust with moments like that but, in the main, the £22 million signing from Rennes had a good night. 

With the rain lashing down, the conditions did not help anyone but both attacks felt muzzled. Christian Pulisic got one sniff of goal when the Chelsea forward seized on an error in the middle by Fred but his shot skidded wide of De Gea’s far post. 

There was another let off for United soon after, when Maguire, back after injury, locked his left arm around Azpilicueta’s neck as they challenged for a header so what were VAR and referee Martin Atkinson doing? “I don’t understand that, it was a pretty simple decision for VAR to give, it was not a difficult one,” Lampard said.

After the success of his 3-4-1-2 system against PSG, Solskjaer reverted to four at the back. Paul Pogba was on the bench again but at least got on in the second half as Solskjaer switched to a 4-2-2-2, which was more than could be said for Donny van de Beek, who looked on disconsolately from the stands. Solskjaer has had enough trouble trying to fit Pogba and Fernandes into his team, let alone factoring in Van de Beek, although the biggest surprise of the night was the inclusion of James for only his fifth league start in eight months. The Wales winger had looked positively lost in the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Chelsea at Wembley in July and it was much the same story here on the left flank. It was certainly no surprise to see United keep gravitating towards the right.

James was eventually hooked shortly before the hour mark for debutant Cavani, who came close to scoring seconds after coming on when he flicked Fernandes’s cross towards the foot of the near post. “He’s had a great impact on the training ground already but we know he needs game time to get his sharpness,” Solskjaer said of Cavani.

Lampard dragged off Havertz and Werner and flung on Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham in search of some inspiration of his own but it made little difference. All told, a game to forget.

06:34 PM

James Ducker's player ratings

Manchester United (4-2-3-1)

De Gea 6; Wan-Bissaka 6, Lindelof 6, Maguire 6, Shaw 6; McTominay 6, Fred 6; Mata 6, Fernandes 6, James 4; Rashford 6.

Chelsea (3-4-3)

Mendy 7; Azpilicueta 6, Silva 6, Zouma 6; James 7, Kante 6, Jorginho 6, Chilwell 6; Havertz 4, Werner 5, Pulisic 6.

06:22 PM

FULL TIME

Garbage. Some interesting tactical bits to talk about, a first look at Cavani in a United shirt, Mendy was excellent, but this was dull dull dull. United struggle at home again.

06:21 PM

90 mins+4 - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Pogba has been the best player on the pitch since coming on but he is standing in all the same positions that Fernandes wants to be in, neutralising his threat. Fernandes doesn't really seem to know where to go to get involved. 

Time for one last attack. United have the ball.

06:19 PM

90 mins+1 - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

WHAT A SAVE! Wow. Rashford almost wins it for United with a powerful curling effort on the edge of the box after a well worked move, but Mendy anticipates it and dives early to turn the ball away with a brilliant block. 

06:18 PM

90 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Neither team seems desperate to win here. Both absolutely fine with not losing. United the most likely to make something happen though and are pushing for a goal now, keeping Chelsea pinned back in their own defensive third.

06:15 PM

88 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

United panic defend a Chelsea free-kick. Greenwood is left two v one on the wing so obviously Chelsea do that, James crosses in, Rashford loses the ball on the edge of his own area, Chilwell tries to thread it in, Fred scuffs a clearance miles into the air... and then Jorginho boots a shot high and over. 

Pogba has just pulled off another brilliant piece of skill to rescue a poor pass that would have put his team in danger had it not been saved! He doesn't control on his right foot, lets the ball run a millisecond longer than most might, shields it then takes the ball on his left. The move comes to nothing but that bit was at least entertaining.

06:12 PM

85 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Greenwood comes on for McTominay. That will change the shape again to... something else. I think Fernandes is in a midfield two with Fred now. It might even be a 4-3-3 but the wide attacker is the full-back when United get forward.

06:08 PM

82 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

United win a corner. Fernandes is drifting all around the pitch, almost like he has a free role, but because he and Pogba want to be central it means the shape is like a 4-2-2-2 but one of the strikers is wide. I can't quite figure it out. Seems more like the players have just been told to figure it out but I assume there's lot more behind it than that. Impossible to tell without actually being in the stadium to watch, which of course nobody is allowed to do (except staff and certain selected journalists, of course!).

06:05 PM

79 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

The referee cruelly books national treasure Rashford for sliding in late on Mount. How dare he.

McTominay has just fallen to the floor reacting to an injury that seems to have come out of absolutely nowhere. He falls to the floor, winces, then gets up again. 

This is a game of two teams just blocking each other. So cautious, dull, very tactical. 

06:02 PM

76 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

United don't seem to have a particularly organised press now, just a bunch of bodies behind the ball and no clear plan as to how to win it back. Pulisic goes down after McTominay slides in hard to win a 50/50. Doesn't look too bad but Pulisic has felt it. 

05:59 PM

73 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Rashford cleverly anticipates the foul from Azpilicueta and wins his side a free-kick. 

Abraham and Mount replace Werner and Havertz. No change in system for Lampard, just a like for like swap, although both players are quickly over to put pressure on Shaw and Maguire on United's left side. 

05:57 PM

70 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Rashford is played in behind, brings the ball down, chops onto his stronger foot and has a shot blocked. 

Cavani makes a decent run into the channel but crosses to nobody in the box. 

05:55 PM

68 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

I'm going to attempt to summarise this match with one word to demonstrate my phenomenal vocabulary, to describe events poetically as though on the page of a literary classic:

Blllllllllllluuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrgghghghhhhhghgg

05:51 PM

65 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Wow. What a touch by Pogba. He's just plucked the ball out of the air from a long goal kick while challenged by Havertz and taken United up the pitch with one quick move. Absolutely superb. 

Chelsea are starting to find space to attack quickly now especially since Fred and Shaw are both on yellow cards and unable to bring them down. It might be worth bringing on someone to replace Fred just to allow for another booking. 

05:48 PM

62 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Reece James has just whipped an unbelievable cross over to the back post, hitting it early as Shaw gives him too much space on the wing. Pulisic is about 0.00001 of a second away from getting a touch on it. 

05:47 PM

60 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

James and Mata off, on come Pogba and Cavani. That's almost exactly what I'd have done too. Rashford can go to the wing, James on the other, Cavani through the middle. 

CAVANI ALMOST SCORES WITH HIS FIRST TOUCH! A corner is played short, curled in from the corner of the box and Cavani gets across the defender to flick a shot onto the outside of the post. 

It looks like Pogba is on as a 10 with Fernandes now on the right wing.

05:44 PM

57 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

United stroke it about until Maguire hits a dreadful long pass straight to Chelsea, lucky that the ball comes straight back. The second half is about as entertaining as the first. OGS about to make some changes.

05:41 PM

54 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Great passing move by Chelsea! They stay patient, work the ball around, Havertz links to Werner, who gets to the box and shoots... but it's blocked. James has missed an easy interception on Havertz and allowed Chelsea to move forward until Wan-Bissaka steps in to win possession back. 

Zouma then kicks a long pass out for a goal kick.

05:38 PM

51 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

I'm sure Dan James is a lovely boy but my god he's really lacking in the final third. His first touch is fine, he can run at speed with the ball, and I don't want to criticise him because it feels harsh, but he's not Man Utd level at the moment. He's just been able to take on Azpilicueta 1 v 1 on the edge of the area and chooses to run directly into other players rather than the space to Azpi's right, losing possession easily. A massive chance gone there. Mason Greenwood would most likely have created *something* - running into bodies was probably the one thing he shouldn't have done there.

05:35 PM

48 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Both teams have fully committed to killing the game at halfway. Fred is the latest to go in the book for tripping Havertz, stopping an attack before anything happens. This United performance reminds me a lot of most of Pochettino's Spurs games, waiting at halfway, fouling anyone who gets past, and stealing a win with a bit of quality. 

05:33 PM

KICK OFF 2

We're back. Hooray.

05:30 PM

The wonders of VAR

Even Number One Man Utd Patrice Evra says this should be a penalty. Harry Maguire's gotten away with one here. 

05:17 PM

HALF TIME

Nothing happened, Rashford had a chance, the half ended. Both teams playing it really safe, preventing counter-attacks at halfway with tactical fouls. Neither side deserve to win this. Changes at half time please!

05:15 PM

44 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

United have a corner while their striker is off the pitch receiving treatment, Chelsea clear it. This game has been so boring. So boring.

05:12 PM

41 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Shaw is booked for two clear fouls on James, trying to haul him back after reading the play badly and then mistiming his run. Shaw has been all over the place tonight, a yard short of pace of the game, lacking confidence or the vision to move the ball forward. Every time he gets the ball it goes backwards, even in the final third.

Azpilicueta wants a penalty from the free-kick and claims he's held by Maguire. The replay shows Maguire cuddling Azpilicueta, with both arms around his neck. I'm not really sure how that isn't a foul. It's one of those we just accept, like having a magical number of minutes added on at the end of games.

Mendy has just saved a shot bent into the corner by Mata, diving across his goal to turn it behind. 

Var is checking a foul on Rashford for a penalty.

05:08 PM

38 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

HERE'S THE CHANCE FOR UNITED! And he's missed. Possession is turned over, The Chelsea defence are caught out of position, Rashford runs into space and only has the goalkeeper to beat! He hits a low shot to the far corner but is denied by the goalkeeper, who comes off his line early to make a great save.

05:04 PM

35 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Fred tries to pirouette after losing control of a slippy ball but misses it and gives Pulisic the chance to attack. He drives at the defence, gets to the box and hits a low show to the far corner, which takes a deflection and fizzes wide. The corner is cleared.

05:02 PM

32 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

OOOOOHHHHHH MENDY! The Chelsea goalkeeper almost passes the ball directly into his own goal! Mendy controls, spins and passes to his right to find Silva but misses his own goal by about a yard. Can you even imagine.

The corner results in a few Man Utd players rolling around the floor under the attention of their various markers and Fernandes tries a shot from distance which Mendy catches. A crucial confidence builder for the goalie.

05:00 PM

29 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Chelsea have a free-kick wide on the left and James tries to catch De Gea out at his near post with a cheeky curled shot. Easily caught.

McTominay has a shot blocked by Pulisic on the edge of the area. 

04:56 PM

26 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Chelsea have had 66 per cent of possession so far, which is more or less what OGS will want because the plan is to counter-attack and win on the break, but it's perhaps a little Chelsea heavy even then. Rashford has a chance to run at defenders and wins a corner. 

Maguire meets the header but Werner clears. United start from the back again.

Mata drops deep to receive, sprints into space and waits for Shaw to figure out the next pass... waits... waits more... the pass is struck directly into a defender and the chance is gone.

04:52 PM

23 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

A close up camera has caught Fernandes giving Jorginho a wee slap round the back of the head for no apparent reason. Nothing's been done about it. It doesn't really matter anyway.

This game is not very exciting. In fact... it might be bad. I think it's a bad game. Like a training match between two teams who think next goal wins.

04:50 PM

20 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Maguire doesn't put near enough power on a clearance and just hooks the ball back to pressing Chelsea players, who manage to win a corner. 

United get it away, Chelsea recycle and build again until McTominay tackles to give away a throw-in. Chelsea look dangerous on the attack here, with plenty of numbers forward. The thing is, United have heaps back too.

04:47 PM

17 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

United are waiting for Chelsea to get to halfway before starting the press and it's making the game pretty boring so far. Or it is until eventually Chelsea manage to find a way to pass through the block and Kante threads one in for Werner.... which is intercepted. And now United can pass around. Chelsea pressing pretty high up the pitch.

04:44 PM

14 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Jorginho looks for an early ball forward over the top but Maguire is aware and easily intercepts the long pass. It's not hugely exciting so far, both sides really cautious.

04:42 PM

12 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Fred is frustrated with James not reading his pass... and already the Welshman seems to be a little off the pace of this game. 

Still more rain. Lots of rain. Pretty sure I just saw a shark's fin swimming around the midfield.

Chelsea's back five blocking anything United try to do in the final third at the moment.

04:40 PM

9 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

McTominay loses the ball twice in very quick succession while trying to thread the ball through the lines but both times the pass is read and intercepted. 

04:37 PM

7 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Sky Sports cameras have located Dean Henderson eating what looks like one of those apple pie protein bars that you get. Now he's ready. READY FOR GOALKEEPING!

04:35 PM

5 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

Another brilliant touch by Mata! He races with McTominay to a loose ball that Lindelof heads away and flicks it behind his heel to ensure the team keeps possession. 

The sound of the rain is so audible without fake crowd noise that I feel like I should be wearing a jacket inside.

04:33 PM

3 mins - Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0

What a touch by Mata. He manages to control a dropping ball and avoid a 50/50 challenge with one little bit of control but James isn't on the same wavelength and runs away from the pass Mata then plays. My god the rain is... there is a lot of it. There is a lot of rain. You can see the trail of the water when players pass it.

04:31 PM

KICK OFF

Here we go! Havertz gets the game started. 

04:27 PM

The weather is not good

Absolutely pelting it down. Power slide tackles at the ready, guys, please. Shots along the ground should be able to build up so much speed they get fire trails, which we obviously won't be able to see because the rain will put them out. 

04:18 PM

Lampard interview

We're doing OK, we can do better no doubt. There are teams trying to find form and we're one of those. The result was midweek, what we're looking for keeping a cleansheet. Scoring goals hasn't been a problem but we're coming to a very good team. We've got players that are finding fitness, are making relationships in the team.

Play with real organisation, be confident, we can give Man Utd a problem. They're finding their feet and I believe they will.

04:08 PM

OGS interview

This isn't word for word perfect but I've typed a lot today so please forgive my rusting hands.

It's something we want to do this time, we travelled this week, the atmosphere's been good, we keep going.

Sometimes you know you have to reward players who play well and there's a few players there who deserve to tb ein the team, and this is the best setup against the team we thought it (would be). 

Every substitute is match dependent, I hope to get him on the pitch in a comfortable position but if not he can be a threat off the bench as he's looked in training.

04:03 PM

Chelsea's goalkeeper

I'm not sure anyone really saw Petr Cech being announced as a Chelsea squad member but it happened and today Kepa isn't even in the squad. The new number one appears to be Edouard Mendy, who only six years ago was living off unemployment benefits to survive. What a story. You can find out more about that in Mike McGrath's article on him here.

“Back then when I got the message from my agent at the time, I started immediately back with the club I trained when I was young, Le Havre Athletic,” Mendy said. “I trained with the reserves every morning and in the afternoon I would go to the gym or practise shot-stopping with my brother.  

“I had the unemployment support at that time so I could dedicate myself totally to football. But it was incredibly difficult. My partner was expecting our first baby so the unemployment support was not going to be enough for us and we needed something else. 

03:45 PM

No Telles in the squad

I've just thought that the reason for United's return to a system with a back four is that Alex Telles isn't (or must not be) available for the game. Shaw plays left centre-back in the 3-4-1-2.

Also, the weird thing is that I'd seven of United's best players are actually starting on the bench today: Henderson, Tuanzebe, Matic, Pogba, Van de Beek, Cavani and Greenwood.

03:36 PM

Starting lineups - Cavani on the bench

Harry Maguire is back in the side at the expense of Tuanzebe, even though Tuanzebe played better against PSG than Maguire has for about an entire season... but the real surprise is that OGS has opted for a 4-2-3-1 rather than 3-4-1-2. And even more interesting is that Fred and McTominay are preferred to Pogba and Matic.

Martial misses out, as does Greenwood, which means Mata and James come in. Not sure about that choice, even if Mata has been excellent so far this season. 

Chelsea have gone for a back three, with Lampard switching to the 3-4-3 which worked so well against United last time. It could even be a 3-4-2-1 with Havertz and Pulisic behind Werner.

03:21 PM

The (empty) Theatre of Dreams

Hello there and welcome to our liveblog for Man Utd vs Chelsea, a match between two teams fighting for a Champions League place having had pre-season ambitions of the title. It's not that those of have diminished, just that Everton have been a lot better than anyone really expected, and also Aston Villa and Leeds are now going to win the league. Nobody could have seen it coming.

Of course, either Chelsea or Man Utd could actually win the league this season because the whole table has gone a bit nuts. Liverpool and Man City are nowhere near it, the early season form of the unexpecteds surely cannot continue, and the squads of both these teams are filled with superstars. Now they just have to start playing well.

United looked excellent against PSG midweek. If OGS can get a similar performance out of his players today they could do real damage to Frank Lampard's side, who are great going forward when it all clicks into place, but have been flimsy at the back and susceptible to conceding plenty of chances - let along goals.

There are signs that Kai Havertz and Timo Werner are starting to find form, and it'll be interesting to see whether Man Utd line up in a 3-4-1-2 or 4-3-3 to take Chelsea on. Solskjaer has tended to opt for a back three against Chelsea in the past, with Lampard mirroring that setup, and getting Axel Tuanzebe in the XI after his performance against PSG feels like the right thing to do. 

Team news will be with us at 4:30 and we'll find out what OGS' thinking is then, but it might not be a surprise if Paul Pogba is left out. James Ducker crunched the numbers this week and discovered that United are much better without him in the big games...

Kick off is 5:30, we'll be bringing you live update and analysis throughout so stick around and read along as we cover this match, which judging by recent form should end about 17-9 to one of the teams.