A mistake by goalkeeper David de Gea gifted Chelsea an equaliser as Manchester United’s hopes of playing in next season’s Champions League faded at Old Trafford.
With United leading through Juan Mata’s goal against his former club, De Gea spilled Antonio Rudiger’s 30-yard attempt for Marcos Alonso to level shortly before the interval.
It was a costly error by the Spaniard, whose form has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, although De Gea did come to his side’s rescue deep in stoppage time to deny Gonzalo Higuain a dramatic winner.
Up until Chelsea’s equaliser, United had been in control yet they remain sixth in the table, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with two games to play, after a third successive league game without a win.
In a competitive game, both teams suffered injuries.
After Rudiger was forced off in the 64th minute, United defender Eric Bailly, who was making his first league start since 3 February, was helped off six minutes later, while Marcus Rashford also went off.
|Race for the Premier League top four|
|5 May Brighton (H)||5 May Watford (H)||5 May Huddersfield (A)||4 May Bournemouth (A)|
|12 May Burnley (A)||12 May Leicester (A)||12 May Cardiff (H)||12 May Everton (H)|
Will Solskjaer drop De Gea?
With two games of the season left – and United’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League now out of their own hands – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is facing a dilemma regarding his goalkeeper.
The United boss had to defend De Gea before this game because of the Spaniard’s shaky form.
He was culpable for at least one of Manchester City’s two goals in United’s midweek derby defeat at Old Trafford, having been at fault for Lionel Messi’s second in the 3-0 defeat at Barcelona in the Champions League on 16 April.
“He’s for me been the best player United have had for the last six or seven years,” said Solskjaer before Chelsea’s visit. “He has been absolutely outstanding – going through tough patches is part of a footballer’s career and David will be fine.”
But De Gea was anything but fine as Rudiger let fly from 30 yards with Chelsea’s first shot on target two minutes before the interval.
It looked a routine save for a player of De Gea’s ability, but the ball spilled from his grasp and Alonso reacted quickly to tuck home his first Premier League goal since 18 August.
His save to deny Higuain in the dying moments, with the Chelsea forward clean through, saved United from defeat but De Gea’s inconsistent form remains a worry.
He has made three errors leading to goals in his last four games in all competitions – as many as in his previous 123 matches combined for the Red Devils.
United had Sergio Romero on the bench against Chelsea. The Argentine has not made a Premier League appearance since 13 May 2018 when he kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win against Watford.
It remains to be seen whether he will be called into action before the end of the season in two weeks’ time.
Who will finish in the top four?
With Tottenham losing at home to West Ham on Saturday and Arsenal losing heavily at Leicester earlier on Sunday, this result means none of the teams placed between third and sixth won over the weekend.
Five points separate Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United with 180 minutes of the Premier League season remaining.
“Points are being dropped left, right and centre in this race,” said Solskjaer.
“If you look at the league table it’s going to be difficult for us. We’ve got to make sure we turn up, win the next two games, play well and you never know.”
For United, they will hope the teams above them keep dropping points as they look to avoid missing out on a top-four spot for the third time in four seasons.
It is not too long ago that fixtures between Manchester United and Chelsea went a long way to deciding who won the Premier League and, in 2008, the Champions League.
United, who now trail leaders Manchester City by 27 points, started well – a delicious punt forward by Luke Shaw setting up Romelu Lukaku, although the Belgian remains without a top-flight goal since 2 March after Kepa Arrizabalaga saved.
Lukaku, however, was involved in his side’s goal, his pass over the top of the Chelsea defence allowing Shaw to hook it back for Mata to score on his 31st birthday.
Bailly went close to doubling the lead from a corner before De Gea’s mistake let Chelsea back into the game.
Chances were in short supply after the interval, although substitute Marcos Rojo had a header cleared off the line by Pedro.
Chelsea dig in to earn crucial point
Like United, Chelsea are also without a win in their last three league games but the Blues will be the happier of the two teams despite De Gea’s late save to deny Higuain.
Victory would have sent them level on points with third-placed Tottenham but they remain well positioned to finish in a Champions League spot.
“We need two wins. With this we are sure,” said Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri.
“We are fighting for the top four and in semi-final of the Europa League. We have done a good season. Now we need to take two very important targets.”
This was an improvement for Sarri’s men after they were held at home by Burnley and showed that they do have an appetite for a fight.
Eden Hazard was again a creative force while Alonso showed great awareness to equalise after De Gea’s gift.
Both teams struggled to create chances during a tense second half and the injury to Rudiger will be a concern to Sarri.
Man of the match – Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
United’s longest winless run since 2015 – the stats
- Manchester United have not won any of their last four games in all competitions – they have not had a longer winless run since December 2015.
- United attempted just seven shots against Chelsea – since 2003-04, they’ve only had fewer in a Premier League game at Old Trafford on four previous occasions.
- Since his Premier League debut for Chelsea in September 2016, Marcus Alonso has scored more goals than any other defender in the competition (15).
- United have kept a clean sheet in just 11% of their league games at Old Trafford this season (2/18), their lowest percentage in a single campaign since 1962-63.
- Juan Mata became the second player to score for both clubs in Premier League meetings between Chelsea and Man Utd, after Mark Hughes
Manchester United’s penultimate game of the season is at relegated Huddersfield Town next Sunday (14:00 BST) while Chelsea now turn their thoughts to Thursday’s Europa League semi-final first leg tie with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany (20:00).