Manchester United ended a run of four straight defeats in all competitions as they drew 0-0 with Chelsea on Monday, alleviating a small amount of pressure on Louis van Gaal.
The United boss had urged his team to be brave for the visit of the champions and they began firmly on the front foot, with both Juan Mata and Anthony Martial striking the woodwork in the first half.
David de Gea made fine saves from John Terry and Pedro but the home side were in control for the majority of the opening hour against a Chelsea team lacking any real punch in attack without the suspended Diego Costa or the injured Loic Remy.
The game was more balanced in the second half, with Nemanja Matic wasting a glorious chance for Chelsea shortly after Ander Herrera almost broke the deadlock as Guus Hiddink’s side sat deep and played primarily on the counter.
United continued to push for a winner – Wayne Rooney volleying their best chance over with four minutes to go – but, with only three goals scored in the last three league meetings between the sides at Old Trafford, a sense of inevitability over a stalemate began to settle on the occasion in the closing stages.
Mata was inches away from giving United an ideal start against his old club as he rattled the crossbar in the third minute with a fierce half-volley from just inside the area.
De Gea reacted superbly to tip Terry’s header over the top from a Willian corner but the woodwork came to Chelsea’s rescue again when Martial cut in and hit the inside of the near post with a low drive.
United were comfortably in charge and Thibaut Courtois was called into action again in the 28th minute to tip the recalled Rooney’s drive from 25 yards over the crossbar, but it was De Gea who made the next key stop with a brilliant double-save to deny Pedro and then Cesar Azpilicueta on the follow-up just after half-time.
Martial continued to give Branislav Ivanovic a torrid time and another surging run saw him cross for Herrera in the six-yard box, but Courtois reacted superbly to block his effort and claw the ball away from the line.
United were on top but Matic spurned a glorious chance on the counter-attack to give Chelsea the lead as he blazed over with only De Gea to beat after being played clean through by Pedro.
With the pace of the game ebbing away, United threw on Memphis Depay to increase the pace in attack as they pushed to seal that first win since their visit to Watford on November 21.
And they could have snatched it late on, Rooney wastefully volleying over at the far post after a fine cross from substitute Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.
Key Opta stats:
– Manchester United’s winless run of eight games in all competitions is their worst since January 1990 (also eight games).
– Five of Manchester United’s last eight games at Old Trafford in all competitions have ended goalless.
– Guus Hiddink hasn’t lost any of his last five competitive contests with Louis van Gaal (W4 D1).
– Hiddink has dropped four points in two games as Chelsea boss this season, one fewer than he did in 13 games in 2008-09.
– This is United’s lowest points total after 19 games of a league season since 1990 (22 points then, 30 this season).