Manchester United lost further ground at the top of the Premier League table as they drew 0-0 at Chelsea on Sunday, Thomas Tuchel’s men benefiting from a contentious call relating to a potential penalty against them.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side came into the weekend 10 points adrift of pacesetters Manchester City, but this draw coupled with the leaders’ 2-1 win at West Ham on Saturday saw the gap increase to 12 as Pep Guardiola closes in on another Premier League title.
While a win for United at Stamford Bridge would not have changed a great deal, they will likely feel hard done by, as Callum Hudson-Odoi escaped unpunished when handling the ball in his own area during the first period.
Both sides had their chances after the interval but neither managed to apply the finishing touch, meaning for the first time in the five meetings between Tuchel and Solskjaer, the away manager could not leave with the spoils.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 28, 2021
A fast and furious first half saw the two teams largely cancel each other out with their comparable high-pressing setups and solid defensive work, but United were controversially denied the chance to take an early lead.
Marcus Rashford’s free-kick stung the hands of Edouard Mendy before dropping between Hudson-Odoi and Mason Greenwood, with the ball clearly hitting the hand of the Chelsea wing-back, yet referee Stuart Attwell refused to award a penalty even after going to the pitchside monitor.
Hudson-Odoi had a more positive impact just after the half-hour mark when Olivier Giroud nearly met his early cross, though chances at either end were a rarity otherwise.
Chelsea were straight on the front foot after the break, with David de Gea forced into a reflex save by Hakim Ziyech before Luke Shaw vitally blocked the rebound from Reece James – introduced at the interval for the injured Hudson-Odoi.
But United soon woke up again, with Greenwood shooting agonisingly wide of the top-left corner and Scott McTominay testing Mendy after a well-placed cut-back from Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Timo Werner was denied a tap-in by Victor Lindelof and McTominay squandered a counter-attacking opportunity in the latter stages, with the game ultimately destined to end goalless.
What does it mean? – United once again blunted by ‘big six’ opposition
While things could of course be worse for the Red Devils – after all, they are second in the table – once again they have failed to sparkle from an attacking perspective against the top teams.
This was the sixth successive league game against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, City or Spurs in which they have failed to score a single goal.
Early on in Solskjaer’s tenure, they made a habit of turning up in such games and showcasing a real clinical nature, but it seems the better teams have become wise to their threats.
Fernandes falls flat
Bruno Fernandes’ form against better teams has long been questioned, with critics giving rise to the idea he is not as effective against such opposition, and his performance here will do little to hush them.
He only managed to play one key pass on Sunday and his distribution was generally poor, with only 71.4 per cent of his passes finding a team-mate, with only Dan James lower (65).
While one would not necessarily expect his accuracy to be outstanding due to the fact he plays risky balls often, it went hand-in-hand with some sloppy play.
0 – Thomas Tuchel has become just the second manager to see his side keep a clean sheet in his first four home matches in the Premier League, after Brendan Rodgers in 2011-12 with Swansea City. Groundwork. pic.twitter.com/cxnewGOdY0
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 28, 2021
Kante keeps Chelsea tight
While it perhaps was not a game for outstanding displays of technical brilliance, Kante was mightily effective off the ball. His seven tackles and four interceptions were both match highs, with the Frenchman helping to keep Fernandes under wraps.
Key Opta Facts:
– This fixture has finished goalless in both matches in a league campaign for just the second time, the other occasion coming in 1921-22.
– United are now unbeaten in 20 away league matches (W13 D7), a run that started in this exact fixture last season.
– That is the joint-fifth-longest run without an away defeat in top-flight history, the only longer runs coming from Arsenal (27 and 23), Liverpool (21) and Nottingham Forest (21).
– Chelsea have drawn 0-0 against an opponent home and away in the Premier League in a single season for the first time since 2008-09 vs Everton, while Man Utd last did so against Aston Villa in 1996-97.
– The Blues have failed to score in their last four league games against Man Utd, attempting a total of 59 shots in these matches.
– It is the first time they have gone four top-flight league games without scoring against an opponent since 1958-1960 vs Bolton Wanderers.
Another tricky test awaits Chelsea and Tuchel on Thursday as they go to Liverpool 24 hours after United return to London for a meeting with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
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