It was a game of fine margins as Manchester United saw out a 0-0 draw against Chelsea to remain second in the Premier League. We started more slowly than the opposition, to begin with. It was about getting through the first phase of play, without conceding as we relied on the counter attack. The first half saw both sides create half-decent chances but both teams were unable to convert them. Though we should have had a penalty for Callum Hudson-Odoi’s handball, the referee stuck to his original decision after VAR asked him to look again.
The second half saw a more sustained attack from Chelsea as the United defence held their own. David De Gea saved superbly from Hakim Ziyech’s strike, with the ball falling to Reece James who’s shot was excellently blocked by Luke Shaw. Late on, Scott McTominay was not able to make the most of a United counter-attack. United did not really look like they were pushing for the win as the game ended in the inevitable draw.
Here is a look at five things we learned from the game.
1. United left frustrated by refereeing decision
The main talking point of the game was when Callum Hudson-Odoi had handled the ball inside his own six-yard box. Watching the game live, I thought he might have handballed it or it could have been Mason Greenwood. Clearly from the replay, it was the Chelsea player who had committed the offence. It can be argued that as the ball was moving away from the goal Greenwood’s arm was near the ball at the time, but this is irrelevant.
United and the fans themselves felt we were denied a clear and obvious penalty. The VAR referee intervened and asked on-field referee Stuart Atwell to take another look. He went over to the monitor and decided to stick with his original decision and no penalty was given.
There was more controversy after the game when Luke Shaw had claimed in an interview with Sky Sports that “the ref even said to Maguire, I heard him say if I say it’s a penalty then it’s going to cause a lot of talk about it after so I don’t know what happened there. Maguire said that they got told it was a penalty by VAR”. Manchester United have since denied this was the case. They told the Manchester Evening News that Shaw had misheard the exchange between the referee and Maguire.
During the first half of the season, United had been given a number of decisions through VAR with a few exceptions. However, since Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp argued that we are getting too many penalties, it seems that referees and VAR are afraid to give decisions in our favour, for fear of upsetting other clubs. It is becoming a bit of concern because there have been a number of incidents that have gone against us since the start of the year. Notably the wrongly allowed and disallowed goals in the Sheffield United game at the end of January. It clearly highlights an inconsistency in how games are being managed, by the officials.
2. Lacked cutting edge in the final third
Bruno Fernandes did not have his best game as he struggled to influence the game with his creativity. However, it was not just him who was lacking the cutting edge. Mason Greenwood created a good chance for himself through his footwork, but the ball went over the bar. Marcus Rashford also had a chance whilst on the left side of the box, but could not take the opportunity.
I thought Martial would have been the game-changer for us when he came on. However, I hardly saw him. I know he barely had fifteen minutes on the pitch but the Frenchman has the ability to make the difference, which he clearly has not done in games this season. We had decent chances, but so did Chelsea through Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic.
The concern is that our record against the top six this season has been woeful, as United have not won any games. The only goal we have scored was in the 6-1 defeat against Tottenham, and that was a penalty. We have failed to score a goal in open play, against any of these teams. There is still work to be done by Ole. We need to start to turn these draws against the top six into wins.
3. Pressed well but our passing went astray
Both sides did not have the desired quality on the ball during the game. Passes went astray and players touches were heavy at times. United pressed well especially towards the end of the first half as we pushed Chelsea back into their own half. Greenwood and James were effective in this process. When we had won the ball back, we were not able to do much with it. Bruno Fernandes was also having an off day, as some of his final balls did not find their intended target.
4. Woeful record against the top six clubs
February saw United drop points against Sheffield United and Everton. This meant United had to make ground in the league by getting points against the top six clubs. During the first half of the season, our record against these clubs was woeful. United were unable to grab all three points against Chelsea. In reality, we are in a good position at the moment. We are six points ahead of the Blues, four points ahead of West Ham, and one point ahead of Leicester City. We need to step up our form as we look to cement our second placed position in the league, but we have the difficult game against Manchester City to come.
5. Solskjær’s Rotation of Players
In the latter part of last season, the United attack was fairly consistent in terms of players. This season, there has been a greater rotation based on players who are in form or fit. Anthony Martial was the main forward leading the line at the beginning of the league season. His form has dipped and the goals have not been flowing for him. It has seen him dropped down to the bench with Edinson Cavani coming in.
Both Daniel James and Mason Greenwood have been in and out the side during this campaign. They both played against Chelsea after recent impressive displays for us. It shows that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær is willing to change up the team, if he sees a drop off in his players.