Manchester United prepared for the arrival of interim manager Ralf Rangnick by earning a battling point against Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
United, under the caretaker charge of Michael Carrick with Rangnick’s appointment expected to be confirmed imminently, kept Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench and mounted a large rearguard action until Jadon Sancho hit Chelsea on the break five minutes after half-time.
Sancho pounced on poor control from Jorginho to race clear and beat Edouard Mendy with a composed finish after the hosts had dominated possession.
Chelsea was stung into action and Jorginho made amends for his error when he equalized from the spot in the 69th minute after Aaron Wan-Bissaka fouled Thiago Silva.
United survived in relative comfort apart from a big late chance for Antonio Rudiger and will regard this as a welcome point in the tough territory after a succession of Premier League horror shows led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking.
Carrick can be satisfied
Carrick went with solidity for his first Premier League team selection after United’s recent maulings by Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City and – finally for Solskjaer – Watford.
He bolstered midfield by utilizing Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic to hold Chelsea at bay and, while David de Gea was busy in the first half, there was never a feeling of siege as United dug deep to come away with a point.
The big call was keeping Ronaldo on the bench. He was introduced in the 64th minute with United leading 1-0, but had minimal impact and was straight off down the tunnel when the final whistle sounded.
Asked if Rangnick had played a part in Ronaldo being on the bench, Carrick replied: “No, that’s not the case.”
United at least showed the determination and resilience that had so often been glaringly absent in the dying embers of Solskjaer’s reign although there was very little attacking intent or quality apart from the great composure shown by Sancho for his second successive goal.
It will do him the world of good as he seeks to establish himself following his £73m summer move from Borussia Dortmund.
As for Carrick, if this is his final game in charge before Rangnick comes to Old Trafford, he can be well satisfied with his brief stint at the helm, winning against Villarreal in the Champions League and getting a share of the spoils here against a Chelsea side who have looked increasingly formidable in recent weeks.
It is a platform of sorts for Rangnick to begin his work and United will hope to continue their recovery against Arsenal at Old Trafford on Thursday.
On the equalizing goal, Carrick said: “I don’t think it was a penalty at all. They have had a lot of shots. David had two saves, which we knew before the game he would have to make one or two. Other than that I have felt quite comfortable in the game.
“To come away disappointed and to feel like you have left something out there is a positive.”
Chelsea suffer frustration
Rudiger summed up Chelsea’s disappointment as he slumped to the turf at the final whistle knowing he could have been the match-winner.
The German defender saw a thunderous shot touched on to the crossbar by De Gea in the first half, but the big opportunity came with virtually the last kick of the game. He was unmarked at the far post to meet Christian Pulisic’s cross but took the instant volley and lashed his finish high over the top.
Manager Thomas Tuchel has equally agonized as he will know Chelsea did not take advantage of their overwhelming domination in parts of a game where they had 24 attempts on goal compared to United’s three.
Chelsea’s work was too hurried as they chased the winner although they were also frustrated by a United defence without suspended captain Harry Maguire.
Timo Werner is still too wayward, sending a very presentable chance well wide in the second half, but at least they have Romelu Lukaku fit again and Pulisic looked a lively threat when he came on.
This, in some ways, resembled many of Chelsea’s performances last season when they were superior, but never made the most of that advantage. The will certainly feel his side let United off the hook.
The Blues remain top but in what looks like it will be a tight title race between Tuchel’s side, Manchester City and Liverpool, they will regard this as two points dropped.
“It’s hard to imagine this as a match where you can lose or drop points because we were the better team who set the rhythm and intensity.
“We’re disappointed but we have no regrets, this can happen in football. I just told the team I’m happy with our performance and the way we played.”