Chelsea and Manchester United both played out a boring 0-0 draw as the two struggling sides failed to make the break-through, with Matic and Herrera having the game’s best chances.
This clash, so often a top of the table fixture in recent history, was a clash of two under-performing sides in this unpredictable Premier League season, but nobody could break the deadlock early and, as the game wore on, both looked content to sit back and settle for the draw, which in any circumstance would be a pivotal point but not so in this season’s circumstance with both sides desperate for points.
It means Manchester United, who have not beaten Chelsea since 2012, extend their winless run to eight matches, whilst Chelsea continue to search for their first away league win since August, though it will please Hiddink that this is the first time Chelsea have gone three Premier League games without losing, such has been the Blues’ inconsistency.
If Roman Abramovich thought having a different manager pick the same set of players would yield different results, he was asking the wrong question.
Eden Hazard led the line with Costa suspended but Chelsea were no different to how they have been all season, adding weight to the Mourinho backers that insist it was not his fault. The players looked lethargic and had no identity, hoofing a ball long, hoping Hazard would weave some magic and lay a delicious through-ball to the striker, only to realise he was the striker and then lose the ball.
Thankfully the Chelsea bore in the first half did not lead any goals, but twice Courtois was beaten but the woodwork saved them. Mata, inside two minutes, unleashed a delicious half-volley when given acres of space, and the crossbar was still shaking for several minutes after.
Mata was sold by Mourinho to free up space for Chelsea’s attacking trio of Hazard, Willian and Oscar, but mainly for the latter who was nowhere to be seen all of the first half. Pedro, the new addition to Chelsea’s wealth of attacking wingers, was free down the right and had he got his cross in, Hazard would be left with a simple tap-in, but Ashley Young snuffed out the danger.
John Terry met Willian’s corner with a powerful header but David De Gea denied the Chelsea captain with an excellent reaction save, but that was as close as Chelsea would come.
At the other end, Martial tormented Ivanovic all half and cut inside and his right-footed shot in the 16th minute looked destined for the back of the net. Courtois was beaten at his own near post, but thankfully the woodwork stood firm.
The young Frenchman then had a penalty claim when coming face to face with his fellow young French talent Zouma, but Martin Atkinson was right to wave it away.
Seconds later, Courtois’ complacent kick-out fell at the feet of Mata, who had just Terry to beat but the Chelsea man emerged victorious against the former Chelsea man. It was a huge let-off for a goalkeeper supposedly better than Petr Cech.
Rooney was looking lively after being dropped for the first time in his career in Manchester United’s loss against Stoke on Boxing Day, and he was afforded again time and space aplenty to drive a powerful long-range effort which stung Courtois’ gloves.
Chelsea were relying on counter-attacks and on the half-hour mark, Pedro raced forward and his through-ball found Azpilicueta, the visitors’ left-back, the furthest man forward, but Young was alert to the danger.
But nothing was working for Chelsea, who in truth did not even know what was not working. They were not even trying anything; you cannot call a long ball hoofed up aimlessly as any match tactic, nor can you forgive the sloppy passes which killed any Chelsea attack. It was evident from the number of passes: Manchester United recorded in excess of 250 passes as they dictated play, whilst feeble Chelsea were still on double figures.
Nothing changed much second half. Hazard was continually being fouled and Matic was continually allowing the Manchester United players pass him.
Pedro and Azpilicueta did force David De Gea into an instant double save but there was still no real threat from the Londoners.
Herrera should have put the Red Devils in front when Martial once again beat Ivanovic and his square ball was met by Herrera one yard out, but Courtois was superb with his reflexes to claw the ball from off the line.
Willian was lucky to get away with not commiting a penalty when innocuous mis-control saw his touch the ball, with Martin Atkinson continuing his trend this season of being lenient and forgiving.
Matic should have won Chelsea the game when Pedro countered from a United corner and Matic was gifted a one-on-one opportunity against De Gea. The Serbian’s first touch brought it into his favoured left foot, the second saw him control it but the third saw him send the ball into Row Z. It was a shocking attempt and with that Chelsea’s best chance of winning the game ended.
Rooney had a change late on to tap the ball in from a left-wing cross but the ball from Martial flew at the Manchester United captain with too much pace for him to control, but it was honours even and whilst the United fans booed off their team once again, it was strange to see the Chelsea fans applaud their players for another no-show of a performance and the Blues lie in 14th position.
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Man of the Match
PEDRO: Looked lively all game and was Chelsea’s best thereat through counters. His work-rate was good in defending and though he has not had the best of starts to his Chelsea career, he was perhaps the Chelsea player showing most endeavour in the 90 minutes. He still needs to work on his assist-making and end product, but which Chelsea player does not? 6/10
Hiddink was happy but knew it could have been more than a point: “On the one hand, I am happy with a point because we had a difficult game, but on the other, we had two big chances to get three points. We were lacking some attacking players and had to adapt. In general, I’m happy.”
Van Gaal was defiant in the face of his own fans booing: “Will I resign? On the contrary. When the players can give such a performance with a lot of pressure, there is not any reason to resign for me.”