Chelsea stretched their unbeaten run against Manchester United to 11 games thanks to a last-gasp equaliser from Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The Red Devils had taken the lead through Jesse Lingard on the hour mark and looked like they were on their way to their first three points against the Blues since 2012. But it was Costa who had the final say, beating David De Gea in the first minute of stoppage time.
Stamford Bridge was abuzz for a game that not too long ago had a big say on the Premier League title race. Times have changed drastically now, with neither club nowhere near the summit. The Blues’ faithful were very vocal in their support for captain John Terry, who revealed last week that the club would not be renewing his contract in the summer. The fans’ message was very clear, as the following banner shows:
Here are three major talking points from the game:
1) End-to-end first half; should Chelsea have had a penalty?
We had a surprisingly lively start to the game, considering how defensive Chelsea’s starting line-up looked. Both John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic started, and it was United who started on the ascendancy.
Anthony Martial, who had a field day against Branislav Ivanovic seemed to have found the top corner after cutting inside. But Thibaut Courtois pulled off an amazing save at full-stretch to keep Chelsea level.
It was then Chelsea’s turn to enjoy a period of dominance, with Nemanja Matic having a header saved and Diego Costa and Oscar both shooting off-target from close-range. John Terry had a legitimate penalty appeal right on the stroke of the break, when his shot from close-range struck Daley Blind on the arm. The referee adjudged the Dutchman to be too close though, and awarded a corner instead.
All in all, it was a first half that kept you guessing throughout and even though the quality was nowhere near what this fixture offered a decade back, it was an enjoyable watch.
2) A horror injury and a moment of magic
Chelsea began the second half well, pressing high and looking to go forward and score the decisive opener. This was emphasised by Eden Hazard’s introduction before the hour-mark. The tide turned though, in the 56th minute when Kurt Zouma suffered what is almost certainly going to be a season-ending injury. The Frenchman, who has been immense throughout this campaign, misjudged a header by jumping too early and then jarred his knee when he landed.
The incident was understandably replayed only once; the image of his knee blowing up was no pretty sight to say the least. He was stretchered off and on came Gary Cahill. With Terry and Ivanovic alongside, this Chelsea backline certainly isn’t the quickest. This is going to be a big concern going into the final part of the season, as Zouma has been a huge positive in an otherwise terrible campaign.
The momentum shift was apparent after the restart, and United got their goal just 3 minutes later. Wayne Rooney set up Jesse Lingard, whose turn and volley in one movement was a thing of beauty. The ball flew into the top corner, giving the hitherto-magnificent Courtois absolutely no chance.
3) De Gea looks unbeatable, but Costa has the last laugh
Chelsea piled the bodies forward in search of an equaliser but United held firm. De Gea pulled off save after save to deny the Blues. Ivanovic hit a left-footed volley as sweetly as he possibly could have, but the United goalkeeper showed some unbelievable reflexes to keep him out. Fabregas then had a go, trying to beat De Gea at the near post from a tight angle. His Spanish counterpart though, was having none of it. It begged the question: Where would United be without their number 1? He looked certain to leave for Real Madrid in the summer, but his decision to stay back has proved to be the biggest boon Louis van Gaal could have asked for. It will be safe to say that the Red Devils wouldn’t have been in the running for Champions League if they had had (with all due respect to the Argentine) Sergio Romero between the sticks.
One sensed that the equaliser would have to involve a moment of good fortune. In the first-minute of stoppage-time, Fabregas’ stabbed through-ball found Costa after Blind slipped. The striker’s initial shot was well blocked by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, but the rebound fell kindly to him and he finished into an unguarded net. The Spaniard had endured a day of great frustration, but got his goal in the end. It almost got even better a couple of minutes later, when he beat his defender and got a clear shot at goal. Unsurprisingly though, De Gea got down to beat it away for a corner.
In the end, this result will certainly feel more like a win for Chelsea and a loss for United. Guus Hiddink’s men stayed where they were in the table at 13th, but Van Gaal now finds his side 6 points adrift of Manchester City in 4th place.