In the wake of the opening of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand on Sunday, United’s U21 took on Chelsea on Monday night to put pressure on the league leaders Sunderland – with Bobby Charlton in the stands.
United, as the only unbeaten home side in the league, showed attacking intent straight from the off against Chelsea, the only unbeaten away side on the road. And despite the two sides encountering a one-on-one showdown, those records were not to be broken on this Monday night.
Defenders all around
Early on, a bad (but tight) decison by the linesman stole a great opportunity for the Reds, when Varela delivered an excellent cross for today’s skipper James Weir, who was wrongly ruled offside. Unfortunately, half-chances was to define much of United’s performance, and even the goal needed a deflection to go in. That’s probably what you get when lining up with only one player – Andreas Pereira – who hasn’t played in defence at some point over the past couple of years.
Apart from that, not much happened in the opening quarter of an hour. United dominating possession, but the menace against Chelsea basically peaked when Ashley Young hit the side netting with a cross aimed towards nobody.
Dive, free-kick, goal
However, it was the Blues who opened the scoring after eighteen minutes. Josimar Quintero dived blatantly when coming up against Paddy McNair, and the 19-year-old Kasey Palmer curled home his fifth U21 goal this term. Sam Johnstone should not be pleased by his own efforts though, not trusting his wall sufficiently and being punished as he was a spectator when the ball went into his corner.
Phil Jones struggling big-time
Tammy Abraham later looked to extent the lead, but as he cut in from the right, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson hung on and blocked it for a corner. That wasn’t the end of the menace though, as the corner kick got nodded on by a Chelsea player, and the 18-year-old centre-backJake Clarke-Salter beat Phil Jones aerially. Fortunately the header went over the bar.
Jones had a rough time when Palmer took him to the merry-go-round not long after as well, but the distant attempt to beat Johnstone turned out as poor and inaccurate.
Chelsea really dominated in this period, with another highlight being displayed by Sam Palmer on the left-hand side. The attacking midfielder took on Joe Riley, got a yard of space and a so-called rabona cross into the box.
Phil Jones was involved in another Chelsea opportunity only a few minutes prior to half-time. The England centre-back headed a floated cross away, but it ended up at Ola Aina’s chest, and the England youth defender subsequently volleyed it powerfully towards the Stretford End, only to see it touch the top of the crossbar.
Chelsea edging towards 2-0
The second half opened up in similiar fashion as the first half. United saw a lot of possession, without really creating much. And Chelsea still came closest to scoring, when Kasey Palmer dribbled his way from the centre cirle and, after some yards, past a Phil Jones who was completely out of his depth. Jones was, however saved by the bell, in the shape of Roshaun Williams, who mounted up to stop the Chelsea playmaker.
Just as the game surpassed the hour mark, Ashley Young crossed inaccurately, but Donald Love – of all people – came to the borderline of scoring as he volleyed the clearance just over the crossbar.
Weir brings the sides level
United, however, were to get to level terms. Guillermo Varela advanced on the right, found James Weir in the box, and the United captain’s finish took a slight deflection off Fikayo Tomori before crossing the goalline behind Mitchell Beeney in the Blues net.
Tactical changes on both ends
With about fifteen minutes to play, two crucial changes took place, one for either side. The former Charlton youth player Kasey Palmer, who had put in a sublime display, left the pitch for Islam Feruz for Chelsea, for the Blues to switch from their high-pressing 3-4-1-2 and into a traditional 4-4-2. On the other half, Phil Jones, who hadn’t even remotely impressed, was replaced by Devonte Redmond, which meant that Paddy McNair took his place next to Roshaun Williams at centre half.
Reds push on
United could’ve snatched the winner as the game entered the final stage, when Ashley Young drifted out wide to dribble. But as he put in the squared pass, it turned out – again – that there was no striker in the box, as he was the one wearing number nine and being supposed to tap them in.
James Weir had another attempt only minutes after, as he cut it back for the substitute Joe Rothwell, got it back in a very dangerous position, but unfortunately he was ruled offside.
The home side, keeping the title dreams alive, were pushing on to put Chelsea to bed in the dying minutes of the game. In added time, Guillermo Varela crossed for the number nine, but Ashley Young displayed why he never made a footballing career from his heading ability.
United closing in on silverware
This result means that Chelsea remain fifth, seventeen points behind leaders Sunderland. The West London outfit, however are still relevant in the title race, as they have an incredible five games in hand, more than anyone in the league.
United are currently finding themselves one spot off the top, with 39 points, only four less than Sunderland and three games in hand. This means that Warren Joyce’ side still statistically is in pole position to clinch the title, although no games are played on paper, obviously.
United: Johnstone, Riley, Williams, Jones (Redmond), Borthwick-Jackson – Varela, Love, McNair, Weir – A. Pereira (Rothwell 89) – Young Subs: J. Pereira, El Fitouri, Rothwell, Redmond, McTominay.
Chelsea: Beeney; Dabo (c), Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Aina; Colkett, Ali; Quintero (Colley 66), Palmer (Feruz 72) Mitchell; Abraham.
Subs: Feruz, Baxter, Sammut, Colley
Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea | MUFC: Weir 61 – CFC: Palmer 18