Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United lack a decisive edge against Chelsea

Man Utd 0-0 Chelsea

By Mark Ogden

So Louis van Gaal limps on, but it sums up the current state of Manchester United that a goalless draw at Old Trafford against a team hovering three points above the relegation zone is regarded as a sign of progress.

At least the four-game losing streak came to an end against a Chelsea team currently on course to deliver the worst defence of a title in the Premier League era, but every silver lining has a cloud and this stalemate extended United's winless run to eight games in all competitions.

Eight games without a victory and the sixth time this season that United have failed to score in front of their own supporters, these really are bleak times for Van Gaal and his team and it is remarkable that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward chose to pose for selfies at the end of the game.

Having surrendered at Stoke City at the weekend, going down 2-0 against Mark Hughes' team on Boxing Day, United were more adventurous and cohesive against Chelsea and they should have won, hitting the woodwork twice and seeing referee Martin Atkinson reject two strong penalty appeals.

But there were also narrow escapes, with goalkeeper David de Gea twice producing world-class saves before Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic spurned a late chance.

Still, the draw is likely to prove enough to keep Van Gaal on life support until the visit of Swansea at the weekend, but even Woodward will struggle to keep faith with the Dutchman if the managerless Welsh outfit extend United's search for a victory.

Having started this game level on points with Watford and behind Crystal Palace, it was clear that United were in need of a change of fortune against a Chelsea team still feeling the aftershocks of Jose Mourinho's dismissal.

But United's ill-luck reared its head within two minutes when Juan Mata was denied by the Chelsea crossbar.

The Spaniard was unlucky to see his first-time shot from Wayne Rooney's pass rattle against the bar.

In response, John Terry was denied only by a stunning De Gea save on five minutes when the Chelsea captain's header from Willian's corner was acrobatically tipped over.

The end-to-end action went on, with United dominating, and Morgan Schneiderlin sent a curling shot wide from 20 yards before the impressive Anthony Martial struck the inside of the post on 16 minutes.

United were winning the midfield battle, but lacked quality in the final third.

Martial went close again and Mata's poor delivery from the right flank frustrated Rooney on two occasions before the United captain forced Thibaut Courtois into action.

Not since September have United scored in the first-half at Old Trafford and the anxiety that blunt edge creates invariably leads to a more cautious, nervy approach after the interval and that pattern continued, with the likes of Woodward, Sir Alex Ferguson, David Gill and Sir Bobby Charlton watching on.

With Guus Hiddink back in interim charge of Chelsea following Mourinho's departure, the ship has been steadied, but the Blues are in a mess nonetheless.

Last season's swagger and confidence has evaporated and the likes of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa - suspended for this game - have been shadows.

Both teams went into the second-half attempting to win, but clearly more concerned about the damage of defeat and an early flurry, marked by a double De Gea save from Pedro and Cesar Azpilicueta and a point-blank Courtois save from Ander Herrera, was followed by greater caution.

Matic's miss on 62 minutes, after being set free by Pedro on a counter-attack, was a sign of nerves, but it was a shocker with the Serbian clear on goal before blazing over the bar from 18 yards.

United huffed and puffed, with only Martial offering any kind of zest until he was shunted from left to right to accommodate substitute Memphis Depay.

But having been denied penalties when Willian handled and Azpilicueta fouled Mata, United were unable to provide a finishing touch.

When Rooney fired a volley high and wide from Cameron Borthwick-Jackson's cross on 86 minutes - moments before Rooney was booked for a reckless foul on Oscar - it was a sign that United's luck was not going to turn.

Van Gaal may believe, or hope, that his fortune may be changing having seen his team arrest their slump, but it would be foolish to think he has weathered the storm.

One United fan had turned up with a banner which read 'LVG: Leave, Vanish, Go' so the frustrations in the stands cannot be overlooked.

Another failure to win on Saturday and that fan may get his wish.

MAN UTD: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Blind (Jones 81), Darmian (Borthwick-Jackson 70), Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Mata (Depay 77), Herrera, Martial, Rooney.

Subs not used: Carrick, Romero, Fellaini, Pereira.

CHELSEA: Courtois, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Matic, Willian (Ramires 70), Oscar (Loftus-Cheek 93), Pedro, Hazard.

Subs not used: Begovic, Baba, Traore, Djilobodji, Kenedy.

Man of the match: Anthony Martial

Match rating: 6/10

Referee: Martin Atkinson

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