Belfast Telegraph

Costa proves a point as Chelsea strike late at Bridge against Manchester United

Chelsea 1-1 Man United

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

There was a time, not too long ago, when this was the best fixture in England, between the two best teams. Not yesterday.

Chelsea and Manchester United drew 1-1 in a game which had only one real moment of quality, in Jesse Lingard's improvised opener, but said a lot about why these two teams are underperforming so badly.

Chelsea were far happier with the result, having offered little before Diego Costa's stoppage time equaliser. This point moves them one ahead of West Bromwich Albion in the table. United, who were the better team, are now six points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, rather than four.

But this is the most open title race for a generation and neither of these sides, with nine out of the last 11 titles between them, is anywhere near the running. Neither of these managers is likely to be in charge of their sides next season. These are two clubs in need of new direction, of a new start, if they are going to push themselves back towards the top of the game in England, never mind Europe.

At the start of this decade, and the end of the last one, Chelsea and United were regulars in the semi-finals of the Champions League and often in the final itself. Next year's competition, with the lure of a final in Cardiff, will probably take place without either of them.

United, it must be said, were the better side for most of the match. They started the game with complete control of possession, even if, as is often the case, they struggled to turn that into chances.

Michael Carrick ran the game from the base of midfield, while Anthony Martial cut in from the left with real menace. He forced Thibaut Courtois into the first of the game's many good saves, with a right-footed shot towards the far top corner of the net.

But United needed to speed up after half-time and they did, starting to make chances. Wayne Rooney induced another save from Courtois with a shot from the edge of the box, as did Lingard four minutes after.

Lingard has been one of the most positive things to happen to United this season and he put them ahead with a goal that was the only moment of real quality in the match. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, who also impressed, charged down the left-wing, receiving a pass from Juan Mata and hitting a good cross into the box. Rooney touched the ball to Lingard, who had his back to goal. With his first touch he controlled the ball, before spinning leftwards and striking it with his right foot, into the ceiling of the net. A brilliant idea, perfectly executed. Even the Chelsea manager, Guus Hiddink, said it was "a beautiful goal".

Chelsea, in contrast, looked like a team in need of some youthful exuberance. It took them nearly 20 minutes to mount a serious attack, having started slowly and ponderously.

Playing both Nemanja Matic and Jon Obi Mikel naturally slows things down, and it was Matic himself who sparked Chelsea's best moments of the first half, charging forward, and heading a Willian corner just wide.

There was an improvement just before the break, and Oscar might have scored from close range, before a plausible appeal for a penalty when John Terry's shot hit Daley Blind's arm. But Chelsea started the second half just as slowly, again on the back foot. Kurt Zouma was taken off on a stretcher with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, which meant a lengthy stoppage and the introduction of Gary Cahill.

Only in the final 20 minutes did Chelsea find the right intensity, having introduced Eden Hazard and Pedro from the bench.

United ought to have seen the game out and they did make it into added time before they dropped their guard. When Fabregas played a pass through to Costa there was far too much space between Daley Blind and Chris Smalling, and when Blind slipped Costa was through.

He took the ball past Matteo Darmian and finished into the bottom corner. In the sixth and final minute of added time Costa broke through again, only to be denied by De Gea.

Three points would have been very flattering to Chelsea after a performance so lacking in tempo and control. They can take credit from the way they fought back in the final spell of the game, but this was not a performance to match Chelsea's resources and ambitions. But neither was it from United, either.

Both teams are drifting in 2016, and it shows.

CHELSEA: Courtois, Ivanovic, Zouma (Cahill, 59 mins), Terry, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Matic (Pedro, 67 mins), Willian, Fabregas, Oscar (Hazard, 54 mins), Diego Costa. Unused subs: Begovic, Baba Rahman, Loftus-Cheek, Traore.

MAN UTD: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Fellaini (Schneiderlin, 78 mins), Carrick, Lingard (Memphis, 86 mins), Mata (Herrera, 90 mins), Martial, Rooney. Unused subs: Romero, McNair, Varela, Pereira.

Man of the match: Jesse Lingard

Match Rating: 6/10

Referee: Michael Oliver

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