LONDON: The conclusions drawn from Chelsea’s 2-2 home draw with Manchester United were that Maurizio Sarri’s evolving team are not as good as their admirers claim while Jose Mourinho’s men are not as hapless as their high-profile critics – Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand etc – have suggested.
However, much of that was lost in the media furore over the scuffle provoked by the stoppage-time goal from Ross Barkley which rescued Chelsea after Anthony Martial’s double had put the visitors on the brink of three points.
Chelsea relief erupted into assistant coach Marco Ianni’s provocation celebration in front of Mourinho. The ex-Chelsea manager’s angry reaction brought apologies later from opposite number Sarri and from Inani but it also overshadowed evidence of United’s gradual improvement. At last they looked worth a place among the small clutch of clubs fighting for the all-important top four places.
The Blues dominated possession in front of their own fans and took the lead with a header from man-of-the-match Antonio Rudiger after he escaped the attentions of slow-thinking Paul Pogba at a corner. But United had more success than anyone else at keeping Eden Hazard quiet and equalised then took the lead through fine goals from Martial.
Barkley’s equaliser in the sixth minute of stoppage time was the latest United have conceded in the Premier League since October 2009, when David Ngog scored against them in the same time frame for Liverpool. Chelsea can still this reflect on having lost only one of their last 17 home league games against United, a 3:2 defeat back in October 2012.
Mourinho made a three-finger gesture to Chelsea fans at the final whistle, to remind them of his trio of Premier title victories in his two spells in charge. His focus is now on building a United team who can do the same.
He said: “My midfield was very good, Paul was very good, Nemanja Matic was good, Juan Mata was good. The team did fantastic work so I will try to focus on the level of the performance and forget the bad result. We controlled the Chelsea ‘triggers’ so I think we deserved much more than this result.”
Yet United have kept only one clean sheet in their opening nine league games after having recording seven shutouts at this stage of last season. Hence Mourinho’s continuing attempts to persuade executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the Glazer family to buy a top-class central defender in the winter transfer window.
Mourinho is an admirer of Napoli’s Senegal international Kalidou Koulibaly. In support of his case he may point out that how Liverpool and Manchester City benmefited from club record expenditure last January. They paid 75m and £61.7m for Virgil van Dijk and Aymeric Laporte respectively and now boast the joint best defensive records in the division.
Rudiger would be an ideal fit for United but Chelsea would never sell. He has emerged as one of the pillars of the team being built by Sarri, displaying the sort of authority once epitomised by club legend John Terry.
However Sarri is still shuffling his resources to find the correct attacking balance. He may regret having left Olivier Giroud on the substitutes’ bench until too late.