Robin Van Persie’s last-gasp goal was enough to deny Chelsea the chance to go six points clear at the top of the Premier League, as we drew with Manchester United 1-1 at Old Trafford.
In what always promised to be a fascinating encounter between the stuttering Reds and our high-flying Blues, some questionable refereeing and high quality goalkeeping were the only things that kept this game so low scoring.
Neither side had their full attacking prowess available for selection, with the home side without suspended captain Wayne Rooney and injured Falcao, while injuries left us without the League’s joint-top goalscorer Diego Costa and also Loic Remy.
With that, the evergreen Didier Drogba was our sole fit striker and therefore stepped up to make his first start for the club since rejoining. Barring the striker shortage and the suspended Cesar Azipilicueta, it was perhaps the strongest side available to us that faced United.
Courtois started in goal, with the usual suspects of Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Gary Cahill in defence, with Filipe Luis replacing Azpi at left back. Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic anchored the midfield, with Willian, Oscar and Eden Hazard all playing between them and our sole striker Drogba.
It would be United that had the first real chance of the game after 22 minutes, as the game got off to a cautious opening. Adnan Januzaj, who was making only his third appearance of the season, played a carving through ball to Van Persie which drew a good save from the imposing Courtois. A few seconds later another chance would fall the Dutchman’s way, but the save was much more comfortable for the Belgian stopper.
Our biggest – and in truth, only – real chance came late on in the first half as some neat work from Oscar gave Drogba the chance to score with only De Gea to beat, but could only contrive to fire straight at him with his snap shot.
However, we could have had one more brilliant chance had Phil Dowd not denied us of what seemed a clear penalty, as a ball into the box aimed for Ivanovic led to the Serbian behind manhandled to the ground by Chris Smalling. Nothing doing, said Dowd, much to the chagrin of the Chelsea faithful.
The first half drew to an end and it seemed like all the hallmarks of a Mourinho ‘big team’ away performance were there – an emphasis on not losing rather than winning seemed apparent, appreciating that one point is better than none (a feeling probably not shared in 45 minutes’ time.)
After seven minutes of the second half we finally had our noses in front in this tight affair. A corner led to Didier Drogba scoring his first Chelsea League goal in over two and a half years, heading in from 6 yards past a helpless David De Gea. After his penalty into the bottom right corner against Maribor, the veteran Ivorian seems to be scoring his goals from his previous spell in reverse, as his thunderous near post header seemed almost identical to the one that flew past Manuel Neuer and forced extra time in Munich two years ago.
The goal gave Chelsea a foothold in the game, and if they were not good value for their lead, the dominance displayed after it ensured they would be. Chances came for Willian and Branislav Ivanovic as we pressed to double our advantage to no avail.
United brought on young striker James Wilson, who scored twice on his debut last season to join Van Persie up top as the hosts went to 4-4-2 in an effort to salvage a point. A chance came his way, but he could only head over the bar.
There would be one last sting in the tail though as Chelsea looked like holding onto the lead and leaving with three points. Ivanovic was deemed to have fouled Angel Di Maria and was booked for the second time, meaning we had to defend United’s do-or-die free kick a man light. From that free kick, Marouane Fellaini fired a header goalbound, but was denied by Courtois. Van Persie however was in the right place to mop up and poke home, meaning United shared the spoils.
It was a sickening blow which left Mourinho visibly disgusted. The decision to send Ivanovic off is one that will be talked about for days to come, with cases both for and against it seeming reasonable. However, with the Blues looking as dominant and as comfortable as they did against Van Gaal’s work in progress, a draw will in fact feel a like a defeat for the Portuguese.
The players must dust themselves off quickly – however, how many of them that played here will play in our next fixture remains to seen, as we travel to League 2 side Shrewsbury Town in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night. Our next Premier League action sees us host struggling West London rivals QPR on Saturday 1st November.