Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United: Five Things we learned as Tuchel continues to mount his challenge for top four

The expectations of Chelsea’s match against Manchester United were farther than the neutrals received in what seemed like a dull and uneventful afternoon. In spite of the monotonous performance, Chelsea continue to be fifth in the standings and are only one point shy of the top four. The draw to Manchester United played out like a careful and cautious chess match by two managers who severely didn’t want to lose. A Chelsea win would’ve had the Blues in fourth and only three points off Leicester City. The Foxes suffered a setback defeat to Arsenal earlier in the day and opened up an opportunity for Chelsea to close the gap. Unfortunately, Chelsea’s inability in the final third was subsequently the tale of the match as they ruined some hefty attacking chances.  

Callum Hudson-Odoi was substituted at half-time due to injury which paved the way for Reece James to operate as a right-wing back. Ben Chilwell returned to the side for Marcos Alonso in what most would assume was to match the pace of the Manchester United attackers. Thomas Tuchel’s approach was somewhat hindered by Chelsea’s lackadaisical passing which gave United some easy breakaways. Despite the mistakes, the Blues had their fair share of big chances according to the stats; Chelsea recorded 18 key chances to United’s 11. Nevertheless, Tuchel continued his clean sheet record at home, which hasn’t been done since Jose Mourinho’s tenure.  

Chelsea’s defensive priority against Manchester United

 When Chelsea decided to sack Lampard in early January, Chelsea were far off top four and were conceding goals left and right, Tuchel’s appointment has come with more organizational structure and fewer gaps between the lines. The pragmatism has improved Chelsea’s defensive record and in essence, made them a hard team to break down. Manchester United found it difficult throughout the match to find gaps behind the lines whenever they progressed the ball from the back.  Their main man, Bruno Fernandes, wasn’t afforded an abundant amount of time on the ball due to the presence of N’golo Kanté in midfield. Kante was one of Chelsea’s best players in disrupting Manchester United’s counterattacks.

Chelsea have only conceded two goals in seven league matches but the downside has been the lack of goals. The back three allows them to push in numbers but inefficiency in the final last 20 meters is hindering attacking output. Conversely, four clean sheets in seven league matches is not a bad start to Tuchel’s Chelsea reign, and restraining Manchester United to only two shots on target can be applauded.

Final Cutting edge is still a concern

One of the glaring talking points this season is a lack of goals against the top sides. Only three goals have been scored against sides that are in the current top six in the standings. Thomas Tuchel has reiterated the poor decision-making in his press conferences and to the naked eye, it’s evident. The goal average per 90 minutes has decreased to a lowly 1.25 goals per game which are vast from Lampard’s attacking stats. The lack of chemistry and poor decision making are the main factors of the shortage in goals.

In the first few matches, defenders were the ones that were getting on the score sheet which raised some eyebrows about the forwards. Against Manchester United, the Blues notched several shots on target which includes scuffed shots from attackers. It is a little worrying regarding the goal tally but Chelsea can only hope it enhances in the upcoming rigorous schedule.

Top four is still in reach despite not cutting the gap to Manchester United

In contrary to our position a couple of weeks ago, Chelsea have notably decreased the gap in the standings and has repositioned themselves back in the top four picture. The Leicester and West Ham defeat may seem like a lost opportunity as we missed the chance to overpass West Ham in the standings. In early January, Chelsea were 9th and in danger of falling to the bottom half of the table.

The Leicester and West Ham defeat may seem like a lost opportunity as we missed the chance to overpass West Ham in the standings. Nonetheless, Chelsea will go into Liverpool with a much more pressured approach after the Reds defeated Sheffield United putting them one point behind us.

The performance wasn’t terrible 

Overall, Chelsea didn’t play as terribly as most pundits claimed, with Chelsea having their dominant spells throughout the game. Ball possession was finished at 57% alongside 18 shots. The Blues also recorded more shots on target than Manchester United with five shots in total and twice as many passes in the opposition half (235 to United’s 165 passes). Hudson-Odoi was one of Chelsea’s focal attacking points in the first half constantly making runs at Luke Shaw. He almost got an assist from a wonderful first-time cross but no Chelsea player was able to get on the end of it.

Reece James filled in perfectly at right wing-back with his strong crossing distribution. In particular, James’ overload on the right-hand side gave United trouble on counters as his powerful passing created several key chances. N’golo Kanté was named man of the match as the French international recorded the most duels won in the match with eight. He also got the most successful tackles (four) out of all our squad which justifies his MOTM award. All in all, Chelsea weren’t as fluid as they could’ve been lying somewhere in the middle in terms of performance.

Another Top six draw

The defeats to Leicester City and Manchester City are the most convincing defeats in the past month such that securing a result against this Manchester United was at is upmost an important aim for Chelsea.

Furthermore, Manchester United weren’t able to dictate the match as much as they wanted to due to the counter-press Chelsea have improved on. The Red Devil’s midfield press did cause a certain amount of mistakes especially from Kanté who isn’t profiled on the ball as much as Mateo Kovačić. The midfield battle was scrappy and as expected a physical intense matchup for our players. This is our third draw in seven games against opposition that are in the top half of the table. Chelsea have only managed to beat one team in the top six, one being Tottenham Hotspur, and have suffered three defeats from Leicester City, Man City, and Liverpool.

N'Golo Kante battling to win the ball against Bruno Fernandes at Chelsea draw 0-0 with Manchester United
N’Golo Kante battling to win the ball against Bruno Fernandes at Chelsea draw 0-0 with Manchester United

Conclusion

In summary, the Blues will not be as unsatisfied with a draw that most will think. Yes, it is a disappointing that Chelsea could’ve had a more advantageous position if they secured a victory but a draw isn’t a disheartening result. The goalless affair exemplifies how both teams are right in the midst of top four. 

The prominent uprise in results is a promising sign for the future as maintaining a defensive solidity is key. Keeping United goalless is no easy feat, as we saw how easily they dismantled Southampton a couple of weeks ago. However, the top four won’t solely rely on our defensive structure but on our final output. From what we’ve seen so far, Thomas Tuchel will be scratching his head on how to produce more goals especially in tight games but a point and clean sheet against this United team is somewhat acceptable.

Sources

FotMob football app, Fbref.com, transfrmarket.com, Premier League app, The Athletic.

Written by Rey Stevinho (@Rey_Blues30)

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