By Ciaran Conneely, Sports Staffer
Manchester United and Chelsea battled out a 1-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Both teams came into the game in good form. Manchester United was on a five-match unbeaten streak, while Chelsea had yet to lose a game under new manager Graham Potter. While this match may not go down as the most memorable in this Premier League season, it displayed the tactical minds of Erik Ten Hag and Graham Potter.
The first half was one in which the Red Devils were in control of. Chelsea’s set up of a 3-4-2-1 formation played right into the hands of Manchester United’s high press. Chelsea couldn’t get comfortable on the ball and couldn’t materialize any attacks. Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen, and Casemiro were controlling the midfield battle over Chelsea’s Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The Blues’ two midfielders were being outran, and they were always covered by a Manchester united midfielder. This caused Potter to bring on Mateo Kovacic in place of Marc Cucurella in the 36th minute. The tactical change shifted Chelsea to a 4-3-3 formation, giving the Blues help in midfield.
Manchester United had the better chances in this first half. In the 27th minute, Chelsea turned the ball over, leading to a swift counterattack from the Red Devils. Bruno Fernandes played a through ball to forward Marcus Rashford. But Rashford’s first touch was just a bit too heavy, allowing Kepa Arrizabalaga to come off his line to make a save. Just before halftime, United were knocking on the door again. Lisandro Martinez cleared the ball to Jadon Sancho, who picked out Antony. The Brazilian was in Chelsea’s box but skewed his shot wide. It was Manchester United’s best chance, but the half ended scoreless.
Chelsea’s early substitution was in display in the second half. The hosts were able to get a foothold in the game, and United weren’t as dominant. Chelsea’s Trevoh Chalobah hit the cross bar from a corner kick. Later, Fred recovered a lose ball and forced Arrizabalaga to make a good save. Despite the first half having more chances, the second half had the storylines.
In the 84th minute of the game, Chelsea had a corner kick. While the ball was crossed into the box, Manchester United’s Scott McTominay wrestled Armando Broja to the ground, causing referee Stuart Attwell to give Chelsea a penalty kick. Jorginho scored the penalty, sending his shot into the bottom-right corner of the net. It looked as if Chelsea were going to claim all three points.
But Manchester United were not offset by the goal. In the 93rd minute of the game, United were seeking an equalizer. After Chelsea cleared an initial cross, the ball fell to Luke Shaw. The United left back crossed ball into Chelsea’s box. Casemiro rose highest to head the ball. His shot hit the post before trickling over the goal line, crossing it by millimeters. Manchester United’s defensive midfielder scored his first goal for the club since joining in the summer from Real Madrid. The game ended soon thereafter, with each side coming away with a point.
While Manchester United gained more points against another “Big Six” club, the main headline is the injury to Raphael Varane. The French center back injured his knee when attempting to intercept a pass in the second half. Varane left walked off the field in tears, signaling the potential severity of the injury. With the FIFA World Cup starting in less than a month, this injury could cause the defender to miss the tournament. It would also be a huge blow to Manchester United, who had kept five clean sheets in seven games when Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez played in defense this season. Without Varane, United conceded six goals and lost their first two games of the regular season. When discussing Varane’s injury in his post-match press conference, Erik Ten Hag said, “It is difficult to say how it is now because it is so soon after the game. We have to wait 24 hours and then we will know what it is.”
Manchester United have six more matches before the break for the World Cup. There will be concerns for the team after Varane’s injury. On paper, these games look winnable for the Red Devils. But with Raphael Varane’s injury, these games could be much tougher. The team seems to have started to adapt to Ten Hag’s philosophy and have looked more determined and unified in the past several matches. United fans will hope that the good form of their team can continue in the absence of their star defender.