Diego Costa struck an injury-time equalizer to salvage a dramatic 1-1 result for Chelsea against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The visitors had appeared to be heading for a much-needed three points for the club and manager Louis van Gaal when Jesse Lingard turned and fired in a fine strike just past the hour mark. But Costa capitalized fully on the ball finding its way into his path in the first minute of injury time to slide the ball home into an unguarded net.
The late goal will come as a real blow for United's beleaguered manager. At the end of a week in which his future has again be the subject of intense speculation, with the specter of former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho looming large, it looked like being the perfect response for Van Gaal.
Particularly impressive were goal-scorer Lingard and fellow United youth product Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, whose low cross helped set up Lingard to break the deadlock. At that point the visitors were worthy leaders, having played with more intensity and purpose and only been prevented from scoring more by a starring display by Thibaut Courtois in the Chelsea goal.
But the absence of all three points is a major disappointment. Van Gaal had said ahead of this match that the way his side were now playing meant they were not out of the title race. However, while the performances are certainly a whole lot better now than in the dark days of December, Manchester United are 12 points adrift of leaders Leicester City. The focus will surely now fully be on earning a place in the Champions League. Yet that, too, is a tough task, with the gap to fourth-placed Manchester City now six points.
And United will rue allowing themselves to be put on the back foot in the closing stages as Chelsea came to life. David de Gea matched his opposite number with some fine saves to maintain his side’s slender lead. But in the dying minutes, United’s defense was breached by a poked ball forward from Cesc Fabregas that found Costa lurking in the box. Borthwick-Jackson had played the striker onside, and while he tried to atone for his error by poking the ball away it only set up Costa to finish with De Gea stranded. It could have got even worse for the visitors, with Costa turning in the box and seeing a shot saved in the dying seconds.
The point does little for Chelsea in the Premier League table, keeping them in 13th place, 11 points adrift of Manchester United. But the way his side rallied and raised their game late on will be encouraging to Guus Hiddink ahead of the resumption of the Champions League later this month.
He will have been less enthused with the way his team began proceedings. While now unbeaten in eight Premier League matches since Hiddink took the reins on an interim basis, Chelsea have won just twice. And early on at Stamford Bridge on Sunday it appeared they would be happy to settle for another draw, with their opponents making all the running. Despite winning nine early corners, Manchester United couldn’t capitalize, although it took a stunning one-handed save from Courtois to keep out a fierce effort from Anthony Martial.
Chelsea slowly came into the game and missed a good chance when Costa dragged a shot wide. They had a strong claim for a penalty, too, when John Terry’s close-range strike was blocked by the raised hand of Daley Blind. They suffered what could well be a more significant blow when defender Kurt Zouma fell awkwardly and hyper-extended his knee, which led to cries of agony and lengthy treatment before being carried from the field.
By the start of the second half Manchester United were fully back in the ascendency. After having an earlier curling effort turned wide by Courtois, the 23-year-old grabbed his third Premier League goal of the season and one to savor.
Yet it wasn’t enough. Helped by arrivals off the bench, Chelsea upped their game and tested De Gea through Branislav Ivanovic and Fabregas. And Costa, rejuvenated since the arrival of Hiddink, had the last word as Chelsea gave a vocal Stamford Bridge crowd something to cheer in what has been a season to forget.