Recap: Manchester United and under pressure manager Louis van Gaal were left frustrated by Chelsea at Old Trafford to record their seventh goalless draw in just their last 15 matches. Van Gaal came into the contest with rumors swirling about how much longer he would hang onto his job, a fact reflected ahead of kickoff by one mischievous and entrepreneurial fan outside Old Trafford selling Manchester United scarves with the name of Jose Mourinho emblazoned across them. But for much of the contest, the vast majority of those inside Old Trafford gave the team their full support.
And they were rewarded with a performance that was far better than anything they have witnessed in recent weeks. Playing at a high tempo and with real purpose, United took the game to opponents who came into the fixture in an even more perilous state. Just two points separated Chelsea from the relegation zone and they were hanging on in the opening minutes. Twice United hit the woodwork, first when Juan Mata’s strike crashed back off the crossbar against his former club and then when the dangerous Anthony Martial, moved back to the left, cut inside and fired against the inside of the post.
But ultimately, United’s major issue this season of lacking a top-class striker cost them a much-needed victory. Wayne Rooney, restored to the lineup and in the center-forward position, had a good spell in the second half, but still lacked a true goal-scoring threat. He also missed a glorious chance in the second half, leaving United with just two shots on target to show for their 63 percent possession. When United did find the target, Thibaut Courtois excelled in blocking a close-range effort from Ander Herrera.
David de Gea also impressed when called upon, blocking a stooping header from John Terry early on and then a low drive from Pedro and follow-up effort from Cesar Azpilicueta in the second half. But Chelsea’s best chance fell the way of Nemanja Matic, who blasted over when clean through on goal.
However, Chelsea, under the interim charge of Guus Hiddink, always looked like they would be contented to leave Old Trafford with a point. Playing without a recognized striker in the absence of the suspended Diego Costa, Chelsea were toothless and showed that Hiddink still has a huge job on to turn around a team that sunk so startlingly under Mourinho.
As for his fellow Dutchman Van Gaal, this wasn’t a performance on which you would necessarily sack a manager. Yet the black mood around Old Trafford after what is now a run of eight matches without a win may mean it is not enough to save his job.
Fulltime! Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea
Some boos ring out at the final whistle for Manchester United’s seventh goalless draw in their last 15 matches, but that wasn’t a just reflection on what was a much better performance from Louis van Gaal’s side. Particularly early on United play with real tempo and purpose going forward and hit the woodwork twice. They also had two strong appeals for penalties in the second half, while Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney missed big chances. But the lack of quality up front remains a major issue and Chelsea, who had a huge opportunity themselves through Nemanja Matic, were able to hold on for a point it always looked like they would be content with.
93 mins: Chelsea attempt to help run down the final few seconds by bringing on Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Oscar.
89 mins: Memphis has just run the ball straight out of play down the left, killing United’s momentum. It’s hard to see a winner now, with just three minutes of injury time to play.
86 mins: United’s need for a striker is shown up once again as Rooney spurns a glorious late chance for a winner. Borthwick-Jackson put in a fine cross from the left but Rooney volleyed wildly over at the back post. It wasn’t a simple opportunity, but a player at this level really has to be finding the net.
85 mins: While United have played with far more purpose of late, the lack of cutting edge up front has again been hugely apparent. Whether Van Gaal remains in charge or not, the club surely has to enter the transfer market for a striker next month.
81 mins: Manchester United make their final change, with Phil Jones replacing Daley Blind. It would be strange if that was for anything other than an injury to Blind.
80 mins: There’s no doubt that it’s Manchester Untied who are pushing for a winner going into the final 10 minutes. Chelsea look like they’d be more than contented to leave Old Trafford with a point.
77 mins: Juan Mata, who crashed a shot against the crossbar in the early minutes but has faded in the second half, comes off to be replaced by Memphis Depay. Can the former PSV Eindhoven wide man get the breakthrough for United in the closing minutes.
74 mins: Wayne Rooney has just whiffed at a chance when clear through on goal, and the Manchester United forward was relieved to look up and see the offside flag raised.
72 mins: Eden Hazard has gone into the referee’s book for a foul on Ashley Young.
70 mins: The first substitutions of the match have been made. For Chelsea Ramires has come on for Willian, while United have brought on young defender Cameron Borthwick-Jackson in place of Matteo Darmian. With neither side having a recognized striker on the bench, it’s perhaps not surprising it’s taken so long for either manager to make a change.
64 mins: And now a second big penalty shout for Manchester United. This time it’s Azpilicueta who goes in for a challenge with Mata in the box. The United man goes tumbling and it’s unclear whether Azpilicueta got any part of the ball first.
62 mins: Huge change horribly wasted by Chelsea. The visitors break from their own half and Pedro’s fine pass sends Nemanja Matic completely in the clear and through on goal. The midfielder takes a good first touch to settle himself but then blasts a shot high into the Old Trafford stands. That could have been a hammer blow to United and Van Gaal after they’ve dominated the contest.
56 mins: How has that stayed out? Martial puts in a superb low ball across the face of goal and Ander Herrera looks certain to score in the middle, but Courtois spreads himself and somehow keeps it out. A few seconds later Willian was lucky to escape giving away a penalty after he controlled the ball onto his arm. Two big escapes for Chelsea as United’s wait to break the deadlock goes on.
51 mins: Martial is looking dangerous again, but he looks bemused after going down and not winning a free-kick after a challenge from Ivanovic. The tempo from both teams has been upped again at the start of the second half.
48 mins: Chelsea have just produced by far their best move of the match. Hazard finds Pedro moving through the middle, and the former Barcelona man forces a fine low save from De Gea, before recovering to block a tame follow-up effort from Cesar Azpilicueta. It’s been a much better start to this second half from Guus Hiddink’s side.
Second half kicks off: No changes for either side at the interval.
Halftime! Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea
That’s unquestionably the best 45 minutes Manchester United have produced in some time. They were particularly impressive early on, when their high-tempo attacking led to efforts against the woodwork from both Juan Mata and Anthony Martial. But the lack of a goal will be a growing concern, even though Chelsea have looked utterly toothless without a recognized striker.
45+1 mins: The temperature of the match is starting to heat up after a succession of fouls that could easily have led to yellow cards.
43 mins: Bastian Schweinsteiger has just blasted a left-footed shot over the bar. Although United have been impressive, there will be growing frustration that they have failed to make the breakthrough, and allowed Chelsea to begin to come into the game more.
39 mins: Chris Smalling has just earned a booking for a foul on Hazard. But in general it’s been a relaxing early evening for him and his fellow United defenders. With no striker to worry about, United’s defense is pushing up and regularly forcing turnovers, which Chelsea aren’t helping with plenty of sloppy passing.
35 mins: The lack of an attacking outlet is really hampering Chelsea’s play so far. Regularly the likes of Hazard are getting the ball and looking forward without any option, leading to the lack of urgency in Chelsea’s play.
30 mins: Now Morgan Schneiderlin has been handed a yellow card after going in for a crunching 50-50 challenge with Willian, in which the Brazilian came off worse.
29 mins: Even Rooney is on his game so far for Manchester United. The goal-shy striker has just tested Courtois with a ferocious dive from distance that the Chelsea keeper turns behind.
27 mins: Unsurprisingly it’s a foul on Martial that produces the first yellow card of the game. John Mikel Obi goes into the book after crudely stopping a Martial breakaway.
23 mins: Much of Manchester United’s best work is coming down their left side, where Branisalv Ivanovic is enduring a torrid time against Martial. The French starlet has just threatened again cutting into the box. He appealed for a penalty after going down, but there was little contact.
20 mins: This is certainly the best the Old Trafford crowd has seen their team play in some time. Manchester United are dominating the game and taking it to Chelsea. The only thing missing thus far is a goal.
16 mins: Manchester United hit the woodwork for a second time! This time it’s Martial, making the most of being moved back to the left, by cutting inside into the penalty area and striking a low right-footed striker that came back off the inside of Courtois’ near post. Agonizingly close.
15 mins: Meanwhile, Chelsea’s lack of a recognized striker has just been shown up with Oscar racing onto a long ball over the top, but, with no teammate anywhere near him, he hits a harmless shot off target.
13 mins: Van Gaal has tried to revive his team’s attacking fortunes by returning Rooney to the central striker role and moving Martial back to the left. So far his instructions are having success, with United’s pressing and energy causing Chelsea problems.
10 mins: Manchester United are playing at a much higher tempo than they have been doing of late. And they’ve just gone close again to an opening goal, with Morgan Scheniderlin hitting a fierce shot just wide from 20 yards.
4 mins: Now close to a goal at the other end. First Daley Blind’s slip let Eden Hazard before Ashley Young did well to cut out the cross. From the resulting corner, David de Gea pulled off a superb reaction save to turn John Terry’s header over the bar. A perhaps surprisingly thrilling end-to-end opening to his contest.
3 mins: But the United fans are cheering on their team right now. Juan Mata has just rocked the crossbar against his former club, hitting a stunning strike from 20 yards following a pass from Rooney, Thibaut Courtois was well beaten. It’s a positive start from the hosts.
1 min: Manchester United scarves with Jose Mourinho’s name on them ahead of kickoff outside Old Trafford. And inside there have already been shots of a sign telling Louis van Gaal to make his exit. It’s surely imperative for the Dutch coach that he gets a win today.
Kickoff! Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Oscar get this huge Premier League game underway at Old Trafford.
12:25 p.m. EST: With five minutes until kickoff at Old Trafford, it’s time to get caught up on the team news. Manchester United make four changes form the team that lost 2-0 to Stoke on Saturday, including the return of Wayne Rooney. For Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas is ill and Gary Cahill is injured. And, with Diego Costa suspended and Loic Remy deemed not fit enough to return, Eden Hazard is set to line up in a false nine role.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 28, 2015
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 28, 2015
Preview: It’s always a huge occasion when Premier League giants Manchester United and Chelsea face off. However, their latest meeting on Monday will see both clubs facing very different pressures to what they have become accustomed to in recent seasons. Rather than going toe-to-toe for the Premier League title, Chelsea are battling to steer clear of the relegation zone and Manchester United are fighting -- or not -- for their manager’s survival.
Manchester United have lost four games in a row in a single season for the first time since 1961, and reports have strongly suggested that a fifth on Monday could spell the end for Louis van Gaal. With the arrogance that he bristled with upon arrival at Old Trafford 18 months ago seemingly long gone, Van Gaal has cut an increasingly dejected figure in recent weeks.
After a 2-0 defeat at Stoke City on Boxing Day he suggested that he could even walk away from his job and that he wasn’t sure he could turn the team’s fortunes around. Currently nine points off the top of the Premier League and sitting in sixth place, there is little margin for error if Manchester United are to mount an expected title challenge.
Any hope of competing for the championship has long since gone for the current title holders. Chelsea have already lost nine games this season, a desperate start to the campaign that saw Jose Mourinho pay with his job two weeks ago.
Guus Hiddink has come in on an interim basis to try and turn the team’s fortunes around, as he did before in 2009. However, his immediate task remains easing fears of a most improbable relegation. Despite a victory in his opening match in charge against Sunderland, a 2-2 draw at home to Watford last time out leaves Chelsea just two points clear of the relegation zone.
For Monday’s visit to Old Trafford, Hiddink will be without suspended striker Diego Costa. In contrast, Manchester United will welcome Bastian Schweinsteiger back from a ban, although still have Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw out injured. Van Gaal’s biggest selection dilemma is over captain Wayne Rooney, who was dropped to the bench against Stoke before coming on at halftime.
Check back here from 12:30 p.m. EST for live score updates and video highlights from the key Premier League fixture.