If the stage had seemed set for Cristiano Ronaldo to score the 800th goal of his career, holding midfielders past and present instead assumed the initiative after he was dropped.
Michael Carrick is Ronaldo’s former teammate who nonetheless benched him for the first hour and added to the favourable impression he has made as Manchester United’s caretaker-manager. If Carrick returns to the ranks now, he can do so with reputation enhanced and having brought stability to a side who kicked off in 10th place, albeit without the flagship win that was on the cards for 19 minutes.
Because Jorginho completed the cliched journey from villain to hero. When it is said a player gifts a goal to the opponents, it is often an exaggeration: perhaps not on this occasion, as a technician’s dreadful touch allowed Jadon Sancho to put United ahead.
Jorginho cancelled out the goal he gave away with a spot kick that felt a triumph of character. Usually so nonchalantly excellent from 12 yards, Jorginho’s penalty-taking has been rather more erratic of late, and may end up costing Italy a place at the World Cup. But his casual approach was justified as he sidefooted his shot past David de Gea.
It stemmed from a rash lunge by Aaron Wan-Bissaka on Thiago Silva. The right-back was the only member of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s favoured back four available but while the understudies acquitted themselves well, his torrid campaign continued with a needless mistake. Carrick had overseen a clean sheet against Villarreal on Tuesday and has nevertheless brought defensive improvement to what was a shambolic side.
And United’s goal came from a player he has championed. Solskjaer bought Sancho but scarcely seemed to know what to do with him. The £73 million ($97.4m) man never scored for the Norwegian. He has two goals in as many games for Carrick. An inadvertent assist came from a Chelsea playmaker, Jorginho failing to control Bruno Fernandes’ up-and-under. Sancho sped on to it and held a battle of nerves with Edouard Mendy.
And this amounted to a difficult day for the league leaders as they dropped points. United had conceded five goals in the first 50 minutes against Liverpool and two by half-time against Manchester City. After two fine saves by De Gea in the first three minutes, they could savour the lack of drama before the break.
The Spaniard held Hakim Ziyech’s shot on the turn and then did still better to extend a leg and deflect Callum Hudson-Odoi’s shot past the post. Until Jorginho struck, the only man to beat De Gea was Antonio Rudiger. The German has an occasional fondness for ferocious long-range shots and when he let fly, De Gea collided with the post as the ball hit the bar.
And Chelsea were not at their most incisive. Predictably, Timo Werner missed his best chance, skewing a shot wide. A front three of Werner, Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi had a second-string feel, even if it was partly by choice. Tuchel opted against parachuting the former United striker Romelu Lukaku back into the team and he began on a bench that featured Mason Mount and Kai Havertz. Lukaku was confined to a late cameo.
Ronaldo at least came on earlier. But Carrick had demoted him with Fernandes recalled to lead the line in a team who tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to press high. Given Ralf Rangnick’s fondness for pressing, it may be ominous for the veteran. Nevertheless, as he watched on, United struggled to mount a threat in the first half, when they were limited to two touches in the Chelsea box, partly by their own inability to retain the ball.
Yet while they were forced back, they defended admirably. Carrick selected three defensive midfielders and they were kept busy. United acquired a counter-attacking menace after the interval. They ended up under pressure and were rewarded with a point that reflects well on Carrick.