Thomas Tuchel remains unbeaten but Chelsea miss chance to get back into top four

Manchester United eke out draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday

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Nine matches into his career in English football, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel is yet to experience defeat. It’s a sound start, and to have emerged intact from perhaps his most taxing domestic fixture yet, hosting a Manchester United with a startlingly strong away record should count as a plus. Or it would be if Chelsea were not left tantalisingly short of the Premier League’s top four, which is Tuchel’s priority objective.

At times, Chelsea were the stronger, more fluent side, although through a vigorous, energetic contest the initiative would swayed back and forth. The result suits United best, given how remote their title prospects have become. They remain second, six points ahead of fifth-placed Chelsea.

Fresh to the Premier League he may be, but Tuchel arrived with a charged rivalry with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, his counterpart, already well developed.

Tuchel’s Paris Saint-Germain and Solskjaer’s United met four times in three seasons in Europe, and the balance of fortunes is tight. There was the dramatic, last-gasp Champions League elimination of PSG that helped Solskjaer move from caretaker boss to permanent United manager in 2019.

But shortly before Tuchel went from being PSG head coach to ex-head coach in December, his Ligue 1 champions helped knock Solskjaer’s United out of the group phase.

There was some lively dialogue between the two managers on the touchline on Sunday.

Had Tuchel, after 15 minutes, reflected to himself the circumstances of that eventful last-16 tie two years ago, when United progressed thanks to a late penalty, awarded for a hotly debated handball, via VAR, it would only have been natural.

The referee Stuart Attwell had a handball judgement to make at Stamford Bridge, advised by VAR to consider whether Callum Hudson-Odoi had infringed when his hand appeared to make contact with the ball, his arm rising towards it, as he challenged Mason Greenwood inside the Chelsea penalty area. Attwell looked at the replay and found in favour of Hudson-Odoi.

It had been a lively start, Chelsea ambitious from the kick-off, United aggressively set up to strike on the counter-attack. Hudson-Odoi, spared that possible penalty against him, set up perhaps the best chance of the first half, capitalising on open space on the Chelsea right to zip in a menacing cross. Olivier Giroud launched himself at it, diving, and missed his connection very narrowly.

No doubting Giroud’s determination. He was in some pain from his lower back thudding against the goalpost as he stretched to meet the cross. If that was a measure of Chelsea’s drive, then United matched it. Moments later, Marcus Rashford was hurtling into and over an advertising hoarding after a chase for the ball.

As ever, United looked most threatening when Rashford combined with Bruno Fernandes, although the Portuguese was not to have one of his most accomplished afternoons as a passer. United pressed high, unnerving Eduoard Mendy into some hasty, misplaced clearances.

But they left some gaps, Ben Chilwell exploiting extra room on the left just as Hudson-Odoi had on the opposite wing. Chilwell’s low pass picked out Hakim Ziyech, who drew an excellent reaction save from David de Gea.

The goalkeeper had been moving to his left to anticipate Ziyech’s strike and had to adjust to reach out a right hand to parry. Following up, Reece James’s shot was blocked by Luke Shaw, the left-back no less alert than De Gea had been.

Chelsea’s James had replaced Hudson-Odoi at half-time, the winger apparently injured rather than, as two weeks ago, being hooked off by a dissatisfied Tuchel.

The substitution was not disruptive, Chelsea keeping their width and enjoying a strong period of pressure after the break. Confidence grew, personified in the solo run by Mason Mount that took the midfielder from halfway and, after exchanging passes with Ziyech, deep into the United penalty area. There Mount turned past Scott McTominay, but as he shaped to shoot, McTominay recovered his position to smother the effort.

Neither side flagged. McTominay, at the other end, essayed a couple of efforts from distance, the first kept out by Mendy, and Mason Greenwood arrowed just the wrong side of Mendy’s right-hand post. Fred pumped a shot wide of the other upright.

Chelsea introduced pace from the bench, in the form of Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner, the German striker thwarted, as he tracked a cross from Reece James, by a deft intervention from Victor Lindelof. Pulisic embarked on a promising sprint, but blazed his drive over the United crossbar. Chelsea finished the more urgent, but then their need was the greater.