Despite dominating for large spells of the game and producing some of the best football Old Trafford has seen during the Dutchman’s tenure, United failed to make their superiority count and are now nine points adrift of league leaders Arsenal and five points below fourth placed City, who have a game in hand.
Here’s five talking points from yesterday.
1) United ditch philosophy but is it too late?
Right from kick-off, United looked a completely different side from the one that stumbled to consecutive defeats against Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke City. Aggressive without the ball, enterprising when in possession and not afraid of committing men forward, Louis Van Gaal’s men dominated the first half, with Juan Mata and Anthony Martial rattling the woodwork and Morgan Schneiderlin going close himself.
United somewhat failed to keep up the momentum in the second 45 minutes but their performance drew a positive response from parts of the crowd, which clapped the team off the pitch, and United’s effort could not be faulted yesterday.
However, the performance was so different from the previous displays that one wonders what triggered it and whether it can be replicated.
2) Usual negatives remain amid new positives
Much improved as United’s performance was, they remained crippled by familiar problems in the final third of the pitch.
Having created more chances in 90 minutes than in any of the previous three games combined – up until yesterday, when they hit the woodwork twice in the first 16 minutes, United had hit the post or the bar only three times in the league this season – Van Gaal’s men were unable to convert their superiority into a decisive lead.
Mata and Martial hit the bar and the post, Ander Herrera was denied by a super save and Wayne Rooney wasted a glorious opportunity late in the second half, as United recorded their fifth goalless draw in their last eight games at home in all competitions.
Teams that don’t score goals are simply not good enough.
3) What now for Van Gaal?
For a man who had claimed he would not necessarily wait to be sacked before leaving the club, Van Gaal looked surprisingly defiant yesterday, as he made clear he has no intentions of stepping down.
Van Gaal was allegedly handed two games to save his job. He got a point out of them, while his side failed to score in 180 minutes, hardly the kind of results that would have convinced the board to give him more time.
Meanwhile, the Dutchman, who had looked a spent force after the defeat at Stoke, seemed hell-bent to remain in charge on Monday.
Amid all the uncertainty, the only thing we can be sure of is that this kind of farce will harm United in the long term.
4) United should not read too much into yesterday’s game
After the game, Louis Van Gaal insisted he retains the support of the board and, citing the applause he received from the South Stand, the Dutchman said fans were behind him as well.
However, United remain in a very delicate situation. Improved as the performance was, it came against a Chelsea side in utter disarray, who arrived at Old Trafford without a recognised striker and still managed to look threatening, particularly in the second half.
The standards at United have declined so sharply that even a 0-0 draw against a side that started the game 16th on the table are now met with praise. Yes, it was an improvement, but it was not good enough and handing Van Gaal’s more time based on yesterday’s game would be absolutely ludicrous.
5) De Gea to the rescue again
A large section of fans applauded United off the pitch on Monday but things could have been very different had David De Gea not delivered another stunning display. Having denied John Terry with a superb save early in the first half, the Spaniard produced a fantastic double stop to keep out Pedro and Cesar Azpilicueta in the second 45 minutes.
Of course, had Nemanja Matic not squandered a glorious one-on-one, De Gea’s heroics would have been undone but the Spain international remains among the few United players performing at the level that is expected of him.
If Real Madrid come calling again this summer, will United succeed in holding on to him?