Premier Analysis: Van Persie spoils Chelsea's nice weekend as City and Liverpool slip
Man United 1-1 Chelsea
Robin van Persie's late leveller added some drama to a game that had struggled to justify the attention lavished upon it.
All the talk before the game had been about Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho – the former Barcelona buddies whose reputations bestride the Premier League. In the event, two managers who don't mind a counter-attack presided over a battle between two evenly matched sides, neither of which was too bothered about possession.
Although ball ownership was evenly split, the home side created more chances, and Thibaut Courtois' Man of the Match award was definitely better deserved than Joe Hart's against San Marino. Perhaps Chelsea missed the absent Diego Costa – who wouldn't? – but it was his replacement who opened the scoring shortly after half-time, some bloke called Didier Drogba.
Over the piece, each side looked susceptible to crosses, failing to deal with more than a third of them. (For comparison with the day's other matches, at Tottenham only 10 of 51 crosses were completed, while at Burnley it was just 6 of 41.) And it was from a cross that the iconic Ivorian rose at the near post to punish Van Gaal's possibly debatable decision to have the much shorter Rafael mark him on set-pieces.
Although Chelsea threatened a second, halfway through the half Mourinho replaced Oscar with John Obi Mikel. It's hardly an unusual switch, but coupled with United bringing on striker James Wilson for Juan Mata – who had set up 3 shots but not exactly immolated the globe – it helped the home side gain impetus.
While Mourinho continued to tick down the minutes bringing on substitutes, Van Gaal made just the one change – not unsurprising, given his bench otherwise consisted of kids and defensive midfielders. He may have made a change had Radamel Falcao been fit, and it may have been his compatriot Robin van Persie who made way, but again circumstance dictated the hero.
Three minutes into injury time, Branislav Ivanovic earned a second yellow card for halting Angel Di Maria handily close to the Old Trafford tunnel. The Argentine's free-kick was headed at goal by Marouane Fellaini, who would quite possibly have been Ivanovic's man had the Serbian not been soaping up; Courtois made his 6th save of the day, but the rebound fell for Van Persie to lash home.
Old Trafford erupted in celebration as United made it four games unbeaten. The former champions haven't gone five lossless league games since last November, and as 2014 slips into autumn they'll be hoping they can continue to improve. So will Chelsea, considering United's next game is at Manchester City, who slipped down the rankings with Saturday's defeat at West Ham. Mourinho may be miffed at the late leveller but with City hiccupping, Liverpool struggling and United still very much in transition, the Portuguese will know this weekend has only strengthened his side's chances. (GP)
- Didier Drogba scored his first Premier League goal since March 2012 (vs Stoke).
- Drogba became the second oldest opposition goalscorer at Old Trafford in the Premier League with this goal (36 years 229 days), after Gary Speed (37 years 190 days).
- In 9 league games for Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas has been involved in 9 goals (1 goal, 8 assists).
- Fabregas has recorded 8 assists this season, more than any Chelsea player managed last season in the league.
- Man United have conceded 6 league goals this season from set-pieces; only Crystal Palace have let in more in this manner.
- John Terry made his 430th Premier League appearance in this game for Chelsea, overtaking Frank Lampard as the player with the most appearances for the club in the competition.
- Robin van Persie has scored 7 league goals against Chelsea, but this is the first away from Stamford Bridge.
- Both of Branislav Ivanovic’s red cards in the Premier League have come against Manchester United.
- Van Persie’s leveller was United's latest goal in the Premier League since Michael Owen vs Man City in 2009.