Manchester United travelled to Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon fearing it would be business as usual away to Chelsea. They had lost 10 of their last 16 visits to this stadium in the league. With Maurizio Sarri’s team flying and Jose Mourinho’s struggling, it was hard to see past a Chelsea win.
When the home team took an early lead, after Antonio Rudiger lost Paul Pogba from a corner, supporters began to expect the worst.
However, an impressive second half performance from United saw them go 2-1 ahead, with Anthony Martial delivering two brilliant goals. The Frenchman would have been sold in the summer if Mourinho had his way, with the player’s agent confirming that he wanted a transfer, but it was all smiles between the two when he was substituted in the second half.
Martial pointed to the United badge on his shirt when celebrating in front of the travelling fans, suggesting reports are true when they claim he is set to extend his current contract at the club.
When Martial is at his best, he is unstoppable, and there was nothing the world’s most expensive goalkeeper could have done to keep the forward’s goals out, so fans will be hoping his future is in Manchester.
Everything was set up perfectly for it to be a brilliant afternoon for Mourinho at his old stomping ground, before Ross Barkley scored a 96th minute equaliser. The manager was unsure where all the added time came from but that mattered little to the end result.
What followed was a moment that saw Chelsea on the “wrong side”, according to Sarri, with coach Marco Ianni running back and forth in front of Mourinho in celebration. The coach then legged it down the tunnel as Mourinho stood to confront him, later apologising alongside Sarri. The Stamford Bridge crowd then reacted to the most successful manager in their club’s entire history by chanting at him to “f**k off”.
However frustrated United supporters will be by the result, and they will be very frustrated, at least they can console themselves with the fact they’ll never treat their all-time greatest manager in the same way.
Ahead of the game, Mourinho had spoken about his respect for the fans of his former club, and when asked would he celebrate like crazy if United won, he explained why he wouldn’t.
“I think I would try to control myself and to respect the stadium and the supporters that were my supporters and stadium for many years. I would think which stadium I am in, which public is in the stands but apart from that it is another match for me.”
The feeling is clearly not mutual, with Chelsea fans seemingly oddly aggrieved by the fact he has taken on another job after their club sacked him.
Upon reflection, a point away from home against Chelsea is a decent result for United and the supporters would have happily taken that before kick-off. Although that does little to make them feel better after dropping two points and missing out on a rare win at Stamford Bridge with the last kick of the ball.
But what the result and performance, particularly in the second half, shows is that Mourinho has not lost the dressing room and the players still take some pride in representing the club, which didn’t seem apparent during their recent 3-1 away defeat against West Ham.
Mourinho’s future at United isn’t secured by this result though and, with big games against Juventus and Manchester City in the coming weeks, he will have to use the experience of this game to further improve.
Romelu Lukaku looked brighter in the second half, as did his teammates, but you would be hard pushed to find a United fan who wants him to start in the next game. His incredible form for Belgium is not mirrored when he’s wearing the red of United and it’s clear to all that he could do with a ‘rest’ after going seven games of the full 90 minutes without a goal.
Martial shone for United in his debut season when he lead the line and following his finishing against Chelsea, strikes you couldn’t imagine Lukaku putting away at the moment, he would be a good option up front in the Champions League next week.
Alexis Sanchez, who still hasn’t found his feet at United, would also be a possible improvement if used centrally. Mourinho hasn’t been a fan of rotating Lukaku though, regardless of the form he’s in, so it might be unlikely to see him dropped against the Italian side.
While the situation could and should be a lot better at United than it is, the last two games have shown some signs of encouragement. To come back against Newcastle and to draw away against Chelsea suggests there’s some fight left in the team yet.
But there is still the sense that the Mourinho era at United is drawing to an end and he is clinging on for dear life with the points he is collecting at the moment.