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Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech fritters chance to turn up heat on Manchester United

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David Hytner at Stamford Bridge
·4-min read
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<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

It is the statistic that undermines the good Manchester United have done in the Premier League this season: they have failed to score a single goal in open play against opponents from the so-called big six.

Their only return in what is now seven attempts came from a Bruno Fernandes penalty in the 6-1 home defeat against Tottenham. This was their fifth 0-0 draw and, although it was more watchable than some of the others, it illustrated why they lag so far behind Manchester City. In the decisive matches they have not only mislaid their creativity and cutting edge, they have seemed risk averse.

Related: Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United: Premier League – live!

The draw did extend United’s club record unbeaten top-flight away run to 20 games and, more importantly, it kept them six points above Chelsea who are fifth. A Champions League finish is the most likely prize for United’s endeavours in the league and it remains well within their grasp.

Chelsea could be the unhappier at the result, although it continued Thomas Tuchel’s unbeaten start to life at the club. His run now stands at nine games in all competitions, with six wins and only two goals conceded.

The problem for the new manager has been in front of goal. His team are not scoring enough because they are not creating enough. Hakim Ziyech was denied by David de Gea in the 48th minute when he should have scored and it was difficult to remember anything else of note for them. Tuchel has a wealth of attacking talent in his squad but he cannot accommodate all of it, nor has he been able to find the right combinations. It feels as though the emphasis for him so far has been on forcing mistakes from the opposition high up the pitch rather than crafting openings in a more proactive way. One thing is clear: it has not been thrilling.

Tuchel made a switch from 3-4-2-1 to 3-4-1-2 when he replaced Olivier Giroud with Christian Pulisic on 65 minutes and his reason for doing so was revealing. “We defended with two strikers to block them so that they cannot enter with the ball,” Tuchel said.

The big talking point came in the 10th minute when Stuart Attwell chose not to award United a penalty despite his video assistant suggesting he review an incident in which Callum Hudson-Odoi appeared to handle. United were incensed, with Ole Gunnar Solskjær muttering darkly afterwards about Attwell’s motivation for opting not to reverse his original decision and the pressure he believed had been brought to bear on the official by Chelsea.

Callum Hudson-Odoi appears to handle the ball under pressure from Mason Greenwood.
Callum Hudson-Odoi appears to handle the ball under pressure from Mason Greenwood. Photograph: Ian Walton/Reuters

Mason Greenwood challenged for the ball after Édouard Mendy had beaten away a swerving Marcus Rashford free-kick, leaning towards it with his shoulder, and at that point Hudson‑Odoi appeared to nudge it away with his hand. Attwell went to the pitchside monitor and it felt as though the penalty was inevitable. Not so.

United’s strategy was also to win the ball in the final third and it was noticeable how high Solskjær asked his front four to press. The visitors were determined not to allow Chelsea to hog possession and dictate the tempo. It was extremely tactical; systems and ideals over individual match-ups with no forward-thinking player leaving much of a mark.

That said, the tempo was consistently high and the players’ technical ability in tight spaces and with little time was tested. Defensively, the levels were impressive, the strength and decision‑making beyond reproach on both sides.

Tuchel gave starting opportunities to a trio of players he has not yet counted on in the league – Ben Chilwell, N’Golo Kanté and Ziyech – and his team’s best moment before the interval came when Antonio Rüdiger switched the play with a long diagonal from left to right for Hudson-Odoi. His whipped cross was just in front of Giroud. Ziyech also shot at De Gea while Hudson-Odoi lashed off target.

Hudson-Odoi did not reappear for the second half – he was spotted with a strapping on his knee – and Ziyech’s golden chance arrived when Chiwell’s low cut-back came through to him. The connection was clean but De Gea, who was moving in the opposite direction, threw back a strong hand to save. Ziyech needed to pick out a corner. On the rebound Hudson-Odoi’s replacement, Reece James, saw his shot blocked by Luke Shaw.

It was clear that one moment or one error would likely be decisive. Could either team force it? United were slightly more threatening in the second half, with the off-colour Fernandes missing a pass to Rashford on the counter, Greenwood whipping a shot too high, Scott McTominay shooting at Mendy and Fred curling just past the angle of post and crossbar.

Mason Mount had one darting run for Chelsea which ended when McTominay made a challenge but it was a day when excitement was in short supply.