54 min: Azpilicueta goes down again and requires some more treatment. He’s going to battle on.
52 min: United want another, though. Malacia crosses low from the left. Eriksen tries to bundle home but Kepa scoops off the line. The ball breaks to Casemiro, who passes a shot wide right. So close to a third.
50 min: … so with perfect comic timing, Mudryk dribbles in from the left and scuffs a shot towards the bottom left. De Gea sees it late and tips around the post for a corner, from which nothing develops. Better from the expensive winger, though the bar’s not been set high.
49 min: Gallagher and Madueke have combined well down the right this evening, and again they threaten to open United up with some crisp passing. Not quite, but if Chelsea are going to get back into this, the right flank might be their best option. “I know, given the way the season’s panned out, this point is rather moot,” begins Russell Yong, “but considering how hard they tried and who they eventually got, Arsenal must be so, so glad they got a PL-ready, up-for-the-fight Trossard and not Mudryk who, granted, did not become crap overnight, but looks far from ready as a Premier League player.”
47 min: United nearly make it three in short order! Lindelof robs Gallagher in midfield and United break forward. Sancho makes good down the inside right and cuts back for Fernandes, who aims for the top-right corner and only just misses, rattling the junction of post and bar instead. Lovely move.
Manchester United, who are closing in on making it 11 unbeaten against Chelsea, get the ball rolling for the second half. Malacia replaces Shaw, while Richard Hirst (8pm) busies himself by downgrading his pre-match hopes: “Well, I suppose I’ll have to console myself with the possibility of Chelsea falling further down the table: Wolves and West Ham must be licking their lips.”
Manchester United haven’t lost a league game at home after leading at half-time since Ipswich Town turned it around against Ron Atkinson’s side in 1984. Given that astonishing statistic, we can say with some confidence that Erik ten Hag’s men have one foot and four toes in next season’s Champions League. They’re also going to leapfrog Newcastle into third place as things stand.
This is Chelsea’s season in microcosm. They’ve enjoyed more possession, and created more chances … and look at the scoreline. Had Chelsea shown even a smidgen of competence in the final third, they’d surely be leading this match. Erik ten Hag isn’t fooled, and storms off down the tunnel with a look on his face that suggests some home truths are a’-coming the way of his defenders.
Fernandes tries to break clear down the right. He’s blocked. The ball breaks to Casemiro, who wedges a pass down the inside-right channel for Sancho. One touch, and the ball’s rolled across the face of goal for Martial, who sidefoots into an empty net. A goal and an assist (sort of) for Casemiro!
45 min +4: Space for Sancho down the inside-right channel. He’s got options in the middle, but cuts back to nobody in particular, allowing Chukwuemeka to waltz off upfield. Old Trafford groans.
45 min +3: Tough crowd in tonight, by the way. “From a technical standpoint this has been pathetic,” writes John Ryan, while Rotimi Styles adds: “I am beginning to doubt Mudryk’s abilities as a professional footballer.”
45 min +1: The first of six added minutes passes by without incident.
45 min: Fernandez slips a pass down the inside-right channel for Gallagher, who enters the area and scuffs a shot across De Gea and inches wide of the left-hand post. Yet another huge chance spurned! It’s not often I’ll say this, but I’d be interested to know the xG of this first half.
44 min: Azpilicueta’s cute backheel sends Gallagher into some space down the middle. He opens his body and aims a curler towards the top-right corner of the net. It only finds the top-right corner of the Stretford End. A couple of better-placed team-mates berate him for his inaccuracy, though given what’s happened previously, they’ve got a bloody cheek.
42 min: Madueke drives down the right and cuts back for Gallagher, who can’t get the ball under control, six yards out, for a shot. United half clear but Chelsea come again, and once more it’s Madueke, who reaches the byline on the right before crossing deep towards Hall. The young left-back chests down and shoots, but that’s blocked. Chelsea are well on top right now, and creating chances. No idea how they haven’t scored at least once.
40 min: Fernandez rolls an inviting pass down the inside-left channel for Mudryk. Any player with any sort of confidence would take a touch, enter the area, and shoots. Mudryk has none, though, and with his first touch absolutely blooters the ball down the channel and out for a goal kick.
39 min: Mudryk one-twos with Havertz down the middle and nearly works an opportunity to shoot. But he can’t quite get the ball under control, and United clear.
37 min: A slight lull. Hey, it’s been a long season for everyone.
35 min: Sancho dribbles in from the left. He sits Azpilicueta down, only to then shoot into a thicket of other Chelsea defenders. Blocked. Cleared.
34 min: Fofana lightly clips Fernandes’ heel in the Chelsea box. The referee waves play on. VAR has a check. It’s one of those: not so clear or obvious, and so the on-field decision stands. Had the referee pointed to the spot, that decision would surely have stood as well. Good old VAR, eh? No.
32 min: Chelsea miss another absolute sitter. Hall makes good down the left and curls a perfect cross onto Havertz’s head, six yards out. Havertz clanks his header miles wide left, when it was easier to score. Chelsea have only scored 36 goals this season, ten fewer than their previous worst Premier League effort, a 46-goal haul in 1996. It’s easy to work out how and why.
31 min: Madueke, Havertz and Chukwuemeka enjoy themselves with some crisp triangulation down the right wing. Again, though, there’s no way through.
29 min: Rashford comes on in Antony’s wake. A huge roar welcomes the home hero back from injury.
28 min: Some good news, perhaps, in that Antony is able to get back to his feet? No, it’s false hope. He can’t put any weight on his ankle, and goes back down covering his eyes in agony. Antony is put onto a stretcher and is carried off to warm applause. That looks far from good with an FA Cup final on the horizon. Godspeed.
26 min: There didn’t seem to be much wrong with Chalobah’s tackle, but he accidentally caught Antony on the ankle, and the United player writhes around in pain quite dramatically. It doesn’t look good and the stretcher comes on.
24 min: Antony tries to trick his way down the inside-right channel, only to be tackled well by Chalobah on the edge of the box. A fine and fair challenge, and play goes on, but Antony stays down. He looks in a lot of pain. United play the ball out so their stricken solider can receive attention.
22 min: Sky flash up an interesting stat: today’s Chelsea starting XI is their youngest in Premier League history. At an average age of 23 years and 238 days, it knocks the team sent out to face Crystal Palace in November 2019 (24 years and 88 days) into a cocked baby’s bonnet.
20 min: Azpilicueta needs some treatment after stretching to make that important challenge. He’s good to continue for now, though.
19 min: Antony races into space down the right and slips Martial into the Chelsea box with a cute diagonal pass. Martial takes a heavy touch and allows Azpilicueta to poke the ball back to Kepa. The chances keep on coming.
18 min: Casemiro comes sliding across Chukwuemeka and gets nowhere near the ball. He’s lucky not to go into the book. Should he get himself sent off today, he’d miss the cup final. “Amazingly Casemiro is an anagram of I am score,” writes Malcolm Shuttleworth. “Not very good English but he’s trying!” A damn sight better than my Portuguese.
16 min: Fernandes fizzes in a cross from the right. Martial can’t decide whether to shoot or attempt to play a through ball for Sancho, and the ball squirts through to Kepa. Both teams are so open at the back. Some would say shambolic. Both are looking pretty nifty up front, though. There is absolutely no way the scoring has ended this evening, surely.
14 min: Gallagher has an opportunity to shoot from the right-hand corner of the United box but his slip is straight out of the circus tradition. Then United break quickly, Antony cutting in from the right and curling wide left from distance.
12 min: Gallagher and Chukwuemeka are seeing quite a lot of the ball on the edge of United’s box. No way through at the moment, though.
10 min: Chelsea are all over the shop at the back … but United don’t exactly look watertight either. Havertz races down the inside-right channel and should find Gallagher, inexplicably free on the penalty spot. But his low cross is too strong and too far ahead of his team-mate. This could quite easily be 2-2 already.
9 min: Sancho drives down the inside-left channel and slips a diagonal pass through what passes for Chelsea’s back line and towards Fernandes, free in the middle on the edge of the box. But Fernandes can’t control and the ball squirts through to Kepa.
8 min: The goal stands! Meanwhile here’s Jeff Sax: “That fantastic Chelsea counter-attack that ended with a spectacular miss, it sums up Todd Boehly.”
7 min: VAR are checking this for offside. To the naked eye, the goal looks fine. But let’s see. We’ve been wrong before.
A free kick for United out on the left touchline. Shaw and Eriksen stand over it as their team-mates queue up on the edge of the box. Eriksen curls it in. Casemiro rises highest, six yards out, and plants a header into the top left. Kepa rooted to the spot. Champions League ahoy for United!
4 min: Chelsea should be leading. Hall is sent scampering into space down the left by Gallagher’s clever ball around the corner. Hall rolls into the centre for Mudryk, who is free, six yards out. Mudryk opens his body and wafts a miserable effort wide right. He had to score. He’s not exactly prolific, to be fair, but even so.
3 min: Madueke makes good down the right and cuts back for Chukwuemeka, who attempts a curler over De Gea and towards the top-left corner. It’s always flying over the bar.
2 min: Within 20 seconds, Chalobah gifts the ball to Antony, who nearly releases Fernandes into the Chelsea box with a pass down the inside-right channel. That’s intercepted, but United come again, Casemiro winning possession and starting a move that sees Fernandes nearly find Sancho free, 12 yards out. Chelsea concede the first corner of the match and deal with it, but this is a strong start by the home side.
Chelsea get the ball rolling. They’ll be kicking towards the Stretford End in this first half.
The teams are out! Manchester United wear their storied red, Chelsea their royal blue. Old Trafford is buzzing ahead of its penultimate game of the season. Joy Division, the Stone Roses, reworkings of John Denver songs, there’s something for everyone. Meanwhile turns out Peter Oh (7.41pm) isn’t the only one wishing United somehow make a monumental balls of their Champions League bid. “The complexity of being a football supporter when the two teams you dislike most are playing each other,” begins Richard Hirst. “As a Fulham supporter do I hope United get a point, so that they field a weakened team against us and we get some revenge, albeit hollow, for the FA Cup defeat? Or given that Chelsea cannot finish above us, do I subordinate my lifelong antipathy towards them and hope they win, so that on Sunday we can get real revenge and kick United out of the Champions League (always assuming Liverpool win)? It has to be the latter, so come on Chelsea (how much I hate saying that!).” We’ll be off in a minute.
A reminder of just how close Manchester United are to securing Champions League football. We’ll assume Chelsea fans won’t want reminding of where their lads are in the table.
Pre-match postbag o’patter. “I find it incredible that Garnacho doesn’t start ahead of Sancho or even Antony” – Paul Howarth
“Should Lampard postpone any further Premier League dreams and follow his golden generation mate Wayne Rooney and search out a MLS manager position and work a bit at his craft before returning down the line?” – Mary Waltz (who already knows the answer)
“I hate what modern football does to me. It’s almost certainly too much to expect Chelsea and Fulham to beat United and keep Liverpool’s top-four hopes alive, but hey, as long as the chance has not been mathematically extinguished: Come on you Boehly-ball Blues!!! Lamps you Legend, Do it for Stevie G!!! Sigh. It sure is hard to maintain one’s dignity in the era of modern football” – Peter Oh
Lampard exits, and Erik ten Hag immediately takes over the mic. “You don’t get a point, you have to deserve a point … but for me that can never be an approach for a game, you have to win a game … we want to play in our style, proactive and dynamic … we are in a really good position but we have to get the job done … we have to focus on this game … we have to show a winning attitude and go for it … Chelsea have high potential, as a group of players they are outstanding … but it’s not about them, it’s about us, and we have to make it our game … it has to be high levels because they have good players … there is a really positive vibe at Carrington … a top culture … we have to set higher standards and get better.”
Frank Lampard talks to Sky. “We’re playing for pride, playing for Chelsea … opportunity for each individual … the season may be over in terms of what we can achieve and what Chelsea are used to achieving, but individually there’s a reason in the dressing room for everyone … there’s a lot of pride at stake … [the large squad size] has been challenging … it’s been a difficult balance this year and I’ve obviously come in at the back end of that … the squad size is something the club will address … there are a lot of standards and basics that have dropped down a level … the basic level before you get to tactics needs to step up again.”
As for the Mason Mount situation? “I don’t know what the solution is going to be … it’s a club and Mason issue … I don’t know where Mason is at personally … I know he’s held in high regard at the club and do what they can to make him stay … I would never talk in the modern day about what a player should do … players move on … it’s a shame we’ve got into this situation where it’s maybe happening.”
Manchester United are on a two-game winning tear-up, so if it ain’t broke, etc., and so forth, and so on. Erik ten Hag names an unchanged starting XI after the 1-0 win at Bournemouth last weekend. Marcus Rashford returns from injury and takes a spot on the bench.
Chelsea make three changes to the side that started the 1-0 defeat at Manchester City on Sunday. Carney Chukwuemeka, Mykhailo Mudryk and Noni Madueke replace Thiago Silva and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who drop to the bench, and Raheem Sterling, who misses out altogether.
Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw, Casemiro, Eriksen, Antony, Fernandes, Sancho, Martial.
Subs: Butland, Dalot, Maguire, Malacia, Fred, McTominay, Garnacho, Rashford, Weghorst.
Chelsea: Kepa, W Fofana, Chalobah, Azpilicueta, Fernandez, Chukwuemeka, Madueke, Hall, Gallagher, Havertz, Mudryk.
Subs: Mendy, Silva, Pulisic, Felix, Loftus-Cheek, Ziyech, Koulibaly, D Fofana, Gilchrist.
Manchester United can sense it, smell it, nearly taste and touch it. Yes, the return of Champions League football to Old Trafford, after one long season roaming the barren plains of Europa, is merely a single solitary point away. You’d expect them to get it tonight, not least because the last five meetings between these two giants have ended in a draw. There’s also the small matter of United having not lost a Premier League match at home since the opening day of the season … while Chelsea have lost seven of their last nine matches in all competitions, and Frank Lampard has tasted defeat 18 times in his last 23 managerial outings.
Chelsea have only pride left to play for. They’re already condemned to their first bottom-half finish since 1996; they’re already guaranteed to finish lower than both Brentford and Fulham for the first time in history. So they could do with a boost. Will it spur them on to surprise the upwardly mobile Red Devils? Or will Erik ten Hag’s team secure Champions League football tonight and render the final day visit of Fulham a stress-free experience? Kick off is at 8pm BST. It’s on!