Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea: Another De Gea howler gift wraps Chelsea top-four advantage
(Getty Images - Simon Stacpoole)

A game in which both teams had to win, a game that should have seen both teams throwing the kitchen sink at each other. However, it became entirely fitting that neither of them did. At the end of a fractious 90 minutes, Old Trafford reverberated into grumbles following yet another failed spectacle in Manchester.

The match in truth felt tedious and wasn't the warfare expected of such a crucial match at such a crucial period of the season. Everything both teams tried never really came off. Juan Mata deservedly put the hosts ahead finishing a fine United move but, in truth, this was where it peaked for Ole Gunner Solskjaer and co. Marcos Alonso equalised before half-time after another howler from David de Gea that was gift wrapped in a pretty blue ribbon to ensure both teams cancelled each other out.

The game became a drag and free-kick after free-kick reflected the mood of the stadium. Both sides showed glimpses of class but not enough to merit victory - a fair eulogy of both team's topsy-turvy seasons.

The story of the match

This wasn't the battle of two former titans that the Premier League has recently become accustomed to. The current predicament of these gargantuan heavyweights was reflected with a performance that wasn't worthy of the name.

Admittedly harsh, considering United started brighter than they had in any of their previous 10 encounters following Solskjaer's full-time appointment. Perhaps the game would have arguably been won had it not been from another lapse in concentration from a worryingly common source.

Mata began his 31st birthday in emphatic fashion bagging a goal against his former club on a successful return to the first-team after three games out. Romelu Lukaku also had a fine return to the senior XI creating the goal through an exquisitely insightful chip into the channel that opened a gaping hole in the Chelsea back-line that was swept up by Luke Shaw whose delicate pull-back found the Spaniard to poke between David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger into an empty net.

It was a fitting goal typified by three players who were the pick of the bunch for United on another performance filled with regret. Meanwhile, for Chelsea, this was further evidence that there are far too many flaws to their game when Eden hazard isn't at the races. They are still waiting for their first clean sheet away from home in the league this year, and despite a dominant defensive performance in the second-half, it wasn't tidy enough to merit the Blues worthy of the three points.

Gonzalo Higuain epitomised Chelsea's problems following another pitiable performance that gave no further evidence or reason for Maurizio Sarri to sign the Argentine on a permanent deal in the summer. When he was presented with a golden opportunity in the 97th minute, he offered no indication that this was a man destined to snatch the win, and it was a rather dull inevitability that the ball would thud of De Gea's shoulder for the final piece of the action.

It's baffling to believe this was a Chelsea team tipped to battle it out for the title with Manchester City and Liverpool only months ago. The Blues 18 match unbeaten run looks a distant memory and it's almost impossible to believe that Sarri and his players were ahead of Liverpool on goal difference as recently as November.

On their day, there is no denying they are one of the countries finest teams, but just like Hazard, those days are frustratingly inconsistent.

The most entertaining piece of action came when Cesar Azpilicueta flew into the Stratford End advertising board in WWE fashion following a schooling in upper body strength from Lukaku.

Antonio Rudiger limped off in a second-half that saw bodies dropping like flies. The German appeared to injure his left knee whilst United substitute Marcus Rojo should have only been on the pitch a matter of minutes following a quite disgusting tackle on Willian.

Jorginho continued to frustrate Paul Pogba with a number of fouls that proved Chelsea could give as good as they got in terms of s***housery. The defining moment of the game, however, proved to be De Gea yet again. A familiar culprit in blunders failed to parry away Rudiger's fierce shot that was swept home by Alonso who was well alert to De Gea's recent failings, unlike the entire United defence.

The second half was pretty much as you were with little worth of note following the opening period. Andreas Christensen came on for the unfortunate Rudiger whilst Eric Baily also was added to the list of those unfortunate with continued injury woes after falling to the earth in pain for a number of minutes.

Pedro also came on and blazed an unconvincing effort over the bar before heroically clearing Rojo's effort off the line. Higuain passed up his shot at glory to conclude a game of has-beens rather that one of significant quality.

And so, a top-four race about as unconventional as current Brexit negotiations still eludes a clear favourite. The fight undoubtedly continues. The only real comfort for either team is the ineptitude of their competitors around them.

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