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Chelsea 2-2 United: Comebacks, chaos, and points shared at the Bridge

Well, that was annoying. But also encouraging. And funny. But ultimately annoying.

Chelsea FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Try and make sense of all that, then. United went one down in a miserable first half, roared back to lead for most of the second, and then took a suckerpunch right at the death to leave Stamford Bridge with a confusing point. Oh, and Jose Mourinho nearly had a fight on the touchline. We’ll be hearing more of that, doubtless.

The fear going into the game was that United’s rickety defence, which not long ago conceded two to Newcastle on the opening ten minutes, might get pulled apart early by Chelsea’s movement, quick passing, and Eden Hazard. This didn’t happen, despite Jose Mourinho’s notionally attacking line-up.

But United’s football wasn’t quite as enterprising as the teamsheet promised: the defence sat deep, Juan Mata followed Jorginho around, and when they countered they did so in twos and threes. Chances from open play were scarce — for both sides — but this only increased the importance of concentrating, of not making a silly error, of defending set pieces competently.

And then Paul Pogba lost Antonio Rudiger at a corner, and Chelsea took the lead, and everything got a great deal more awkward.

United’s response was limited: a few half-moments from set pieces, a couple of enterprising runs from Marcus Rashford that came to little. Jorginho was being kept quiet, but Ashley Young, carrying an early booking, was struggling to deal with Hazard and Marcos Alonso. Half-time came, and it would be hard to argue that United deserved to be level; they’d managed just one shot on goal.

One of the two teams came out for the second half looking brighter and sharper, and immediately began to create space and chances. Sadly for United is was the team in blue, and David de Gea had to save smartly after Alvaro Morata rolled Victor Lindelof. But then, as if by magic, United’s players remembered that they weren’t actually terrible, and a goal came just a minute or so later.

The finish was Martial’s, a smart piece of instant control and instinctive finishing following a bit of penalty box pinball. The build-up was just as encouraging: it began with Pogba spinning back on himself to escape one midfielder before nutmegging another, and proceeded through some lovely sharp passing, directed mostly by Mata.

Marcos Alonso had been down throughout much of the attack, back of hand pressed to forehead, but it turned out he was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the impending reality of climate change.

A football match threatened to break out. United’s fans were up, and their players responded with energy and some welcome aggression. Even Mata started to feel a bit feisty, picking up a booking for hacking Cesar Azpilicueta’s ankles in moderately alarming fashion. Chelsea, meanwhile, missed another free header from a set piece, David Luiz fading an effort a foot past the post.

As the game ticked into the final 20 minutes, David De Gea made an excellent save, and just a few minutes later United took the lead. Juan Mata did brilliantly down the right, dragging David Luiz out of the centre before skipping past him. He moved the ball inside to Rashford, who cleverly opted to switch the ball behind Lukaku and onto Martial. The Frenchman cut inside, then lashed the ball past Chelsea’s Kepa.

Then the came the dance of the substitutions. United brought on Ander Herrara, recognising that the aggression needed to be kept high; Chelsea, by way of response, brought on Olivier Giroud, recognising that Morata isn’t very good.

Mourinho then threw a curve ball in the form of Andreas Pereira, on for the injured Marcus Rashford. No, Anthony Martial. No, wait, Rashford. In the end they both came off, and Alexis Sanchez got involved as well. His first action was to butcher a through ball to Lukaku.

The announcement of six added minutes sent a rumble of enthusiasm around Stamford Bridge, and the collapse of Olivier Giroud in the box only made things louder; fortunately, however, that turned out to be a good piece of defending from Lindelof. But United couldn’t quite see the game out, and Ross Barkley, with a little assistance from a goalpost and a save from De Gea, was able to slam the equaliser home.

In the aftermath, Mourinho needed to be restrained by most of his bench, after a Chelsea staff member decided to go and celebrate through United’s technical area. The loss of two points late on will sting, but once the dust settles, United can reflect on an excellent second half, in which a number of important players — Young, Lukaku, Pogba, Martial, Mata, Rashford, maybe more — stood up and fought back. As did Mourinho. Literally.