Thibaut Courtois' heorics kept Chelsea alive to draw vs. Manchester United
An injury-time strike from Diego Costa earned Chelsea a 1-1 draw against Manchester United in a game that could have gone either way given the amount of chances created by both sides.
The match ebbed and flowed throughout, with United dominating the opening period of each half as Chelsea came on strong as each half developed. It meant that the visitors pinned the Blues back for the first 25 minutes of the contest while Chelsea were unable to escape their own half of the field or enjoy any time on the ball.
Thibaut Courtois had to be alert to keep out an effort from Anthony Martial that was destined for the top corner, and it looked to be only a matter of time until Louis van Gaal's men opened the scoring. But the hosts managed to gain a foothold in the game with Costa always a threat on the break and Willian's influence increasing as the game progressed. They really should have led at half-time after John Terry's goal-bound shot struck Daley Blind's outstretched arm, but instead of a issuing a red card and a penalty, referee Michael Oliver waved play on.
With Chelsea's tails up, the home crowd expected more of the same but it was United that came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second half. Courtois was forced into a two more smart saves before Jesse Lingard's neat turn and shot found the top corner. It could have been the cue for the floodgates to open given the visitors' assertive play at that time, but Chelsea responded commendably.
Branislav Ivanovic smashed a swivel volley goalward only for David De Gea to tip it over the bar before the goalkeeper repeated the feat from Cesc Fabregas' drive from an acute angle. The equaliser, when it came, was fully deserved, even if Costa needed two bites of the cherry to stick it home. And the Spain international could even have won it only for De Gea to pull off an excellent stop low at his near post. The points shared in a thoroughly entertaining game.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Thibaut Courtois, 8 -- Made at least four excellent saves to keep Chelsea in the contest. Did not allow himself to get bullied by Marouane Fellaini at set pieces either.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 6 -- There was no shortage of effort as ever from the Spaniard, though he did find himself chasing shadows for portions of the first half as United moved the ball around sharply. Always offered himself as an option going forward but to little effect.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 7 -- Had his hands full with the lively Martial and could have done with more help defensively down his flank. Was imperious in the air and was unlucky not to score with a fierce close-range effort.
DF Kurt Zouma, 7 -- Had enjoyed yet another solid performance until his afternoon was curtailed due to a nasty-looking knee injury on the hour mark. The Frenchman was stretchered off with every supporter of all persuasions applauding him from the field.
DF John Terry, 7 -- A buccaneering performance from the Chelsea captain. He seemed to want to block every shot and get forward at any given opportunity, perhaps buoyed by the crowd's unwavering support in light of his potential departure in the summer.
MF Nemanja Matic, 6 -- Yet another bitty performance from a player that cannot seem to string together 90 good minutes of football. Plenty of positive moments were coupled with simple mistakes, his season in microcosm.
MF John Obi Mikel, 8 -- Was given the run around by United's midfield in the opening exchanges but grew to influence the game in ways that are not normally associated with the Nigerian. There was a Fabregas-esque 60-yard pass to find Costa in the second half and several instances of intelligent link-up play around the opposition box.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 7 -- Van Gaal had clearly watched Chelsea's 1-0 win at Arsenal as Fabregas was not afforded anywhere near the amount of space that had been available at the Emirates two weeks ago. Still managed to pick out Costa with some deliciously weighted passes, though.
FW Oscar, 6 -- This just wasn't the Brazilian's day, though not for lack of trying. There were some decent tackles in his display but he was unable to create very much from his wide position and blazed a decent first-half opening high and wide of De Gea's goal.
FW Willian, 8 -- Every time that he got on the ball, whether deep in his own half or on the edge of the United box, the Brazilian looked dangerous. The visitors had no answer to his surging runs and their young full-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson received a schooling in the first half. Unfortunately, Willian's distribution in key areas was not quite as accurate as it could have been otherwise Chelsea might have claimed all three points.
FW Diego Costa, 7 -- Worried the United defence all afternoon and could have scored in the first half when his angled shot wrong-footed De Gea only to roll agonisingly wide. Got his rewards with the equaliser and was so close to winning it in the dying seconds.
FW Eden Hazard, 6 -- There were plenty of heavy touches from the Belgian, who is still clawing his way back to form. However, his mere presence seemed to worry United, which helped his teammates to get back onto the front foot.
DF Gary Cahill, 7 -- Positionally sound, though a little wayward with his passing. Had a goalbound header deflected wide.
FW Pedro, 6 -- Ran around a lot but didn't actually contribute a great deal. The three-time Champions League winner remains an enigma.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.