Tensions were high ahead of the clash of Manchester United and Chelsea. United manager Louis Van Gaal's hand was forced by injury and suspension to again adopt the 4-1-4-1 used against West Bromwich Albion. Taking the field was David De Gea in goal, Rafael at right back, Chris Smalling at right center back, Marcos Rojo at left center back, Luke Shaw at left back, Daley Blind at center defensive midfielder, Adnan Januzaj at left midfielder, Marouane Fellaini at right center midfielder, Juan Mata at left center midfielder, Ángel Di María at right midfielder, and Robin Van Persie again at lone striker. Radamel Falcao was unavailable due to a knock he sustained in training the week leading up to the match. They faced a Chelsea side also debilitated by injury, missing both recent striker signings Diego Costa and Loic Remy. It was important to note that Louis Van Gaal deployed Ángel Di María at right midfielder, opposed to his accustomed position on the left side, and even more so that Jose Mourinho employed an aggressive defensive tactic, assigning Filipe Luis to man mark Di María closely.
In the opening minutes, Chelsea established some dominance, containing Manchester's possession to their own half, while earning corner kicks. In the 4th minute, United launched a quick break of their own, finally possessing the ball in their own attacking third and generating scoring chances of their own. In the 12th minute, Eden Hazard played a dribble beyond Rafael, forcing the Brazilian defender to grab hold of the Belgium winger committing a foul. The foul earned Rafael a yellow card, the first of the match.
Angel Di Maria had a dicing dribble, which found him slaloming Chelsea defenders until Nemanja Matic fouled him, giving United a free kick chance in a dangerous area. Chris Smalling, however, would head the ball far over the cross bar on the resulting on free kick, reducing the danger to nothing. In the 22nd minute, Didier Drogba earned a yellow card himself for a foul on Juan Mata. On two consecutive United possessions, Robin Van Persie produced two scoring chances, unable to net either but menacing the Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois with both his left foot and a well-weighted header. In a heavy challenge in the 29th minute, both Matic and Di María were injured on the play. Both players would continue playing in the game; nonetheless it was a moment to hold your breath as a United supporter.
In the 34th minute, an errant backpass by Rojo lead to a 1 on 1 break for Willian on Smalling with Smalling coming out the victor. A Daley Blind turnover, shortly afterward, nearly compromised the United defense even further. With the increase in fouls and stoppages, it was clear that head referee, Phil Dowd, was attempting to establish control of the game. In the 39th minute, there was yet another yellow card for Chelsea, this time shown to Nemanja Matic.
In the 41st minute, Drogba had a tremendous opportunity on goal. Marcos Rojo failed to put his clearing header out of bounds, allowing Oscar to play a lead pass to Drogba at the top of the 18-yard box. However, David De Gea delivered a monumental save at the near post stopping Drogba's shot. In the final minute of the first half, Chelsea manager Mourinho left his managerial box early heading to the tunnel before the halftime whistle.
During the halftime intermission, neither manager made a substitution. In the 52nd minute, it was nearly Fellaini's moment. A lead pass from Smalling gave him an easy ball to put his foot through. Fellaini's attempt, however, spun wide of the net. Shortly after, Eden Hazard on neat, two-man passing movement earned a chance on net that was shoved wide by De Gea. On the resulting corner kick, a Chelsea breakthrough and a Manchester United miscommunication gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at Old Trafford. Didier Drogba flashed across the 6 yard box, marked by a significantly smaller Rafael, to head the ball at the near post past Robin Van Persie covering the front post. United's error in defense of the set-piece becomes apparent when you notice that Marouane Fellaini ended up marking no one in the box because Matic remained outside of the danger area for the entirety of the corner kick. Fellaini clearly should have been marking someone as menacing in the air as Matic, but with Rafael on Drogba and Daley Blind marking Eden Hazard at the top of the box, something clearly was amiss. The goal put Chelsea ahead 1-0.
After conceding the goal, United remained committed to equalize within their current formation with the team already playing on the field. In the 62nd minute, a foolish tackle by Oscar earned him a yellow card. Ivanovic would follow suit in the 65th minute. Mourinho alleviated some of the defensive pressure by subbing the yellow-carded Oscar for John Obi Mikel. Simultaneously, James Wilson entered the game for Juan Mata, shifting United's formation to a 4-4-2. Throughout the rest of the game, there was a palpable tension, as both teams, players and supporters alike, awaited the next goal. Before this next goal came, a few more yellow cards would be shown again. One each to both Fellaini and Hazard before stoppage time.
Match officials determined there would be 4 minutes of extra time. In the 93rd mnute, Ivanovic was shown a second yellow card and a red card, as he clipped Di María while he was about to cross the ball into a dangerous area. On the following free kick, Di María drove the ball into the 6-yard box to Fellaini. His header was saved, but no Chelsea defender could bail out the keeper on the rebound. It fell at the feet of Robin Van Persie, who slotted the ball into the net. Chelsea 1 - United 1. The game was whistled shortly thereafter.
United will happily accept the draw result after facing the current league leaders. However, it is of important note that United's 13-point total leaves them 1 point shy of themselves last season under David Moyes. Even more critical to their success this year, they stand 10 points behind Chelsea. The good news for United will most certainly be the return of captain, Wayne Rooney, who served the last game of his three-match suspension against Chelsea. Louis Van Gaal will also be hopeful that injured Phil Jones can make a return to the squad. Van Gaal confirmed during the week that Radamel Falcao will be unavailable this week. United have a monumental rivalry game, the first of two Manchester derbies, next week against Manchester City. City has been paltry this last week with a defeat suffered to West Ham in league play and Newcastle United in League Cup play. Manchester United hope to catch their rivals vulnerable and deal them another home defeat (their first a 1-0 defeat to Stoke). The game will be played at the Etihad stadium and aired at 8:30AM EST on NBCSN.