De Gea error gifts Chelsea advantage in race for top four

David de Gea has not kept a clean sheet since United’s goalless draw with Liverpool on 24 February

A mistake by goalkeeper David de Gea gifted Chelsea an equaliser as Manchester United’s hopes of playing in next season’s Champions League faded at Old Trafford.

With United leading through Juan Mata’s goal against his former club, De Gea spilled Antonio Rudiger’s 30-yard attempt for Marcos Alonso to level shortly before the interval.

It was a costly error by the Spaniard, whose form has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, although De Gea did come to his side’s rescue deep in stoppage time to deny Gonzalo Higuain a dramatic winner.

Up until Chelsea’s equaliser, United had been in control yet they remain sixth in the table, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with two games to play, after a third successive league game without a win.

In a competitive game, both teams suffered injuries.

After Rudiger was forced off in the 64th minute, United defender Eric Bailly, who was making his first league start since 3 February, was helped off six minutes later.

Race for the Premier League top four
Arsenal Chelsea Man Utd Tottenham
5 May Brighton (H) 5 May Watford (H) 5 May Huddersfield (A) 4 May Bournemouth (A)
12 May Burnley (A) 12 May Leicester (A) 12 May Cardiff (H) 12 May Everton (H)

Will Solskjaer drop De Gea?

With two games of the season left – and United’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League now out of their own hands – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is facing a dilemma regarding his goalkeeper.

The United boss had to defend De Gea before this game because of the Spaniard’s shaky form.

He was culpable for at least one of Manchester City’s two goals in United’s midweek derby defeat at Old Trafford, having been at fault for Lionel Messi’s second in the 3-0 defeat at Barcelona in the Champions League on 16 April.

“He’s for me been the best player United have had for the last six or seven years,” said Solskjaer ahead of Chelsea’s visit. “He has been absolutely outstanding – going through tough patches is part of a footballer’s career and David will be fine.”

But De Gea was anything but fine as Rudiger let fly from 30 yards with Chelsea’s first shot on target two minutes before the interval.

It looked a routine save for a player of De Gea’s ability, but the ball spilled from his grasp and Alonso reacted quickly to tuck home his first Premier League goal since 18 August.

His save to deny Higuain in the dying moments, with the Chelsea forward clean through, saved United from defeat but De Gea’s inconsistent form remains a worry.

United had Sergio Romero on the bench against Chelsea. The Argentine has not made a Premier League appearance since 13 May 2018 when he kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win against Watford.

It remains to be seen whether he will be called into action before the end of a disappointing season in two weeks time.

Who will finish in the top four?

With Tottenham losing at home to West Ham on Saturday and Arsenal losing heavily at Leicester earlier on Sunday, this result means none of the teams placed between third and sixth won over the weekend.

Five points separate Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United with 180 minutes of the Premier League season remaining.

For United, they will hope the teams above them keep dropping points as they look to avoid missing out on a top-four spot for the third time in four seasons.

It’s not too long ago that fixtures between Manchester United and Chelsea went a long way to deciding who won the Premier League and, in 2008, the Champions League.

United, who now trail leaders Manchester City by 27 points, started well – a delicious punt forward by Luke Shaw setting up Romelu Lukaku, although the Belgian remains without a top-flight goal since 2 March after Kepa Arrizabalaga saved.

Lukaku, however, was involved in his side’s goal, his pass over the top of the Chelsea defence allowing Shaw to hook it back for Mata to score on his 31st birthday.

Bailly went close to doubling the lead from a corner before De Gea’s mistake let Chelsea back into the game.

Chances were in short supply after the interval, although substitute Marcos Rojo had a header cleared off the line by Pedro.

Chelsea dig in to earn crucial point

Like United, Chelsea are also without a win in their last three league games but the Blues will be the happier of the two teams despite De Gea’s late save to deny Higuain.

Victory would have sent the Blues level on points with third-placed Tottenham but they remain well placed to finish in a Champions League spot.

However, this was an improvement after being held at home by Burnley and showed Chelsea do have an appetite for a fight.

Eden Hazard was again a creative force while Alonso showed great awareness to equalise after De Gea’s gift.

Both teams struggled to create chances during a tense second half and the injury to Rudiger will be a concern to Maurizio Sarri.

What’s next?

Manchester United’s penultimate game of the season is at relegated Huddersfield Town next Sunday (14:00 BST) while Chelsea now turn their thoughts to Thursday’s Europa League semi-final first leg tie with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany (20:00).


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