London: A clash between two of the Premier League’s heavyweights failed to produce a result with both teams apparently intent on avoiding defeat rather than focusing on an outright win. The match was drab and deadlocked but both managers will take some comfort from it.
For Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be relieved that his team avoided the ignominy of a third successive home defeat and are without a win in five league home games — their worst run in nearly three decades. There was some relief for the Chelsea manager, Frank Lampard, too, to have seen his side keep a clean sheet in two successive matches. His defence has had a poor record during his reign of 43 matches in which 63 goals have been conceded.
Solskjaer said: “The boys started a bit slowly, but after the first 20 minutes we were the only team that was going to win. It was two good teams out there and there weren’t too many chances. But their keeper made two good saves from Marcus (Rashford), and overall I’m happy with the players.” There was only one shot on target in the entire second half — Rashford’s effort, in stoppage time, that was saved by Edouard Mendy, Chelsea’s new signing, keeping a clean sheet in his first two games.
United missed a fine chance to take the lead in the second half when their new signing, 33-year-old, Uruguayan, Edinson Cavani, having been brought on as substitute in the 58th minute, improvised a brilliant flick which found the side netting. Chelsea too missed a chance in the same half when Christian Pulisic beat his marker but drilled his shot straight into the goalkeeper. Moments later Pulisic pounced on a mistake by Fred, made good ground, but dragged his shot wide.
The controversial incident of the match came in the first half when Harry Maguire blatantly gripped Cesar Azpilicueta in a headlock as a corner was taken. It prevented the Chelsea captain from jumping but the referee did not penalise Maguire. It was a clear case for the VAR to have properly reviewed the incident which should have resulted in a penalty and that was also the view of television pundits and several former players.
Chelsea were rightly aggrieved and Lampard said: “It was a clear penalty. They (VAR) should have taken time and invited the referee to watch the monitor. If he had watched he had to give the penalty. When you see the headlock he is in, it is surprising.” Azpilicueta agreed saying: “It was a penalty because I was in front of him and I felt both his arms around my neck and shoulders. The referee can make the decision, the VAR is there so why not take 20 seconds to review it?
There has been much criticism recently of the VAR particularly in the ruling of offsides. The management of Premier League are planning a renewed attempt to persuade Fifa to allow a ‘margin of error’ on tight offsides that continue to plague the game.
The VAR should be used to clear up all incidents that occur where there is a doubt, or if a referee needs to clarify on a foul which may appear blatant to some and not to others.