In a tight and tense night of football, Manchester United and Chelsea played out a 0-0 draw.
Much of the reaction after the match focused on how the high-powered attacks of both sides completely and utterly failed to fire. Manchester United, who beat PSG midweek, showed none of the same motivation and drive against Chelsea, and the Blues have a £200m strikeforce that has now failed to score for two straight games.
There might be a mention for Edouard Mendy as the goalkeeper made a handful of saves, two very impressively from Marcus Rashford, to keep Chelsea’s clean sheet as they stand in stark contrast to the uselessness of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
But the real story from the match wasn’t Mendy’s saves. Nor was it the strikers’ struggles. No, the real story to be taken from Old Trafford was the redemption of Victor Lindelof, Thiago Silva and Harry Maguire.
Premier League top-four qualification odds (via William Hill):
- Man City: 1/16
- Liverpool: 1/12
- Chelsea: 8/11
- Spurs: 11/10
- Man Utd: 7/4
- Arsenal: 2/1
*You have to be 18+ to gamble. All odds and offers within this article are accurate at the time of publication (11:45 – 26/10/2020). BeGambleAware.
Of the four starting centre-backs, only Kurt Zouma entered the match with a rock-solid reputation, having not lost an aerial duel so far this season (he ended up losing one to Rashford in the first-half). The other three all had damaged their good names through various actions (or inactions) recently.
Thiago Silva was humiliated on his Premier League debut for Chelsea, and although the side have kept two clean sheets in the games he’s played they were very lucky to do so against Sevilla midweek and Crystal Palace wasn’t a stiff examination.
Maguire obviously has struggled all season, especially in the humiliating 1-6 loss to Spurs at Old Trafford. And Lindelof never seems more than 90 minutes away from his next mistake, he’s made so many in his spell at United.
But all three men were quality at Old Trafford. Maguire stepping out confidently ahead of attacks, when previously he’d been desperately lunging with hideous timing. The Englishman made six clearances, one block and won 100% of his five aerial duels, looking far more assured at the heart of defence, although he should have given away a penalty when he dragged Cesar Azpilicueta to the ground with a headlock.
Harry Maguire gets away with a headlock on César Azpilicueta inside his own box. ? pic.twitter.com/WeXGWpPDR9
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) October 24, 2020
Lindelof didn’t have the same numbers (two clearances, one block, just 20% of aerial duels won) but was perhaps even more impressive. The Swede so often looks a player who can be bullied, whose confidence can be shattered by a bit of pressure, but every time Timo Werner or Christian Pulisic came anywhere near him, he handled himself with the utmost confidence.
Even when Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech came on, Lindelof was unfazed. Clearly, Axel Tuanzebe’s excellent display in Paris has applied some pressure to these two because they definitely stepped it up here and helped United to their first clean sheet of the season. David de Gea had just one save to make the entire game as Chelsea had just a single shot on target.
But if Maguire and Lindelof were excellent at killing attacks before they began then Thiago Silva, playing at the heart of a back three, was supreme at intervening and rebuffing wave after wave of United pressure.
Chelsea were vastly outplayed by United, but they came for a draw and that’s what they got. That Frank Lampard could aim so low and not suffer the usual fate (inviting so much pressure for so long that it eventually is too much and United score) was largely down to Thiago Silva.
The Brazilian showed against West Brom that when played high, there are errors in his game. But played in a low block at the heart of a trio, with athletic defenders either side of him, Thiago Silva could really strut.
Thiago Silva's game by numbers vs. Man Utd:
94% pass accuracy
2 tackles made
0 x dribbled past
0 fouls committed
0 goals conceded
Class is permanent. pic.twitter.com/ZsNfR1csaT
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 24, 2020
Six clearances, two tackles, two interceptions and two blocks. His 95 touches were a team-high, as were his 82 passes and 77 passes completed (that’s a 93.9% pass accuracy). He was the last point of Chelsea’s defence and also the first point of their attack. He showed against United exactly the kind of serenity and composure that he can bring to Stamford Bridge.
Obviously, the defensive stalemate was down to multiple factors, including Mendy, the discipline of Fred and Scott McTominay as well as the enduring and unappreciated quality of Zouma. But the magnificent displays of Lindelof, Maguire and Thiago Silva, and the redemption the trio found within those performances, were a massive, colossal part of the final score.