Manchester United delivered an improved performance for beleaguered manager Louis van Gaal but couldn’t cure their scoring woes in a 0-0 draw against Chelsea that left his team five points off the Champions League positions on Monday.
Van Gaal raised the prospect of quitting at the weekend and this stalemate — United’s sixth 0-0 since Oct. 25 — leaves his position precarious, with the 20-time English champions now winless in eight games in all competitions.
But there’s no doubt United played for their manager, with Juan Mata and Anthony Martial striking shots against the goal frame in the first half and both Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney missing close-range chances after the break.
United stayed sixth — but fell further adrift of the top four — while Chelsea are only three points above the relegation zone in a woeful title defense and still hasn’t won away since August.
Van Gaal’s perilous position dominated the build-up to a match between two giants of the league who have fallen on hard times this season. It was a case of the beleaguered hosts against the embattled champions, and Van Gaal gave a defiant wave to United fans as he took his place in the dug-out. He was also applauded down the tunnel after the final whistle by fans in United’s Stretford End, a positive sign despite the frustrating result.
Van Gaal likely won’t have seen some United supporters wearing scarves emblazoned with “Jose Mourinho The Special One” and featuring the face of the Portuguese coach, who has been tipped as a potential replacement for Van Gaal. If United keep playing like they did in the first half especially, Van Gaal won’t be going anywhere just yet.
The movement was sharper, the tempo was higher, the passing was crisper and more adventurous, and chances came and went. Mata smashed a fierce shot against the bar in the second minute; Martial cut in and struck a low shot against the post; and United had eight first-half shots in total. It was the kind of attacking football that United fans have been demanding.
Without the suspended Diego Costa and any back-up striker, Chelsea fielded Eden Hazard as an emergency striker and only fitfully threatened. John Terry drew a great one-handed save from goalkeeper David de Gea, and De Gea produced a double save early in the second half.
United’s pace slowed after the break but Herrera should have given his team the lead when he met Martial’s cross with a close-range effort that goalkeeper Thibault Courtois clawed away.
Chelsea squandered an even better chance, when Nemanja Matic was set free on the counter from a corner, only for the midfielder to sidefoot high and wide with only De Gea to beat.
Rooney volleyed over the bar late on as United had to settle for another 0-0, ending a three-game losing run in the league but leaving Van Gaal in limbo.