Ole Gunnar Solskjaer installed himself in position in the Stamford Bridge dugout before kick-off with a grin on his face making him look every bit Andy Serkis as Gollum in Lord of the Rings.
He had fair reason to believe he would be leaving with his precious three points at the end of the evening, being unbeaten at the home of Chelsea as manager of Manchester United.
Solskjaer must also have been feeling pretty chipper to be coming up against arguably his greatest benefactor in Thomas Tuchel, the German being in charge of PSG on the night that Marcus Rashford slammed home a late penalty and Rio Ferdinand declared “Ole’s at the wheel!” on BT Sport.
But once United’s fifth 0-0 against a ‘Big Six’ side was over the United manager reprised his rendition of Gollum perfectly, this time casting aspersions in all directions in his post-match interview, paranoid and robbed of those precious points.Embed from Getty Images
“It’s all these outside influences. Putting on their website about the VAR with Harry [Maguire], that’s cheeky” he said, apparently referring to Chelsea highlighting the United captain benefitting from refereeing decisions in the past.
“Was it Frank [Lampard] that started it? There’s loads of talk about us getting penalties, and then today we should have had a penalty, that’s how it is” he added, turning on the former Chelsea boss.
In fairness, it was a surprise when the key moment of the match did not result in a United penalty.
Edouard Mendy had beaten away a dipping Marcus Rashford free-kick after 12 minutes, and as Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Greenwood competed for the loose ball, heading away from goal, Greenwood appeared to nudge it with his arm.Embed from Getty Images
Replays indicated that in fact Hudson-Odoi’s hand had touched the ball first, and for all it did not prevent or create a goal-scoring opportunity, when Stuart Attwell was sent to the monitor by the VAR the expectation was a penalty-award would follow.
Atwell instead stuck with his on-pitch decision, with Luke Shaw suggesting after the game the referee had indicated that giving the decision would have caused too much talk, much to the displeasure of his embittered manager.
Tuchel was the more unhappy at the time, shouting at the fourth official and his opposite number like a man who has just had his parking space stolen on the sideline.
The controversial sequence sapped the energy from what had been a high-tempo opening, with both sides pressing high and breaking with speed. For so long after, the game settled into a pattern of Chelsea possession and United break-aways, with both nullified by their own sloppiness.Embed from Getty Images
Chelsea went closest to scoring, Olivier Giroud’s diving header from an inviting Hudson-Odoi cross getting too slight of a contact mid-way through the first half, the Frenchman instead sliding into the post.
Soon after the break, Ben Chilwell broke down the left and cut back for the disappointing Hakim Ziyech to score, only to be kept out by a strong hand from David De Gea.
Mason Mount was thwarted by Scott McTominay at the last, after a strong run from his own half, and Reece James’ delightful right-wing ball in the final 10 minutes could not be converted at the back-post by substitute Timo Werner.Embed from Getty Images
As well as a McTominay shot through a crowd that drew a smart Mendy save around the hour, United had multiple breaks that looked certain to end in goals, only for the final ball to fail to find the supporting runners.
Moments before McTominay’s attempt, Bruno Fernandes played the ball straight out for a throw rather than set Rashford free, and in the 90th minute the Scotsman had both Rashford and Daniel James streaking ahead of the pursuing Chelsea defenders for what would surely have been the winner, but only succeeded in picking out N’Golo Kante.
“If you score that break-away four-on-two that’s a perfect away performance, or if you get that penalty” said Solskjaer.
Shaw then stood still and sadly watched the second phase of the move be passed out for a goal-kick in front of him.Embed from Getty Images
The left-back still seemed suitably uninspired after the final whistle as he tried to search for inspiration in summing up how the game had developed for five seconds in his post-match interview, before sighing and starting with: “Dunno really.”
Tuchel, in contrast to Solskjaer, was putting a positive spin on things afterwards, despite missing the chance to gain three points on United, as well as close-rivals Leicester and West Ham who lost this weekend.
The German said: “I thought we were closer to win it but a lot of quality on the pitch. The result is the result but performance-wise I am very satisfied.”Embed from Getty Images
“I saw it on the field live, and I saw it on the iPad. Why does the referee need to check it?” he added on the penalty incident, convinced that Greenwood had handled the ball first.
Tuchel may still be unbeaten as Chelsea manager, but it is now just 10 goals scored in nine games.
And Solskjaer will be looking over his shoulder, eyes twitching at the injustice, despite United making it 20 away games unbeaten in the league.
His focus is on the penalty decision, but the precious title he covets only gets closer to returning to his neighbours in the blue half of Manchester.
All quotes via NBC
Click here for the on the whistle report of Chelsea’s previous victory against Atletico Madrid.