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MARTIN SAMUEL: Chelsea and Manchester United show they are not so super in dour goalless draw


Well, what an advertisement for the European Super League this was. Who wouldn’t pay good money to watch a match of such quality repeated endlessly each season, without consequence?

The one thing the Premier League has going for it is that if you keep churning this stuff out week after week, gravity takes over and eventually replaces you with Reading. It’s called natural selection.

Now, we can all mock, but it’s what came close to happening to Manchester United the last time they opened a campaign without a league win at home in three attempts. Season 1972-73. 

Manchester United and Chelsea played out a tense goalless draw at Old Trafford on Saturday

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard had very little to smile about in a dull affair at Old Trafford

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard had very little to smile about in a dull affair at Old Trafford

With talks over a European Super League, both sides didn't look so super in a dour draw

With talks over a European Super League, both sides didn’t look so super in a dour draw 

A 2-1 defeat by Ipswich at Old Trafford was followed by draws with Leicester, then Arsenal. They did not win a game, home or away, until their 10th match of the season. 

The manager Frank O’Farrell was sacked in December after a 5-0 defeat at Crystal Palace and United finished 18th in a 22-team division. The following year they went down. Which isn’t going to happen, obviously. 

Manchester United ended this game in 15th place, but had a game in hand on many, which could elevate them to the fringes of Champions League qualification. 

This is not yet a crisis. It is, however, something of a drama. A point and a clean sheet for Chelsea in Manchester was a considerably bigger fillip for Frank Lampard than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, after some recent defensive calamities.

And if Edouard Mendy made more saves than David De Gea —including a stunner from Marcus Rashford in injury time — then the key moment was the inexplicable decision not to give a penalty, or even take up a VAR review, when Harry Maguire had Cesar Azpilicueta in a headlock at a corner.

It was as blatant a foul as it is possible to witness and as there is a man in front of a television screen to be precisely that witness, this can only go down as another match in which the technology has been let down by the humans. 

Do they have a choice of channels at Stockley Park? The only explanation would be that Stuart Attwell, the VAR, was watching Location, Location, Location at the time. Either that, or he’s useless.

The last time Man United didn't win a game in their opening three home games was 1972

The last time Man United didn’t win a game in their opening three home games was 1972

MARK CLATTENBURG: Harry Maguire was VERY lucky to avoid giving away a penalty 

Penalty, all day long. 

Harry Maguire practically places Cesar Azpilicueta in a headlock. 

If this happens anywhere else on the pitch, it is a free-kick. So why not deem it a foul in the box? 

In real time, it can understandably go missed. 

But with the appeals by Azpilicueta, VAR Stuart Attwell should have checked the incident and told referee Martin Atkinson to award the penalty. 

Chelsea can rightly feel hard done by. 

So, despite Mendy’s interventions, Manchester United got away with it. This could easily have been a third straight home defeat, which would have been their worst start to a league campaign at Old Trafford since 1930-31. They were relegated that season, too.

Look, once again, it’s not going to happen; but those who wonder why clubs with every advantage and privilege are constantly trying to fix football further in their favour would have found the answer across 90 minutes here.

They don’t fancy it, out in the open sea. That’s why they angle for closed shops, the power to control the competition, a bigger financial cut, and more European matches and revenue guaranteed; that’s why they constantly threaten and bully and are sulky and vengeful if they do not get their way. 

They fear they are not good enough. They fear the others are catching up.

Leeds, under Marcelo Bielsa, would not turn in a performance like this. Leeds have a go. 

It is testament to the vulnerability of the elite this season that some professional observers were insisting both managers would privately be very happy with this result, because it was evidence of defensive organisation. 

Yet what about the other side of the game?

Chelsea with hundreds of millions lavished on creation; Manchester United with the best young forwards in the country, backed up by Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and now Edinson Cavani? What do the blanks say about that?

‘I’m less worried about the relationships at the top of the pitch,’ said Lampard. ‘That will come. Concentration is what you seek from players. 

‘If you look at how Thiago Silva played today he’s a great example of that, the way he concentrated every moment, to not just affect things for himself but those around him.

‘So I’ll take the positives from the way we defended. But if you think back to the end of last season we played the FA Cup final against Arsenal when some of the teams around the top of the table were finished. 

‘Then we played away at Bayern Munich, again when other teams were off. Our lads had shy of two weeks’ rest and then came back in.

Chelsea's defence are yet to concede when Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva have started

Chelsea’s defence are yet to concede when Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva have started

‘We had double figures in isolation, too. Listen, I’m the last one for this, I hate excuses, but it’s not easy. We have new faces and football is all about relationships — midfielders and forwards, the timing of those passes, what sort of ball the player wants, full backs and wingers, working out their runs. 

‘You address that in training, but we’re doing it in games, trying to get it right, to actually improve it in match situations.’

He has a point. And Chelsea’s defence were excellent. They are yet to concede a goal in a game in which Mendy and Silva have started, and Azpilicueta was exceptional in the back three.

Yet, clearly, the self-appointed elite of English football, who would presume special voting rights and golden tickets guaranteeing 20 years relegation-free in a European Super League, are labouring.

Earlier, Manchester City failed to deliver their annual marmalising of West Ham, and Liverpool scraped past Sheffield United by the odd goal at home. 

No club looks capable of setting the pace of Jurgen Klopp’s team last season and those beyond the usual list of contenders are already getting ideas. And why not? Who can honestly say they have seen the champions this season? Who has seen a team that does not demonstrate some degree of vulnerability? 

All the top sides have problems, including Liverpool with the absence of Virgil Van Dijk

All the top sides have problems, including Liverpool with the absence of Virgil Van Dijk

Manchester United cannot win at home; as soon as Chelsea stopped conceding, they also stopped scoring; Manchester City and Tottenham have won twice each in five League games; Liverpool have lost their best defender and, before that, shipped seven at Aston Villa. Why shouldn’t a club from outside that group feel the potential to cause tremors?

And when those clubs see a match like this, for all the pride the coaches may take in defensive resilience, they are perfectly entitled to conclude: nothing special. And perhaps that explains these clandestine plots and conversations more reasonably than any virus or economic crisis.

What we saw at Old Trafford does not make the case for super leagues or super powers. So the venture capitalists of modern football have to fill that void with threats and bluster instead. As for that much-vaunted super league, you really wouldn’t want to see this match four times a season; truly, once was more than enough.

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