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Cavani almost makes dream United debut as Chelsea nick point at Old Trafford

Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea


Manchester United's Edinson Cavani

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani

Edinson Cavani had not kicked a ball since March 7. The Uruguay striker had missed the end of last season at Paris Saint-Germain because of a contract dispute, he tested positive for coronavirus over the summer and he was forced to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Manchester having travelled as a free agent from France.

Cavani has been dreaming of getting back on to the field for longer than he may care to remember, through an awful lot of strangeness and upheaval and, when it finally happened, his first touch as a United player almost brought a fairytale reward.

Almost, but not quite. On as a 58th-minute substitute, Cavani saw his near-post flick from a Bruno Fernandes cross go narrowly wide and that was the story of this damp stalemate. Almost, but not quite.

United had other flickers, despite not playing with any real attacking cohesion and, on each occasion, Edouard Mendy kept them out. Chelsea's new goalkeeper saved brilliantly from Marcus Rashford in stoppage time while he could look back with pride at fine first-half stops to deny Rashford and Juan Mata.

Chelsea will be happier with the point, mainly because of the questions that have been asked of them in defensive terms so far this season. Thiago Silva brought authority and he could enjoy a couple of excellent blocks as United belatedly turned the screw towards the end, one of which denied his Cavani, his old PSG teammate.

It was a game that neither team wanted to lose, and so in a sense both could claim to have achieved their ends. Nobody will remember this one for too long, not even Cavani.

Frank Lampard's search for the perfect blend led him to a major tactical tweak. For the first time this season, he started with three at the back, although it was a tried and trusted formula against United. He had used it in the FA Cup semi-final victory over them last season.

Lampard wanted to be solid and he did not want United to be able to counter-attack or, more specifically, to allow Rashford or Dan James to run in behind. And so for United, a key question concerned whether they could proactively unpick such a set-up. It has been something they have struggled to do on a regular basis under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

There was plenty of cancelling out of various threats during a first half that took an age to reach something even approaching a simmer. Chelsea wanted to make the game, it was Lampard's team that dominated possession, but they were unable to create anything of clear-cut note before the interval. Their expensively assembled attacking parts, which were one short in the 3-4-3 formation, could not quite click.

Kai Havertz took a lovely touch to kill a Ben Chilwell ball forward and then looked to play in Timo Werner, but the pass was too heavy. It was Christian Pulisic who had Chelsea's best first-half moment on 34 minutes when he robbed Fred and advanced on goal. His shot flicked off Victor Lindelof and went past the post.

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Solskjaer had played three at the back in Tuesday's Champions League win at PSG but he reverted to the system and the players that had won so handsomely at Newcastle the previous Saturday. It added up to rough justice for Axel Tuanzebe, who so impressed in Paris, but Harry Maguire was fit again and Solskjaer always looks to his captain.

Maguire was fortunate when he got away with putting Cesar Azpilicueta in a headlock as he defended a Chelsea free-kick inside his own area; it was a high-risk grapple in the VAR era. And the same could be said for Fernandes, who petulantly clipped Jorginho around the ear as they fought for room in midfield.

United wanted to pounce on errors and drive forward quickly and they did so when Fernandes won the ball off Jorginho and Juan Mata immediately released Rashford up the inside right channel.

Mendy, though, stood tall to save, which was a confidence-booster for him after the slapstick moment when he had tried to play a square pass to Silva in front of his own goal-line and almost dragged it into the far corner of his own net.

United's other big chance followed a driving run by Luke Shaw and a Rashford lay-off for Mata. Mendy did well to turn Mata's shot around the post.

If the stadium had been full, the home support would have been imploring Solskjaer to make changes, to try to inject some urgency.

He did so just before the hour, introducing Paul Pogba and Cavani in central areas, the former behind the latter and moving Fernandes and Rashford wide right and left respectively.

After Cavani's near miss, Silva would deny Pogba and later Cavani again. And when Mendy dived to his left to thwart Rashford at the end, Chelsea had their point.

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