Manchester United prepared for the arrival of interim manager Ralf Rangnick by earning a 1-1 draw against Premier League leaders, Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge.
United, under the caretaker charge of Michael Carrick with Rangnick’s appointment expected to be confirmed imminently, kept Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench and mounted a largely rearguard action until Jadon Sancho hit Chelsea on the break five minutes after half-time.
Sancho pounced on poor control from Jorginho to race clear and beat Edouard Mendy with a composed finish after the hosts had dominated possession.
Chelsea were stung into action and Jorginho made amends for his error when he equalised from the spot in the 69th minute after Aaron Wan-Bissaka fouled Thiago Silva.
United survived in relative comfort apart from a big late chance for Antonio Rudiger and will regard this as a welcome point in tough territory after a succession of Premier League horror shows led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking.
Carrick went with solidity for his first Premier League team selection after United’s recent maulings by Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City and – finally for Solskjaer – Watford.
He bolstered midfield by utilising Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic to hold Chelsea at bay and, while David de Gea was busy in the first half, there was never a feeling of siege as United dug deep to come away with a point.
The big call was keeping Ronaldo on the bench. He was introduced in the 64th minute with United leading 1-0, but had minimal impact and was straight off down the tunnel when the final whistle sounded.
United at least showed the determination and resilience that had so often been glaringly absent in the dying embers of Solskjaer’s reign although there was very little attacking intent or quality apart from the great composure shown by Sancho for his second successive goal.
It will do him the world of good as he seeks to establish himself following his £73m summer move from Borussia Dortmund.
As for Carrick, if this is his final game in charge before Rangnick comes to Old Trafford, he can be well satisfied with his brief stint at the helm, winning against Villarreal in the Champions League and getting a share of the spoils here against a Chelsea side who have looked increasingly formidable in recent weeks.
It is a platform of sorts for Rangnick to begin his work and United will hope to continue their recovery against Arsenal at Old Trafford on Thursday.
Manager Thomas Tuchel was equally agonised as he will know Chelsea did not take advantage of their overwhelming domination in parts of a game where they had 24 attempts on goal compared to United’s three.
Chelsea’s work was too hurried as they chased the winner although they were also frustrated by a United defence without suspended captain Harry Maguire.
Timo Werner is still too wayward, sending a very presentable chance well wide in the second half, but at least they have Romelu Lukaku fit again and Pulisic looked a lively threat when he came on.
This, in some ways, resembled many of Chelsea’s performances last season when they were superior, but never made the most of that advantage. Tuchel will certainly feel his side let United off the hook.
The Blues remain top but in what looks like it will be a tight title race between Tuchel’s side, Manchester City and Liverpool, they will regard this as two points dropped.
Elsewhere, the Manchester City midfield pair of Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandino were on target as Pep Guardiola’s Premier League superiority over West Ham continued with a 2-1 win.
City have now won 10 of 11 top-flight meetings with the Hammers under the Spaniard.
In a game played in a snowstorm before half-time, skipper Gundogan provided the decisive moment after 33 minutes when he turned home a deflected Riyad Mahrez effort at the far post.
It was the Germany midfielder’s third goal of the season – and his second in four league games – and was followed up in the final minute by Fernandinho, who had only been introduced three minutes earlier to tie the game up.
The veteran Brazilian had not scored a Premier League goal since October 2018 but found the target from the edge of the box.
Manuel Lanzini pulled one back with the final kick of the game, which cost Ederson his 100th clean sheet in all competitions but did nothing to prevent City moving back into second spot, six points clear of the Hammers.
The Londoners remain fourth despite suffering successive Premier League defeats for the first time since April.