United had lost on eight of our last nine visits to Stamford Bridge, and coming into this latest trip to unbeaten and high flying Chelsea, there was no reason to think that this would be any different. United have made our worst ever start to a 38-game season and, although the climb-off-the-canvas victory over Newcastle offered a brief respite, in reality it merely served to paper over the cracks. The pure, visceral, emotional joy of Alexis late winner did little to change that but sent us into the international break with the feeling that maybe a cloud had been lifted.
When Antonio Rudiger headed the Blues ahead on 20 minutes, we were hit by an achingly familiar sense of deja vu - oh, joy, here we go again - already on our way to our annual defeat at our least favourite hunting ground of them all. A hunting ground where we haven't won for more than half a decade. Had you offered me a point at that stage of the game, I'd have snapped your hand off for it. That feeling only increased during a first half in which Jose Mourinho's United failed, once again, to come to the party. We weren't awful - not West Ham awful, anyway - but nowhere near at the level required to stifle and subdue a talented and agile Chelsea team.
It would have taken a very strange set of circumstances to foresee a situation in which United had come out with a hard fought, deserved and well-pilfered point at the potential champions and leave me crestfallen and bitterly disappointed indeed. That's the situation we find ourselves in. It really is a funny old game.
As the dust begins to settle on Saturday lunchtime's late and gut-wrenching drama in SW16, there's no doubt that this was - is - a very good result for United, one in which the positives certainly outweigh the negatives. At the same time, never has such a superb fightback to earn a draw felt like such a horrible defeat.
I'm absolutely gutted - gutted at Ross Barkley's equaliser in the sixth added minute that snatched victory away from a United side a matter of seconds away from our first win at Chelsea in more than half a decade. We were so close to a win that may well have transformed the entire complexion of our season.
But I'm really proud too, proud of a second half performance in which the Reds dominated away from home against a very, very, good side that are widely expected to challenge for the title. Not many teams will get anything from Stamford Bridge this season, and we went there and almost won it with as good a showing as I can remember. The players were brave, they stood up to be counted, responded magnificently and took the game to Chelsea. We showed spirit, passion, fight and character and certainly did not resemble a side not playing for their manager. Questions remain - why can't United play like this consistently every week, and why are we reactive to a situation rather than proactive, but there were hugely promising signs. Juan Mata was majestic in his favourite number 10 role, Paul Pogba may have been at fault for the opener but was otherwise excellent, Romelu Lukaku improved after half time and Anthony Martial - surely our man of the match - has done more than most to ease the pressure on his manager with three goals in two games.
Bring on Juve on Tuesday night!
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