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Chelsea Edge Closer to Champions League Spot After Draw vs. Manchester United

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Eden Hazard of Chelsea and Ander Herrera and Ashley Young of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea FC at Old Trafford on April 28, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Manchester United did their chances of qualifying for next season's UEFA Champions League little good by playing out a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday, while Chelsea remain in the driver's seat in the race for fourth. 

Juan Mata put United in front after capping a fine team move, only for goalkeeper David De Gea to make another error and spill a shot into the path of Marcos Alonso for Chelsea's equaliser two minutes before the break.

The stalemate means Chelsea stay fourth but just two points above Arsenal, who lost 3-0 away to Leicester City earlier in the day. Meanwhile, United remain three points adrift of the top four with an inferior goal difference to the Blues and the Gunners with just two matches left to play.

   

United and Chelsea Not Good Enough for the UCL

One or both of these teams could well be playing Champions League football next season. Fans of both clubs had better hope the squads look a lot different when European games begin, because as it stands, neither is good enough to do much in the tournament.

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Dan Levene @danlevene

It says masses about the true quality of the Premier League that one of these two sides might actually finish in the top four this season.

United got a more intense effort from their star names, but one committed display doesn't make a season. Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic still need to deliver the goods on a more consistent basis.

Pogba has his critics, but selling him, something United are prepared to do, according to MailOnline's James Dutton, doesn't seem like the best use of a natural talent with 16 goals and 11 assists to his credit this season.

Problems run deeper than temperamental big names for United, though. Dependable figures like De Gea have become increasingly shaky as an already disappointing season has unravelled further:

OptaJoe @OptaJoe

3 - David de Gea has made three errors leading to goals in his last four games in all competitions for Manchester United - as many as in his previous 123 matches combined for the Red Devils. Sloppy. #MUNCHE https://t.co/Tbq59cYSU7

Not being able to count on De Gea is one thing, but United's lack of credible alternatives at several key positions is alarming. The porous strength in depth in this squad was summed up by those ready to come off the bench as injuries mounted during the second half at Old Trafford, with Marcus Rashford and Eric Bailly needing to be withdrawn.

Samuel Luckhurst @samuelluckhurst

Rojo and Darmian now told to warm up. Maybe to try and raise the re-sale value. #mufc

This squad is fit to burst with overpaid, under-performing flop signings and ageing pros whose skills are diminishing. Of the incumbents, Ashley Young is 33, while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have never hit the heights expected.

Then there's Alexis Sanchez, earning a king's ransom each week for doing next-to-nothing to help his team improve.

Those who can do a job, such as Juan Mata and Ander Herrera, are out of contract at the end of the season. It adds up to a big to-do list in this summer's transfer window for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United's problems are almost equalled by the plethora of issues afflicting Chelsea. A season-long problem at striker hasn't been solved by the deal to take Gonzalo Higuain on loan from Juventus:

Nizaar Kinsella @NizaarKinsella

He also won 0% of his duels and was caught offside twice

It doesn't help the players still don't seem to have adapted to manager Maurizio Sarri's ideas about a possession-based style of play:

Liam Twomey @liam_twomey

Chelsea are a team that wants (needs) the ball & United aren’t particularly good at keeping it. Why is the HT possession split 57%-43%? #mufc #cfc

Sarri's case hasn't been helped by ongoing weaknesses at the back, where mistake-prone duo Marcos Alonso and David Luiz have to be playing on borrowed time.

Fortifying defence has to be Chelsea's priority this summer, but it won't be easy if the Blues are also trying to replace Eden Hazard. The club's attacking talisman appears increasingly likely to move to Real Madrid, a move that would rob Chelsea of the only true creative verve in the team.

Losing one of the few Champions League-ready players in the squad would only weaken Chelsea's chances of competing with Europe's best next season. Sarri still has two chances to get this group back to the top table, with winning the UEFA Europa League still a possibility.

However, it won't be long before Chelsea are playing in Europe's second-tier again if this squad doesn't undergo radical changes. United will be lucky to do the same unless Solskjaer can refresh a playing setup gone stale.

   

What's Next?

United are away to relegated Huddersfield Town on Sunday, while Chelsea travel to Eintracht Frankfurt for the first leg of the UEFA Europa League semi-final on Thursday.

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