Oh, the irony! An equaliser – deep, deep into Fergietime – was the undoing of Manchester United at Stamford Bridge as Ross Barkley hammered home a goal in the sixth and final minute allotted by ref Mike Dean to compensate for a string of late and irritatingly protracted substitutions to deny the Reds a rare London victory.
It sparked an undignified scrummage around the tunnel entrance as Jose Mourinho joined in a hearty push-and-shove, furious that Marco Ianni, a grey-tracksuited member of Chelsea’s middle management, had dared to run back and forward in front of him in celebration along the touchline and through his technical area.
That was mirrored on the pitch as a heady mix of exultation and frustration led to an exchange of handbags in the centre circle as Dean attempted to restart and then finish a game which ended honours even, 2-2.
The Blues remain unbeaten at the start of the season – an achievement few predicted – and leaves Chelsea in touch with the top of the league as United continue to play catch-up.
Home fans had all but given up hope as the six minutes of stoppage time ebbed away, but Barkley, on for Mateo Kovacic in the 69th minute, fought to the bitter end and earned the point.
Earlier, two second-half goals from Anthony Martial had nullified Tony Rudiger’s headed opener… and it seemed certain that all three points were heading north on the team bus.
Mourinho held up three fingers to Chelsea’s baying fans at the end of the game to remind everyone of his trio of titles won as manager, but Blues fans, despite appearances, retain a deep fondness and admiration for The Special One. It’s just that Mourinho is now the manager of one of the club’s deadly rivals… and it’s in that capacity that supporters enjoy joshing and chiding their old boss.
“I also make mistakes in football matches,” Mourinho said afterwards when asked about the disrespectful incident which marred the dying seconds of an absorbing and even battle. “Maurizio saw it and told me he’d take care of it internally,” he added, saying he had accepted the apologies of both Sarri and Ianni which had been given to him.
Turning to the match, Mourinho said he felt United were the better team – especially in the second half. However, apart from fishing the ball out of the net following the two Martial goals, Kepa had little to do between the sticks, while David De Gea had to make a stunning flying save to deny N’Golo Kante in the 71st minute. “We conceded two goals in set pieces, not in organised play,” said Mourinho.
Whether Mourinho intended it as a deliberate act or not, he provoked anger among some Chelsea fans behind the dug-out as the game headed into stoppage time by using a water bottle to pretend to pee on the area around the touchline, while grinning at his front-row staff.
The Blues had the lion’s share of first-half possession, but – with the exception of Rudiger’s headed goal after losing his marker Paul Pogba when Willian floated over the team’s first corner of the game – couldn’t really push through the United defence to make more of any opportunities.
Eden Hazard was controlled and contained, but in the second half Martial pounced after Kepa couldn’t hold a Juan Mata shot to make it 1-1, and then got what looked like the winner in the 73rd minute, curling a shot past the immobile keeper for 1-2.
Martial was annoyed at being substituted for Andreas Pereira with eight minutes remaining – an exchange which took up so much time that Dean added the six golden minutes which allowed for the late drama.
With 95 minutes and 21 seconds gone, De Gea seemed to have foiled a header by David Luiz, only for the ball to fall to Barkley who wellyed it home. Blues captain Cesar Azpilicueta had swung in a deep cross from the right. Luiz, on the left, had planted a downwards header across de Gea’s path and off the post. First-half hero Rudiger, headed the ball back towards goal, and De Gea parried, only for Barkley to drive the loose ball into the United net.
“We have played very well in the first hour but then we have played the match of United – a physical match, and United are better than us in a physical match,” said Sarri. “I am disappointed with the last 30 minutes. We could win, but at the end one point is enough.”
Of the post-goal incident, Sarri added: “I didn’t see what happened but I have spoken to Jose Mourinho. I understood that we were on the wrong side of the situation. I have spoken to a member of my staff and have dealt with this immediately.”
It all means – as both sides face European action in the coming week – that Chelsea have lost just one of their past 17 home Premier League games against Manchester United, a 3-2 defeat in October 2012.