David de Gea made a third costly goalkeeping error in the space of four games as Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw at home to top-four rivals Chelsea last night.
Juan Mata had given United a deserved first-half lead against his former employers in what had been dubbed a “must-win” match for the hosts, but De Gea’s mistake gifted an equalizer to Marcos Alonso as Chelsea boosted their hopes of Champions League qualification.
The result leaves Maurizio Sarri’s side still fourth in the table and two points above fifth-placed Arsenal, whereas United must overhaul a three-point deficit as well as their inferior goal difference during the final two games of the season.
The importance of the game was increased by defeats for Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal earlier in the weekend, and United, in particular, began like a team who knew their top-four hopes depended on winning.
The hosts created their first big chance after just four minutes when Luke Shaw’s long pass forward beat the entire Chelsea defense to leave Romelu Lukaku through on goal, but the Belgian took too long over his finish and was eventually denied by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
United would not have to wait long to break the deadlock, though, as Mata marked his 31st birthday with a goal against his former club after a scooped Lukaku pass had released Shaw, who cut the ball back into the middle for Mata to convert.
Chelsea were largely limited to long-range efforts for much of the first half, with Alonso and Jorginho failing to test David de Gea when trying their luck.
De Gea would go on to fail the first test which came his way from another long-range strike, but United almost doubled their advantage before that when Eric Bailly came close to marking his return to the team with a goal, sending a towering header just wide on the half-hour mark.
A two-goal lead would not have flattered a United side who were putting in one of their best performances in recent weeks, but they then found themselves level with just two minutes remaining of the half as De Gea made another howler to gift Chelsea an equalizer.
Antonio Rudiger’s 30-yard strike should have been simple for the keeper, but he spilled it into a dangerous area and Alonso was following up to convert the rebound – a third error leading directly to a goal from De Gea’s last four games, which is as many as he committed in his previous 123 outings for the club.
Kepa Arrizabalaga showed his compatriot how it should be done when collecting a long-range Marcus Rashford free-kick five minutes into the second half, and the Chelsea keeper was called upon again shortly afterward to keep out Bailly’s tame effort.