Boring, boring Man Utd: Solskjaer no closer to solving 'Big Six' problems after Chelsea stalemate

Bruno Fernandes Manchester United 2020-21
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The Red Devils have now recorded five straight 0-0 draws against their traditional domestic rivals after failing to break down Thomas Tuchel's team

Match statistics: Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United

Ahead of Manchester United's clash with Chelsea on Sunday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke to the media of the need for his team to rediscover their goalscoring touch against the top sides if they want to take the next step in their development.

If that was the message he gave to his players before kick-off at Stamford Bridge, then it fell on deaf ears.

The 0-0 draw in west London was the fifth straight Premier League game between United and a 'Big Six' side to end goalless, and the sixth successive time that the Red Devils have failed to find the net against their traditional rivals this season since their infamous 6-1 defeat to Tottenham in October.

They have gone over eight hours since they scored a goal from open play in such a high-profile league match, with Scott McTominay's long-range effort against Manchester City in March the last time Solskjaer could celebrate such a strike. It was so long ago that games were still being played in front of capacity crowds.

United are a better side now than they were almost 12 months ago, and have now gone 20 away games without tasting defeat in the league, but they must find a way to beat the teams around them in the table if they are to challenge City and the rest for silverware in the next couple of years.

Their biggest games have, to quote Roy Keane's post-match analysis on Sky Sports, become "really boring".

To Solskjaer's credit, he set his side up in a far more positive manner than he has in previous 'Big Six' meetings this term having clearly instructed his side to press high in a bid to close the space that Thomas Tuchel's side need to build attacks.

Olivier Giroud Chelsea vs Man Utd Premier League 2020-21

But the end result was the same, leaving United 12 points adrift of City ahead of next Sunday's derby, and now looking over their shoulder as the chasing pack for a top-four berth begin to close the gap.

Breaking down Tuchel's new-look side is no mean feat, of course, with Chelsea having conceded just two goals in their eight league games under the German coach.

But United will be disappointed they did not do more to test Edouard Mendy, with a first-half Marcus Rashford free-kick and a McTominay strike after the break the only occasions that they stung the former Rennes goalkeeper's palms.

"We haven’t had the quality or the fine margins or the luck ,but mostly today it was about the lack of quality in the last third," Solskjaer conceded post-match. 

"We had some moments that were close and some great counterattacking opportunities, but the last pass or the cross wasn’t good enough. That’s the next step for us and we will improve.

"Last season we had some great results, but in a different manner. At the moment we are trying to develop this style and develop ourselves to win these games and have that little last bit."

Things could have been different had United been awarded a penalty in the 14th minute for what looked a pretty clear handball from Callum Hudson-Odoi, only for referee Stuart Attwell to stay with his own decision despite being instructed to review his call by VAR.

Callum Hodson-Odoi Mason Greenwood Chelsea vs Man Utd Premier League 2020-21

"It's taken two points away from us," said a clearly angry Solskjaer to Sky Sports, but United cannot rely on officials and spot-kicks to pick up victories in these increasingly tight games.

Solskjaer would have likely hoped for more from Bruno Fernandes to help create something from nothing, but the Portugal international was kept quiet and regularly cut a frustrated figure as attacks broke down.

The only positive for United was that they looked far more solid in defence than they have in recent weeks, with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof responding well to Solskjaer's instructions to play higher up the field.

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When Chelsea did work themselves opportunities, David de Gea stood tall, particularly when denying Hakim Ziyech early in the second half before Luke Shaw blocked Reece James' follow-up.

It is clear that Solskjaer has now figured out how to stop the Premier League's best attacks from scoring against his team.

Working out how to balance that with their own attacking play, though, remains a major conundrum.

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