After scoring in Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Stoke City on Tuesday, Jesse Lingard hit a stunning half-volley after an hour which came so close to securing Louis van Gaal’s side a significant win at Stamford Bridge.
His instant control and finish into the top corner on the turn provided a glimpse of his raw ability and United fans will be excited about what their homegrown starlet can produce in seasons to come.
Van Gaal is clearly a fan and United have looked much more of a threat going forward in recent weeks with Lingard and Anthony Martial providing pace from either flank to support Wayne Rooney. If Lingard continues this vein of form, he will certainly give England manager Roy Hodgson something to think about ahead of Euro 2016.
The home fans sung his name throughout the game, making their feelings clear about the club’s refusal to offer their talismanic captain a new contract. Terry responded with a typically lion-hearted performance and was unfortunate not to win his side a penalty at the end of the first half when his goal-bound effort was blocked by Daley Blind’s elbow. The 35-year-old showed why he is still Chelsea’s best defender against a rejuvenated United attack and constantly posed a threat for his side at set-pieces.
“The fans were incredible,” said Terry afterwards. “For me they are the best in the world and I will never forget what they have done for me.”
For all his disciplinary troubles, Diego Costa is still a man for the big occasion. The Spanish forward worked tirelessly all afternoon to try and make something happen for Chelsea and his efforts were rewarded in stoppage time when he rounded David De Gea to slot home his 11th goal of the season.
Costa’s goals last season helped Chelsea cruise to the Premier League title and, after a difficult first half of the season, he has rediscovered his touch in front of goal to steer the Blues clear of a relegation dogfight.
However, questions must be asked as to why owner Roman Abramovich didn’t open his chequebook in January.
Yes, they signed Alexandre Pato on loan until the end of the season but that’s only a short-term solution. With Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao sidelined and showing no signs of nearing returns, it looks like Costa will have to spearhead Chelsea’s attack for the rest of the season, which, even for a player of his undoubted ability, could be too much responsibility to shoulder.
The Red Devils were impressive at Stamford Bridge and were extremely unfortunate not to leave the capital with all three points. But for a string of outstanding saves from the imperious Thibaut Courtois, United would have been out of sight by the time Costa tapped home in the dying seconds.
Rooney is starting to look sharper, while the pace and trickery of Martial and Lingard will give Van Gaal cause for optimism as they aim to close the gap on the top four.
After their barren spell in front of goal during the first half of the season, United have now scored seven goals in their last three games and will be confident of sneaking into the top four if they continue to produce attacking displays of similar verve to the one we saw in west London.
In recent weeks, Hiddink has suggested his side could make a late assault on the top four but after successive draws, Chelsea will surely now miss out on Champions League qualification for the first time since 2002. Their only hope is if they win the competition, just as they did in 2012, but the odds are against Hiddink’s underperforming squad who will be underdogs in their last-16 tie against the much-fancied Paris Saint-Germain.
“We have to start winning,” said Hiddink afterwards. “Of course we are unbeaten but if you want to get into fourth place you need to have your victories.
“Considering that we have too many draws to get to fourth place. It’s difficult. Mathematically it might be possible but we must start winning again.” Even a place in the Europa League looks unlikely for Chelsea, with Sunday’s draw keeping them 11 points behind fifth-placed United and nine behind West Ham in sixth.
The prospect of no European football could spark a mass exodus of Chelsea’s star players, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Costa and Cesc Fabregas all likely to consider their futures.