MANCHESTER, April 29: Chelsea edged towards securing their place in next season’s Champions League despite failing to make the most of their dominance in a 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Thursday.
Marcos Alonso’s opener was quickly cancelled out by Cristiano Ronaldo to leave the third-placed Blues eight points clear of Tottenham in fifth in the Premier League with five games remaining.
United interim boss Ralf Rangnick had already given up hope of the Red Devils climbing into the top four and a point leaves them still five points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal having played two games more.
Rangnick’s ill-fated time at Old Trafford could be cut short with reports he is set to take over as Austria manager rather than take up a two-year consultancy role.
Erik ten Hag has already been recruited as United manager for next season, but again there was little sign of encouragement for the Ajax boss from another limp performance.
Ownership issues also hang over the club on a night when the United fans again voiced their anger at the Glazer family.
Many supporters remained outside the stadium until the 17th minute in a sign of protest at the 17 years since the Americans took control of United with a leveraged takeover.
Chelsea look destined to become the latest Premier League club to fall into American hands with the sale of the Blues expected to go through before the end of the season.
The uncertainty over what the future holds at Stamford Bridge has began to show on the field in recent weeks.
Thomas Tuchel’s men have suffered heavy home defeats to Brentford and Arsenal, as well as seeing their defence of the Champions League come to an end.
But they were just the latest side to have too much energy, ideas and organisation for a United team that can now only match their lowest ever points tally in the Premier League era by winning their remaining three games.
In keeping with the Red Devils’ season only David de Gea and Ronaldo emerged with any credit by keeping the hosts in the game at either end.
De Gea spread himself brilliantly to twice deny Kai Havertz with the best chances of the first half.
Tuchel was furious with his German compatriot’s poor finishing, but Havertz did at least have a hand in the goal that finally put the visitors in front on the hour mark.
Havertz flicked on Reece James’ cross into the path of Alonso, who hit a sweetly-struck volley across De Gea.
The lead lasted just two minutes as Ronaldo was at his clinical best to smash home United’s first big chance of the game.
Nemanja Matic chipped a brilliant pass into the path of the Portuguese to control and fire high past Edouard Mendy for his 23rd goal of the season.
Chelsea should still have gone on to claim all three points as James curled against the post from Mason Mount’s cute backheel in the closing stages. (AFP)