Manchester United 1 Chelsea 1
The fight for a top-four place is set to go down to the wire after Manchester United were held to a draining 1-1 draw by Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side remain in sixth place in the Premier League, three points behind the visitors Chelsea in fourth position and one point behind Arsenal in fifth.
A much-needed win was coveted by United ahead of the tussle going down to the final two matches of the league campaign but the Reds couldn't make the necessary headway, despite being given an early 11th-minute lead by birthday boy Juan Mata.
The 31-year-old Spaniard's goal was cancelled out by Marcos Alonso just before half-time and neither side could find the winner in the second period, leaving both sets of fans to rue the lack of a significant blow.
The four-way battle for the two vacancies remaining for the coveted Champions League berths has been a nervous and disjointed affair.
United, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal have all struggled to stamp their authority on the challenge and break away from the tussle. All candidates have been stuttering towards the finishing line like a fun runner in the London Marathon.
The Reds, though, began in the mood to shake off the malaise affecting the contenders for the European big tickets.
After four minutes, Luke Shaw sprayed a long pass forward to release Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker controlled the dropping ball, turned Antonio Rudiger but had his shot smothered by Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The stat that has handicapped United’s challenge for the top four has been the lack of goals in open play since the defeat at Wolves in the league. The Reds' last two strikes had been Paul Pogba’s penalties against West Ham at home.
But after 11 minutes, Solskjaer's men finally threw that burden off their shoulders, by scoring without the aid of a set piece.
Just two minutes short of nine hours since Scott McTominay hit the net at Molineux, the Reds struck against Maurizio Sarri’s side.
Shaw had started on fire and was at the heart of United’s opener.
The left back drove forward, played a pass to Pogba and raced onwards to collect the eventual through ball from Lukaku. Shaw’s cutback was drilled in by ex-Chelsea player Mata for his first goal since January's Emirates FA Cup win against Reading.
The Reds then had a spell of set pieces that unsettled Chelsea. Mata’s 28th-minute corner caused trouble in the Londoners' rearguard as Rudiger headed against Alonso but no United player was on hand to react quick enough to the loose ball in the six-yard area before Azpilicueta’s panicked hack away.
Seconds later, Ashley Young’s corner from the players' tunnel area was met by Lukaku but he couldn’t direct his header on goal.
It had been a much improved performance by the Reds after recent below-par displays but the Blues ruined all that just minutes before the interval.
Rudiger smashed a speculative piledriver from around 30 yards out that David De Gea could only parry to his right, and Alonso snapped up the rebound to equalise in the 43rd minute.
Seeing dejection in their beloved goalkeeper, the loyal Old Trafford faithful immediately got behind De Gea in a show of support for the no.1.
United had been the better side in the first 45 minutes but the shock of the pre-interval setback seemed to unsettle the Reds and the players struggled to get back into their stride.
Fortunately, the goal had not sufficiently upped Chelsea’s fluency and confidence and the match became riddled with mistakes, with neither team able to grab the initiative.
United suffered a spell of injuries that saw Rashford heading off to the dressing room for immediate attention to be replaced by Alexis after 65 minutes. Then Bailly’s return match sadly ended early when he went off injured.
There was serious concern from his team-mates when he first went down but at least the defender was eventually able to discard the stretcher that had been sent on for him but he limped painfully off the field.
With the spate of injuries and substitutions, including a further change for United when Scott McTominay came on for Mata in the 81st minute, the game just couldn’t get going again and became scrappy.
But Old Trafford reached a crescendo of noise as an extra seven minutes added-on time went up on the fourth official’s board. It reinvigorated the Reds in the quest for a crucial dramatic late winner.
United substitute Rojo almost got it when he sent a header arrowing goalwards from a corner but one of Chelsea’s replacements, Pedro, was on the line to head away.
Chelsea had their own chance in a nerve-wracking finale when Higuain was put through in the 97th minute but De Gea was able to block the Argentina international's bid to snatch the critical three points.
United: De Gea, Young (C), Lindelof, Bailly (Rojo 71), Shaw, Matic, Pogba, Herrera, Mata (McTominay 81), Lukaku, Rashford (Alexis 65).
Subs not used: Romero, Martial, Andreas, Darmian.
Scorer: Mata (11).
Bookings: Herrera, Rojo, Young.
Chelsea: Kepa, Azpilicueta, Rudiger (Christensen 65), Luiz, Alonso, Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic (Loftus-Cheek,76), Willian (Pedro, 84), Higuain, Hazard.
Subs not used: Caballero, Barkley, Giroud, Zappacosta..
Scorer: Alonso (43).
Bookings: Willian, Kovacic.