Cristiano Ronaldo reminds wasteful Chelsea the value of an elite finisher as Blues draw with Manchester United
If Cristiano Ronaldo had been wearing blue, Chelsea would have won this game handsomely.
Instead the ageless Manchester United striker produced another moment of sublime quality to get his team out of jail and remind Thomas Tuchel of the value of a predatory goalscorer.
In fairness, the Chelsea manager is well aware of that fact, which is why he spent a club record £97.5million on Romelu Lukaku last season. The Belgian’s place on the bench for yet another big match is evidence of just how disappointing his move from Inter Milan has been.
In an ideal world, he would have been gobbling up the numerous chances Chelsea created in an utterly dominant first-half performance.
In his absence, Kai Havertz squandered a hat-trick of opportunities that, at one point, had Tuchel bouncing up and down with rage on the touchline. He knew his team could come to rue those wasted chances – and so it proved.
It was down to Marcos Alonso to show the German how it is done, with a sweetly struck volley 60th-minute volley that looked to have put Chelsea on course for three points.
But just two minutes later, Ronaldo produced his show stopper – killing Nemanja Matic’s lofted pass dead with one touch, before blasting high into the corner past Edouard Mendy.
The Portuguese was given little to feed off throughout – but, just as Karim Benzema has proved for Real Madrid in the Champions League this season, class is permanent.
What he would have done with Havertz’s one-on-one when put through by N’Golo Kante? Or the header from six yards after the outstanding Reece James placed a cross right on the money?
Another Havertz effort was fired into the side netting when he might have at least made David De Gea work.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who else.
Listen to the crowd 𝗥𝗢𝗔𝗥 as the striker fires Utd level - 𝗚𝗔𝗠𝗘 𝗢𝗡 at Old Trafford! 🔊 pic.twitter.com/TCh7lCkecr
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 28, 2022
Ronaldo was the difference. Everywhere else, Chelsea were streets ahead.
Their dominance was such that they had nearly 65 percent of the possession, registered 21 shots – but only six were on target. That is the crucial statistic and Tuchel accepted as much.
He said: “We were very strong on and off the ball, very dominant on the ball, very aggressive off it, a lot of ball wins, a lot of half chances.
“But, unfortunately, we lacked precision in the box, a bit of determination to finish it off, early in the match, but also in the whole match and unfortunately we had it we gave it away in a minute.
“I was very happy with the way we played. We found enough spaces to take more advantage of it. It felt a little bit was missing in the last 16 yards to finish it off earlier.”
The positive for Tuchel was the performance in general – particularly after some lacklustre displays since they were eliminated from the Champions League. A point edged them closer to a guaranteed top four finish – moving them eight clear of Tottenham.
It also suggested a sharpness returning to their play, with Tuchel determined to keep his side focused ahead of the FA Cup final against Liverpool next month.
That is the big challenge for the German, who will want another piece of silverware to crown what has been a season of progression.
A title challenge might not have materialised, while the defence of their Champions League crown ended at the quarter-final stage. But they are on course to finish third – one place higher than last term – while Tuchel can justifiably point to the number of key injuries Chelsea have had to endure, which took the legs out of their bid to mount a more serious bid for the title.
“Reece James played and we missed him for 12 weeks and I am very impressed we are still in the top three and so close to reaching another semi-final in the Champions League and reaching finals in both cups,” he said. “Today other key players are missing in Mateo Kovacic, who was so decisive, the same with N’Golo Kante and Ben Chilwell.
“The big difference is Manchester City and Liverpool have full a squad available and we struggle with Covid periods and long-term injuries. We had weeks where we were composed and strong.”
That is a fair assessment – but a finisher of the quality of Ronaldo would make a huge difference too.