Ole Gunnar Solskjaer blamed Manchester United’s latest Old Trafford flop on the absence of fans as Saturday’s 0-0 Premier League draw against Chelsea left them without a win in their first three home league games for the first time in 48 years.
Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani almost scored on his debut with his first touch after coming off the bench in the second half, but United were unable to break down Chelsea’s well-drilled defence.
Beaten by Crystal Palace on the opening weekend of the Premier League season and crushed 6-1 by Tottenham in their previous home match, United once again looked lacklustre at an empty Old Trafford.
United’s only win in their last six home games was in the Europa League against Austrian side LASK last season, when they were already 5-0 up from the away leg.
“In the second half, we pushed on and if the Stretford End had been full we might get the goal to get us over the line, as it creates more pressure and urgency,” Solskjaer said.
“We miss the fans, I must say. It is the same for all teams but I think everyone agrees that the edge has gone and I can’t wait to get the fans back.”
United are languishing in 15th place after a spluttering start and any optimism engendered by their midweek Champions League win at Paris Saint Germain evaporated in the Manchester rain.
United, bereft of any attacking inspiration, have two more chances to get back on track at home next week when they entertain Leipzig in the Champions League and Arsenal in the Premier League.
“I thought we were closest to winning the game, we kept a clean sheet and we have stopped the run of home defeats, although we wanted to win of course,” Solskjaer said.
Chelsea’s conservative tactics were a means to an end for Blues boss Frank Lampard, who had been alarmed by their defensive issues.
Chelsea had conceded 63 goals in their previous 43 Premier League matches under Lampard, the worst rate of any permanent Blues boss.
A goalless Champions League draw against Sevilla in midweek stopped the bleeding and this obdurate effort was another sign that Lampard is beginning to solve the problem.
Chelsea are far from the finished product, however, lacking much cohesion in attack, and they sit in sixth place after drawing three of their last four league games.
“I’m happy with the clean sheet. We want more than a point obviously, but to come to Manchester United and not concede that is a great base,” Lampard said.
“A game of this level, when you get in the final third you want to make things happen and that didn’t happen for us today so there are things to improve.”
– Cautious approach –
Solskjaer changed United’s pre-match routine in a bid to arrest their Old Trafford slide, taking them to stay in a hotel on Friday night.
But with torrential rain lashing down, nearly 30 minutes passed without a single notable incident before Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy nearly scored an incredible own goal when his miscued pass across his six-yard box rolled just wide for a United corner.
Marcus Rashford had the best chance of the half when Juan Mata’s pinpoint pass sent the United forward galloping clear for a low drive that forced Mendy to save with his foot.
Cesar Azpilicueta had a strong penalty appeal rejected when Harry Maguire wrestled him down at a Chelsea set-piece.
“Without doubt it is a clear penalty. It’s not always clear for the referee but the VAR is there. Maguire got Azpilicueta in a headlock,” Lampard said.
Solskjaer sent on former PSG star Cavani in the 58th minute for his first appearance since his free transfer on deadline day.
Cavani almost scored with his first touch when his deft flick ruffled the side-netting.
But chances remained at a premium until Mendy made a brilliant save in stoppage-time to keep out Rashford’s curler.