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Anthony Martial powers Manchester United's bright display vs. Chelsea

Manchester United 0, Chelsea 0. This scoreline will not tell the story of what was perhaps United's finest performance of the season, where they struck the woodwork twice -- through Juan Mata and Anthony Martial -- and were denied in the second half by the brilliance of Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Though Chelsea played without a conventional No. 9, they were not defensive from the outset -- rather, they were pushed back on their heels time and again by the type of performance that many no longer thought Man United manager Louis van Gaal was capable of inspiring at this club.

In what many regarded as a must-win game for the Dutchman, his team fashioned enough chances to win the game, which is why the final scoreline should be so disappointing for them. For all their possession, they failed to be truly penetrative in the final third, with the lack of opportunities that they made centrally an unfortunate problem. In isolation, this was a good performance with very good moments, but as part of a trend, it may ultimately be damning.

Manchester UnitedManchester United
ChelseaChelsea
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Game Details

Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):

GK David De Gea, 8 -- Made two superb saves, one early in the first half from John Terry, the second in the second half from his Spanish compatriot Pedro -- and his follow-up to deny Cesar Azpilicueta was very smart too. Passed the ball out well from the back and confirmed his status as one of the top handful of goalkeepers in the world.

DF Matteo Darmian, 7 -- Though not fully fit on his return, he got forward well down the left flank and his fine overlapping with Martial was one of the most promising features of this performance. An encouraging return, where he showed much of his good early season form.

DF Daley Blind, 7 -- After a slightly unsure start, he settled well and was positionally sound thereafter, managing to get forward well enough to produce some incisive passing into the final third. Had some of United's forwards had the same degree of guile, they may just have edged this game.

DF Chris Smalling, 7 -- Distribution was a little loose in the early stages, but he was generally sound, bringing the ball out from the back with authority.

DF Ashley Young, 7 -- A very fine first half, which featured a superb tackle to dispossess Azpilicueta as he advanced dangerously on the counterattack, and a somewhat quieter second -- like the rest of his team, in his defence. Industrious throughout, though could have been a little more accomplished with his final ball.

MF Bastian Schweinsteiger, 6 -- Got the ball forward intelligently and promptly, though could have been sharper on possession and looked tired towards the end. His presence and playmaking are vital to this team when he is at his best. He showed enough here to suggest that he can still make a significant contribution.

MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 7 -- A return to the side which begged the question as to why he had been on the bench so long. Provided a typically strong defensive presence as well as ambition when passing forward, the only blemish being a yellow card for a late first half challenge.

MF Ander Herrera, 7 -- Hardworking and inventive, he combined well with his fellow midfielders and was unfortunate not to score the winner after a fine late run into the box saw him denied by Courtois' save of the match.

MF Juan Mata, 6 -- Hit the crossbar after only a few minutes, and was key to much of United's early creativity. Faded in the second half, like most of his teammates, but showed why so much is expected of him.

FW Anthony Martial, 8 -- Created the game's best chance with a wonderful dribble in from the left flank and centre across goal, the highlight of another performance where he was a continual threat from out wide. Had Branislav Ivanovic been in his early season form, this would have been a brutal mismatch, but it was instead a compelling contest.

Anthony Martial was Manchester United's most dangerous man in attack against Chelsea.
Anthony Martial was Manchester United's most dangerous man in attack against Chelsea.

FW Wayne Rooney, 7 -- A very fine first half, where he ran at players and struck the ball from distance with the vigour of old, and where his first touch looked better than it has all season. Did not manage to maintain that intensity in the second half, and should perhaps have done better with a difficult cross from the left from substitute Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

Substitutions:

DF Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, 7 -- On for Darmian in the 70th minute. Assured from the moment he took the pitch, and almost created the winner for Rooney with an excellent cross to the far post.

FW Memphis Depay, NR -- Replaced Mata in the 77th minute. Unable to make an impact in his limited time on the field. Attempted a bold flick to spread the play but was unable to complete what would have been a fine attack.

DF Phil Jones, NR -- Came on for Blind in the 82nd minute and defended doggedly for the closing minutes, surviving an admittedly faint handball shout in the process.

Musa Okwonga is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow on Twitter: @Okwonga.

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