Manchester United missed an opportunity to take over at the top of the Premier League on Sunday as they were held to a goalless draw at home by Blackburn Rovers.
A win would have lifted United a point above Chelsea, but they remain one behind having played a game more.
Worse, they looked a tired, uninspired side, so that it’s hard to imagine them recovering to win their remaining four games to take advantage even if Chelsea do slip up.
Despite Wayne Rooney’s absence with an ankle injury, United fielded an attacking line-up, with Dimitar Berbatov off Federico Macheda, and Nani and Antonio Valencia on the flanks.
With suggestions that United’s squad is beginning to feel the pressure of so many games, Patrice Evra, who looked leggy in the Champions League exit to Bayern Munich in midweek, was left out in favour of John O’Shea.
Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson saved well from Valencia midway through an oddly understated first-half, and then stood tall to deny the Ecuadorian two minutes before the break.
At half-time, though, the sense was of a game still waiting to start; United, as they had in losing to Chelsea eight days ago, seemed uncharacteristically diffident, heightening concerns that the central midfield pairing of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes has at last reached its sell-by date.
United defender Rio Ferdinand dislocated his finger in a challenge with Jonas Olsson soon after half-time; and he later seemed to suffer a groin injury.
He played on, but with United become increasingly twitchy, Darron Gibson was introduced for Giggs.
Park Ji-Sung then came on for Macheda, as United switched to a five-man midfield to try to get behind a resolute Rovers back four.
Once again, though, United lacked the zest to break their opponents down, and Rovers in the end held on quite comfortably.