Casemiro rescued Manchester United as the Brazil midfielder grabbed his first goal for the club in stoppage-time to salvage a dramatic 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Saturday.
Erik ten Hag’s side were seconds away from defeat after Jorginho’s 87th minute penalty put Chelsea ahead in United’s first match since Cristiano Ronaldo was sent into exile.
But former Real Madrid star Casemiro ensured United left west London on a six-match unbeaten run as he netted with a header that was awarded by goal-line technology after crossing the line by millimetres.
Ronaldo was missing from the United squad after being dropped by Ten Hag after his refusal to come on as a substitute in Wednesday’s win over Tottenham.
Ten Hag’s decision to lay down the law to Ronaldo could signal the beginning of the end for the Portugal attacker in his second spell with United.
It would be no surprise if United and Ronaldo parted ways in the January transfer window, but Ten Hag’s men did not appear troubled by the striker’s latest petulant outburst.
With Ronaldo banished, United were still the stronger side for long periods, while there were no chants in support of the 37-year-old from the visiting fans packed into one corner of Stamford Bridge.
Fifth placed United remain one point behind fourth placed Chelsea, who are unbeaten in eight matches in all competitions since Graham Potter replaced the sacked Thomas Tuchel.
The only concern for United was the sight of France centre-back Raphael Varane limping off in tears in the second half after a World Cup injury scare.
Varane’s leg twisted awkwardly as he stretched in a failed attempt to intercept a pass towards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, leaving him crumpled in a heap on the pitch for several minutes.
The 29-year-old was eventually able to walk around the pitch unaided, but his angst at potentially missing the World Cup, which starts on November 20, was clear as he punched the corner flag in frustration.
Lost in the fuss over Ronaldo’s antics was the vibrancy of United’s performance against Tottenham and they retained that quality at the Bridge.
A flurry of passes cut through Chelsea’s midfield to create the first chance for Luke Shaw, who fizzed his low drive just wide of the far post from the edge of the area.
Teed up by Bruno Fernandes, United winger Anthony was next to threaten with a left-foot curler that forced a good save from Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Marcus Rashford’s return to form has played a role in keeping Ronaldo on the bench this season.
However, Ronaldo would surely have delivered a better finish than Rashford managed midway through the first half.
Fernandes’s pin-point pass opened up the Chelsea defence, leaving Rashford one on one with Kepa but a poor first touch took him away from goal and his shot thudded into the Chelsea keeper’s chest.
Rashford didn’t let that mess drain his confidence and he surged into the Chelsea area for a fierce strike that Kepa palmed away.
With Chelsea being over-run in central areas, Potter responded by replacing centre-back Marc Cucurella and sending on midfielder Mateo Kovacic in a bid to disrupt United’s rhythm.
Chelsea finally managed a menacing raid after Kovacic’s introduction as Aubameyang stabbed just wide.
Aubameyang couldn’t get the decisive touch to a pair of half-chances moments later but United were unfazed.
Christian Eriksen flashed narrowly wide from 25 yards before Anthony missed a glorious chance, the winger firing wide after Fernandes sent him racing clear on goal.
Chelsea’s Trevoh Chalobah hit the bar with a second half header from Mason Mount’s cross.
And Potter’s men looked to have won it in when Scott McTominay needlessly fouled Armando Broja and Jorginho calmly slotted past David De Gea.
But four minutes into stoppage-time, Casemiro rose highest for a superb header that Kepa could only tip onto the post, the ball bouncing down just over the line to spark wild United celebrations.