Monday, August 26, 2013

Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea: Spoils shared in cagey affair; Rooney speculation put to bed?

Chelsea and Manchester United played out a cautious 0-0 draw in David Moyes' first league game at Old Trafford. Moyes' side had the better of the chances but with both teams reluctant to leave themselves exposed on the break, a draw seemed an inevitability.

In truth, the most intriguing part of the contest was probably the team sheets. With Wayne Rooney's future still uncertain, Moyes made a major statement by giving the England international the start against a Chelsea team he'd asked to be transferred to. Moyes appears to have every intention of keeping his wantaway forward and that Rooney looked United's brightest player will only add to the likelihood he stays at United.

Perhaps Jose Mourinho was trying to send a message of his own to Rooney with his team selection. The Chelsea manager opted to play without a true striker and instead employed Andre Schurrle furthest up the pitch with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne as the three attacking midfielders. It seems unlikely the Chelsea boss would use such a big fixture as an opportunity to signal to Rooney that he'd be the first choice striker at Chelsea but with Mourinho you can't rule out the possibility.

In his post match interview he said the decision was a tactical one and that he had thought the mobility of playing four attacking midfielders would cause United more problems than playing with a point man up top. Whatever his reasoning, he appears resigned to Rooney staying put after telling reporters he can't see the forward leaving after the outpouring of support he got from United fans this evening.

I had written a post late last week suggesting the arrival of Willian could have serious implications for Juan Mata's playing time and there will be further speculation today about the Spaniard's future under Mourinho after he couldn't get a starting position in a starting lineup that featured four attacking midfielders. Mourinho did rubbish questions speculating on the future of Mata after the game, telling reporters he's suffering from a knock and wasn't going anywhere. However, he started against Aston Villa midweek and didn't appear to be suffering from any injury.

Quick thoughts on tactics
  • Chelsea defended fairly deep and appeared to be looking to break quickly on the counter with their four pacey, energetic attacking midfielders De Bruyne, Hazard, Oscar and Schurrle. However, without a target striker they lacked a focal point in attack and an outlet forward when they won the ball back in midfield. They were also hurt by some untidy passing when they had chances to advance the ball forward quickly.
  • United haven't changed much about their style under Moyes. They still play 4-4-1-1 and use plenty of width. Today, with Chelsea defending compact and narrow, United's best route into the final third was through the channels. Phil Jones and Patrice Evra overlapped Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck. The final ball was often lacking however and Moyes introduced Ashley Young to provide a better delivery in from wide areas. 
  • Chelsea were well set up to deal with crosses sent in from the channels. Centerbacks John Terry and Gary Cahill are far more comfortable sitting deep and heading away balls whipped into the box than when opposition players are running in behind them. Chelsea were forced into making a few important blocks but overall they weren't really troubled.

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