It’s hard to keep Jose Mourinho out of the news and prior to a big game, it’s virtually impossible. In the build-up to last night’s clash between Manchester United and Chelsea, the Portuguese had plenty to say from not-so-subtly revealing the coup of Willian to blaming David Moyes for the Wayne Rooney saga. He was a picture of confidence and assurance in the past week but a few curious decisions on Monday made for a flat Chelsea performance in what turned out to be a drab 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
Of course United were also guilty of failing to create enough opportunities despite a vibrant display from Rooney amidst the long drawn out speculation surrounding him. He was the best player for the hosts, popping up everywhere, linking up brilliantly with his colleagues and exhibiting the kind of tenacity that’s endeared him to the United support. At one point he was even seen tracking back to a left-back position to dispossess Ramires before releasing Robin van Persie on the break.
Rooney was in inspired form
From Moyes’ line-up, it was evident that he opted for hard workers in the starting eleven. Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck on either flank emphasized that. However, the latter regularly interchanged with Rooney and Van Persie up front and the link-up play between the three was the best feature of United’s play.
Mourinho on the other hand surprised everyone by choosing none of his three available strikers and instead deploying Andre Schurrle in a false 9 role while he also played the aging Frank Lampard in central midfield for the third time in nine days. Whether it was part of a shrewd tactical ploy or an attempt to spook his opposite number, it didn’t work.
In a 4-6-0 Chelsea formation, the experienced center-back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic had very little to worry about. Everything was played ahead of them and they dealt with any potential threat with ease.
Schurrle was deployed in a false 9 role
Meanwhile, Gary Cahill and John Terry had to work a lot harder for their clean sheet at the opposite end with the trio of Welbeck, Van Persie and Rooney constantly interchanging and trying to get in behind them. Chelsea’s defense was the best aspect of their game with their captain in particular putting in an inspired performance.
It was only late in the game when Fernando Torres was brought on that the United defense were given something to think about. The Spaniard wasn’t able to produce anything of note but he still managed to drag the center-backs wide and had them back-pedaling on a couple of occasions before eventually losing the ball though.
United’s aging central defense aren’t comfortable when running back towards their own goal and Torres at the very least, got them doing exactly that. In his post-match comments, Mourinho claimed that the tactics were not to blame because even when he brought Torres on, they didn’t create an opening but he conveniently failed to acknowledge that it did give them more space in the opposing half.
United's defense dealt with Chelsea's attacks
If not Torres then perhaps he could have chosen to start with Romelu Lukaku who would have given United’s defense hell with his pace, directness and strength. Even Demba Ba ran the channels well and stretched Aston Villa early on in midweek so either way, playing one of his strikers would have given Chelsea so much more up front.
What was even more disappointing was the visitors’ inability to dominate midfield and retain possession which is the very least you have to achieve when playing a fairly narrow system with no striker. In fact United had the lion share of possession with 55% to Chelsea’s 45%. Lampard appeared to be over-run in midfield while Tom Cleverley in particular put in an exceptional display.
Chelsea’s passing was also off the mark as the hosts made 16 interceptions as opposed to the 6 they conceded. United also made more tackles and had a clear advantage in wide areas as they sent in 25 crosses to Chelsea’s 12. All in all, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading as far as Mourinho is concerned given that on paper, they outnumbered the home side in midfield.
United won the midfield battle
Perhaps the most controversial decision the Portuguese tactician made was to leave Juan Mata on the bench for the entire game. With his side desperately lacking creativity, it was criminal not to call on the services of Chelsea’s best playmaker and Player of the Year for two seasons running. Certainly a decision Rafa Benitez would have been crucified for.
While Rooney's starting role and his subsequent performance has tilted his future towards United with even Mourinho conceding that 'maybe now he thinks he wants to stay', Mata's position on the bench only fuels speculation of his potential move away from Stamford Bridge.
Towards the end of the game, Chelsea turned to the pragmatic option and seemed to settle for the draw. While there’s no shame in that given that they were the away side after all, it would have surrendered some ground to United on a psychological level. It stated that this isn’t a fearless Chelsea side of ‘untouchables’, not yet at least.
Moyes would have gained some self-belief from that performance as his side proved that they are still good enough to compete with the best in the league despite enduring a dismal transfer window so far. If anyone at United questioned the team’s title credentials this season, last night’s game should put those doubts to bed as they went toe-to-toe with Chelsea and shaded the proceedings.
United must not get carried away with a 0-0 draw
With the signings they've made and ‘The Special One’ back, many seemed to think that Chelsea, who have also been considered title favourites for some, would dominate United who seemed to have a massive hole at their very core. Instead, ‘The Chosen One’ and his troops stood firm and were notably the more adventurous of the two sides.
Being only their second game of the season, it would be foolhardy for United to get carried away with a 0-0 draw especially when you consider that Chelsea had to play a game in midweek as well and may not have been as fresh. However, Mourinho may have missed a golden opportunity to stamp his authority over Moyes here and whether he admits it or not, his tactics were largely to blame.
|Do you think Mourinho got his tactics wrong? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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