Is anyone else beginning to think that Jose Mourinho’s old Chelsea side might have been slightly less entertaining than they remember? I certainly am. What we saw last night, whilst very boring, wasn’t necessarily of as a poorer standard as some have suggested however. I think it was just two very conservative teams, neither of whom were willing to risk defeat in pursuit of victory and whose assiduousness in midfield and quality in defence resulted in mutual cancellation.
It’s never sensible to read too much into one game but it seems to me that the prioritisation of defending has returned to the top of the English game. After a few seasons of enjoying relative goal-fests amongst the top sides in the Premier League, the arrival of Jose, David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini in the top managerial positions (all of whom being more defensive than their predecessors) may mean more ‘attritional’ displays like last night’s are what lie ahead. I think however, that the Chelsea manager was given too much of the blame for yesterday’s stalemate and that David Moyes had just as much, if not more to do with the drabness which the crowd were subjected to. Considering they were last year’s runaway winners, you might’ve expected them to at least try and push a bit further up the pitch, especially considering they were at home.
Like most it seemed when the teams were released, I wasn’t particularly impressed. The selection of Frank Lampard for his third game in eight days over Mikel or Michael Essien was a ridiculous one and its effect on our ability to keep meaningful possession in the United half was obvious. And whilst the selection of Schurrle as a centre forward sort of made sense, in that he could’ve dropped deeper and helped link up the play – making us more fluid and ‘mobile’; our use of him was absolutely dreadful. As it happened he didn’t drop deep at all and was instead just hanging off the last defender and attempting to feed off of quick long passes. It was an embarrassingly crude tactic and the execution was terrible, with the young German only managing to receive possession once from deep, and even then lacking the strength and quality to hold it up.
It’s hard to hide from the possibility that given his tendency for politicking, that Mourinho, confident of getting a draw anyhow, used his selection in this game to send a message to Roman Abramovich, expressing his need for the new striker that it seems will be arriving in the next six days.
Over the last couple of years, a clear pattern had begun to emerge in games between Man Utd and Chelsea, where we dominated the middle of park and had comfortably more possession whilst Utd would control the wings and be generally more direct and effective with the ball. What was most worrying from a Chelsea perspective was that we weren’t able to control the midfield or put any kind of pressure on Carrick or Cleverley at all. We were sloppy and careless in possession and were fortunate that Utd couldn’t produce anything much better. It was the first 0-0 at Old Trafford in the Premier League since 2009, and it was a score-line rarely accurate in its reflection of the game.
The clear MOTM for Chelsea was our captain. Last night he looked miles away from the player who rightfully lost his place in the starting XI last season and more like the player who was picked in the FIFA World Team of the Year for five consecutive seasons. It was the first time in fifteen months he had started three PL games in succession and it looks like he’s set to start quite a few more now. If he can maintain this form where he’s reading and reacting to the game as sharply as last night, then he’s in the starting XI every time without question. Some credit is also due to Gary Cahill who has come in for some criticism lately – but he played really well last night.
Surely the highlight from Mancunian perspective will have been the selection and performance of Wayne Rooney. The fact he was picked by David Moyes seems a fairly clear indication that this saga is over. The way in which Rooney was the only player regularly able to find space in such a cagey match, would’ve been a nice reminder for the Utd fans of what they’re holding onto. The fact that Rooney still hasn’t come out and said he wants to stay is Chelsea’s last little reason for hope, but now it seems as if the club will have to turn to target number two.
Although neither side deserved the win, United were clearly the better of the two teams. Neither the player’s nor the manager’s performance was good enough and after his repeated talks of running a meritocracy I would both hope and expect to see Juan Mata and Mikel in the side against Everton in three weeks time. However, the result is by no means a bad one and to be honest, to have played so disappointingly and with an experimental/unbalanced line-up; to come away with such a straightforward point I suppose is an encouraging sign. So ultimately, no real reason for concern but improvements still needed quickly.