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Man United 0 Chelsea 0 - Tactical analysis

Peter Fraser watched a stalemate at Old Trafford which underlined the deficiencies of both Manchester United and Chelsea.

Last Updated: 27/08/13 at 08:11 Post Comment

Jose Mourinho and David Moyes: Both short in specific areas

Jose Mourinho and David Moyes: Both short in specific areas

It was billed as the Chosen One against the Special One - David Moyes versus Jose Mourinho. However, away from the spectacle of the sidelines and the baiting of the build-up, this fixture at Old Trafford simply told a story which is already well known.

In Moyes' first home game as Manchester United manager, when all eyes were on Wayne Rooney, the desperation of the defending champions for creativity from midfield was glaringly obvious.

Likewise, Chelsea boss Mourinho, who had raised eyebrows with his starting formation without a recognised striker, saw further evidence of his significant need for a point-man forward.

Chelsea stayed top of the table as a result of the largely forgettable 0-0 draw between two of the Premier League's blockbuster clubs but what lessons can be taken? Here, Sky Sports uses Opta data to analyse the match.


Rooney was selected in the United starting XI for the first time under new boss Moyes. Rooney was picked ahead of Ryan Giggs to face Chelsea, who have had two bids turned down for the England striker already this summer and are expected to make a third later this week.

As if to emphasise his own lack of firepower, Chelsea manager Mourinho, who himself returned to the Premier League this summer, picked an intriguing team with the versatile Andre Schurrle up front and Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku on the bench. Demba Ba did not even travel having started against Aston Villa last Wednesday. Juan Mata also started against Villa but dropped to the bench against United amid ongoing speculation over his own future.

Chelsea strikersDemba BaRomelu LukakuFernando Torres
Stats before kick-off v Man UtdChelseaChelseaChelsea
Minutes On Pitch654075
Goal Attempts
Mins per goal---
Shots On Target100
Shots Off Target010
Shooting Accuracy100%0%0%
Chance Conversion0%0%0%
Blocked Shots022

Story of the game

Mourinho told Sky Sports before kick-off of his striker-less selection: "I go for mobility. I want to try to win the game. I do not come with a defensive team despite not playing with one of my strikers. But instead of playing with one target man, I play with four attacking players and they are willing to try to create problems."

Torres and Ba had paid the price for their underwhelming starts to the season (see table above) while Lukaku is seemingly not yet trusted. Schurrle, who produced the second highest number of shots in the Bundesliga last season (98) but at a conversion rate of just 11 per cent, was the man tasked with attempting to stretch fantastically organised United centre-backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic with runs in behind the defence.

The ploy was to force Ferdinand and Vidic to drop deep and create space for Chelsea's three floating, supporting attackers - Kevin de Bruyne, Oscar and Eden Hazard. Schurrle's running saw the tactic almost work perfectly on 10 minutes when two weak United defensive headers meant the ball dropped for Oscar on the edge of the box but the Brazilian shot at United goalkeeper David de Gea at his near post.

Moyes had said before kick-off: "Chelsea have got a lot of good players and they can play in many different ways. It looks as if they are going to do that tonight." However, Oscar's early chance was about as good as it got for the visitors. Schurrle was isolated and touched the ball just 13 times in the first half.

Likewise, for United, Van Persie was struggling to get into the game and touched the ball only 19 times in the opening 45 minutes. The Dutchman was superbly marshalled by Chelsea captain John Terry throughout the game and the centre-back made 11 clearances - bettered only by Vidic (13) - throughout the contest.

Chelsea's problems continued. De Bruyne, Oscar and Hazard's preference to drift into central areas and not always drop deep to cover resulted in the away team's attacks being focused on the centre of the pitch. This meant the spine of United's team - Ferdinand (25), Vidic (29), Tom Cleverley (33) and Michael Carrick (34) saw the most touches of the ball in the opening half-an-hour for United. But it also meant United could crowd central areas - with Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck tucking in - and push all of their players, except Ferdinand, Vidic and De Gea, into the Chelsea half. The advanced full-backs of Patrice Evra and Phil Jones was a clear strategy.

All eyes had been on Rooney ahead of kick-off and the England international clearly wanted to make a point. He was full of energy and charged around the field, having 33 touches in the first half. But, before half-time, he also lost all four of his duels, gave away two fouls and only Van Persie and De Gea had a worse pass conversion rate. Rooney did finish with all three of United's shots on target but the poor link-up play with Van Persie was a story of the game.

Moyes, who has refused to deny a possible bid for Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale, will have been pleased with the defensive work of Valencia, which continued after the interval. The Ecuadorian had made six tackles, more than twice as many as any other player on the pitch while also winning more than half of his incredible 15 duels inside 50 minutes. But he was not having an influence on the game going forward and was sacrificed for Ashley Young in 66th minute.

With United showing a bit more intent after half-time, in the 60th minute, Mourinho had sacrificed De Bruyne for Torres. But the Spaniard's record of having previously scored just four goals as a substitute in 37 appearances, with only one of those strikes coming away from home, did not breed confidence. Indeed, Torres' only goal for Chelsea as a substitute was his first for the club against West Ham United.

Consequently, the game limped towards its conclusion as both sides became more concerned with avoiding defeat and it simply served to tell both managers what they will already have known about their respective squads.

Moyes, who did face accusations of negative tactics when at Everton, perhaps now more than ever after will be aware of the forward-thinking shortcomings of his central midfield. This was underlined by the fact Cleverley and Carrick managed just six passes into the opposition penalty area between them in the entire match against Chelsea.

Mourinho, meanwhile, will know his experiment without a recognised frontman did not work. Rooney, who never stopped running in his clear attempts to impress all those watching, would surely relish that opportunity to be the star striker. The need for Willian is still debatable and there are also question marks over whether Samuel Eto'o would still have the legs to fill a lone forward role.

But it also remains to be seen whether Mourinho persists with the modern 4-2-3-1 formation of the Chelsea he has inherited, which so restricts the effectiveness of Frank Lampard and Ramires and their runs into the box. Mourinho would surely want to revert to the classic 4-3-3 of his successful first spell in charge of the London club.

Moyes' view

"I thought we played well and I am disappointed we did not get a goal. Maybe we lacked a bit of cutting edge with our final pass and final cross. I thought Chelsea defended well when they had to. If anybody shaded the best chances, it was certainly us. We went with three centre forwards on the pitch and we wanted to try and win the game. We did everything we could and just lacked a ball to get Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney the chance to score."

Mourinho's view

"Our counter-attacks and passes, to go from defensive situations to attacking situations, was not the best. We had very creative players in attack, very fast players in attack, but the ball possession was not the best, we lost simple passes. There were a lot of mistakes. In those terms, we didn't give what we could or what we should. But I told the players before the game, 'We want to win, we play to win, but if we do not win, we do not lose'. I think the players understood this completely."

Gary's view

"At the start of the game, when you see the likes of Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle and De Bruyne for Chelsea, and United having Valencia, Welbeck, Rooney and Van Persie - you cannot say either team took the draw. I do not think either team went out there to setup to be defensive. I just think it is the way the game panned out. They showed a great deal of respect."

Player ratings

Terry kept on top of Van Persie throughout the game and managed an impressive 11 clearances. The Chelsea captain said after the final whistle: "Both midfields and attacks cancelled each other out a little bit, but neither team wanted to lose the game so early on in the season."

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Readers' Comments


may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

Please Stop Telling Us What To Think


ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

Wenger hails important win


s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

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