Manchester United started life without Sir Alex Ferguson in the Old Trafford dugout with a bore draw against Chelsea on Monday evening, as the neutrals came away from a fixture that was built up to be an early classic beforehand feeling largely disappointed.
It was dubbed The Chosen One vs The Special One, as the new Red Devils regime led by David Moyes was set to do battle against the return of the treasured José Mourinho to English football.
But apart from the occasional friendly banter that was shared between both sets of supporters on the terraces, it was Wayne Rooney that took centre stage on a dull night of football as the England international’s performance highlighted why United simply must retain his services this summer and Chelsea’s overall display showed why Mourinho has been so desperate to try and sign him.
Position and Structure
As the match involved two of the strongest forces in the Premier League, the examination of how Moyes and Mourinho would attempt to claim that tactical edge over one another on the touchline was in full swing.
Manchester United lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation and after all the speculation surrounding Rooney and a potential move to Stamford Bridge during the transfer window, the 27-year-old was picked by Moyes ahead of Shinji Kagawa to operate the role just behind the lethal Robin Van Persie.
The Scotsman went with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley in the deep midfield pairing, whilst Phil Jones and Patrice Evra were instructed to bomb forward on the overlap of Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck on each respective flank.
Just when everybody thought they had Mourinho’s thinking sussed out after two consecutive wins against Hull City and Aston Villa, the Portuguese spiced things up and opted for new signing, André Schürrle to lead the line upfront instead of Fernando Torres or Romelu Lukaku.
The German has past experience playing in that role for both Mainz 05 and Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, but it was still a bold and unexpected move by Mourinho, who explained that he was looking for more pace and mobility when in behind the opposition defenders.
United’s overall performance shed light on how important Rooney is to their plans, as although Kagawa is still yet to be given a decent run of games in the role, the former Everton man remains the most obvious choice to play in the proverbial ‘Number 10’ role and unlock the doors for Van Persie to shine in front of goal.
Rooney scored 12 goals and claimed 10 assists from that position last season and was deployed there on Monday, as Chelsea’s midfield trio of Ramires, Oscar and Frank Lampard struggled to get close to him in the final third and Rooney’s performance on the whole earned him the Man of the Match award from the United fans who cheered him on all night.
In typical Rooney fashion, he was absolutely everywhere on the pitch against Chelsea and at times, it felt as though he was out to prove a point. He was making his presence known in all areas of the field and looked ferocious whether he was on the ball or not.
Rooney had the most shots in the match (4) and three of those were on target, whilst the other that failed to test Petr Čech came from a set-play. The three shots on target all came from outside the box but all four were struck with his trusted right foot.
Although Schürrle has occasionally played as a striker in his career, he is mainly either a second striker or a winger and was soon shifted out onto the right hand side when Fernando Torres came on as a substitute.
The Spaniard failed to make any significant impact on the game, having just one shot which was off target, and received a booking from referee, Martin Atkinson. With his form being extremely low, and Lukaku still only 20 years of age, Chelsea increasingly need to buy a new forward but they must be able to fit into Mourinho’s way of playing at the same time.
Wherever Mourinho has managed, he has always had a striker at his disposal that can be a strong aerial outlet and bring others into play. In his original stint with the Blues, he had Didier Drogba, whilst at Inter Milan he had Diego Milito and both Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín were more than capable on that front at Real Madrid.
Lukaku is firmly a man for the future and although he was a success when out on loan at West Brom last season, scoring 17 goals and creating four assists, the Baggies tended to play the ball over the top for the Belgian to use his pace and power to run onto and that isn’t going to be the case at Chelsea.
Team-mates such as, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar and Schürrle for example won’t play balls over the top of the defenders and will instead flick cute balls round the corner for him and it’s yet to be seen whether Lukaku can score the goals from that kind of service.
Rooney, however, is indeed one of those creative players but is also a proven goalscorer and a target man, which are two things Chelsea unquestionably need in their starting eleven at this moment in time.
He scored 27 Premier League goals in 2011/12, 26 in 2009/10 and against Manchester United, Chelsea had nobody they could play the ball up towards and Rooney is the coveted man they’re crying out for, although Moyes has strongly ruled out selling him this season.
Manchester United controlled the game with 55% possession overall and made 101 more passes than Chelsea on the night, with Cleverley making the most passes with 77 and he completed 91% (70) of them.
Rooney’s pass accuracy was 75% (45/56) overall and he played the third most successful balls in the attacking zone with 16/25, just behind Cleverley (19/22) and Hazard (19/23).
He completed 10/18 forward passes as he looked to help the likes of Valencia, Welbeck and Van Persie get into goalscoring opportunities, but he also kept things ticking over in the middle of the park with 14/20 completed square passes and a 100% (18/18) backward ball success rate.
Rooney successfully switched play with a long ball 3/6 times, whilst 39/50 passes were short and he also managed to create one chance from open play. He got himself into several positions in the final third but only managed to find a man with a cross once out of four attempts, although he picked out star man Van Persie with a pass five times during the game.
One of Rooney’s most adored traits is his persistent work rate for the good of the team, as he harries down opposition attackers like a defender would to get the ball back for his side.
He only made one tackle in the game and won it successfully, whilst also making one clearance. Rooney recovered possession on four occasions, won 1/3 of his aerial duals and committed four fouls as United were never majorly under threat during the game.
They kept Chelsea at bay for large periods and Mourinho knows that he needs to get a striker, who offers him the ability to bring others into play with their control and touch, before September 2nd and the performance against United was a further indication of that need.
The ideology at Russian side, Anzhi Makhachkala has dramatically changed in recent weeks with their chairman, Suleyman Kerimov wanting to reduce their high wage bill by offloading most of their star players and Samuel Eto’o and Willian are two expected to move to Chelsea in the coming days.
Although his goalscoring record in Spain with the likes of Mallorca and Barcelona was tremendously impressive, Eto’o played under Mourinho at Inter Milan and was used primarily on the right hand side of a 4-2-3-1, alongside Wesley Sneijder and Goran Pandev in support of the solitary striker, Milito at the San Siro.
It worked, as Mourinho and the Nerazzurri became the first ever Italian side in history to deliver the historic treble in the 2009/10 season, but it’s now interesting to see the former FC Porto boss turning to Eto’o, aged 32, to help solve his striker conundrum a couple of years down the line.
On reflection, it wasn’t the most exciting game to watch as both sides showed each other an awful lot of respect and it’s also too early in the new season for it to be considered as a match of great importance.
Rooney himself had a fantastic game in the free role just behind Van Persie and it will have further rubbed salt into the wounds of Mourinho, as it looks incredibly unlikely that he will get his man this time around although the chase isn’t over yet.
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