The most anticipated game of the 2013/14 season ended in a 0-0 draw and whilst it did not provide a single goal, let alone a flurry, it is interesting to explore why the game produced such a tactical stalemate. David Moyes’ first home game in charge of Manchester United will have produced a result the Scotsman will have been pleased with, despite his body language being to the contrary, frequently seen pacing the touchline with a dour and austere look temporarily fixed to his face for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the self proclaimed “Happy One” remained little else if consistent, it was a classic in terms of Mourinho’s ranging emotions, we were treated to traditional shows of petulance in the form of a dismissive arm wave after Ashley Cole was denied a penalty after a dive so postponed the final whistle had nearly sounded before he finally hit the floor, a cynical chuckle after he felt his side were wronged by the official, Martin Atkinson, and a joke with fourth official Mike Dean.
The biggest surprise of the night came in the form of the team sheets, specifically the visiting team’s with new arrival and German international Andre Schürrle occupying the false 9 role in favour of out and out strikers in the form of Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku and Demba Ba. Interesting Juan Mata was also left out, prompting yet more speculation about the future of the Spanish international, which Mourinho subsequently attempted to quash in his post-match interview, suggesting Mata was struggling for fitness.
Tactically, the biggest shock of the night came in the form of Chelsea’s team sheet, showing Andre Schürrle playing as a false 9 in between the lines, Mourinho hoped that this would allow a strong link between his midfield and attack, as a common problem for Chelsea’s strikers has been the lack of service from the attacking midfielder which often leads to strikers become isolated, namely Fernando Torres and Demba Ba. It is also clear that Mourinho wanted to dominate the possession and control the flow of the game, which Chelsea failed to do, having 48% of the ball.
Manchester United lined up in the familiar 4411, with the industrious Antonio Valencia on the right wing, presumably favoured by Moyes for his willingness to track back and attempt to stifle Eden Hazard. Chelsea target Wayne Rooney started in the hole behind Robin Van Persie. Phil Jones deputised for Rafael at right back, but aside from that there were no tactical surprises from United, Carrick and Cleverley tying things over in midfield.
Through large periods of the game, the forwards from both sides found themselves isolated and unable to fire shots off at goal, with only 4 coming from Chelsea all game, and 3 coming from Manchester United. Much was made of Dutch striker Robin Van Persie and the impact he would have on a Chelsea defence he so often terrorised in his days as an Arsenal player, yet the ex-Gunners captain failed to strike a single shot on target and left Petr Cech with nothing to do all game, this may have been to do with Chelsea’s deep defending, a trait familiar to those who know the methods of Jose Mourinho.
Similarly at the other end, Andre Schürrle suffered an equally hard time, the German failing to physically step inside the Manchester United 18 yard box all game and only attempting one shot in the entire game, which was blocked. After the introduction of Fernando Torres, he was shunted out to the right wing, where he had slightly more joy against the attacking Patrice Evra, but his first spell at false 9 was not an enjoyable one, made difficult by the sheer physical presence of United skipper Nemanja Vidic, who dominated Schürrle all game.
Neither team particularly flourished with regards to attacking, with Chelsea having a shot accuracy of 57% compared to United’s 30% as well as both sides created 0 clear cut chances. It can be argued that the game was 0-0 because of poor attacking displays from both sides rather than defensive masterclasses.
Taking the initiative
As you would expect from the home team, Manchester United took a much more attacking approach to the game than Chelsea, from the front foot the home side attacking and had the majority of the ball. Their attacking initiative showed through the stats, with United being much more positive with 25 crosses to Chelsea 12, although Chelsea’s cross accuracy was over double United’s 16% at 33%. The minutes per chances created also serves to re-enforce this point, with United creating a chance every 10.4 minutes compared to Chelsea’s 18.8 with United’s 9 chances to Chelsea’s 9.
While the game hardly lived up to the billing of one of the game’s of the season, it was interesting to note that Mourinho took his defensive approach familiar from his first term at Stamford Bridge, however, this was generally received to be a good decision, and both managers will have been pleased to take one point away from what was undoubtedly a tense affair for both men. What remains to be seen is if Mourinho takes such a defensive approach to games of a similar stature away from home, at White Hart Lane, at the Emirates, at the Etihad and at Anfield? And whether David Moyes will have the confidence to encourage an attacking game, especially when they play their oldest rivals at Anfield on Sunday, a game which is bound to bring excitement and goals.