A game between United and Chelsea is always monumental. This particular fixture, the first big game of the season, was further intensifying, as it marked David Moyes debut as United boss at the Old Trafford. Mourinho returned to the scene of some of his greatest successes, and with all the speculation surrounding Wayne Rooney (involving the two clubs), the game was further spiced up. The final score of Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea seemed a fair result, a scoreline that both sides played for and will be content with. Neither would particularly like to drop too many points this early in the Premier League season.
Chelsea didn’t start the game with any of their nominated strikers, and it was the German Schurrle who was deployed furthest forward. While a lot of the pre-match talk was centered on Chelsea playing a False 9, Schurrle wasn’t a False 9 in the true sense. He very often stayed close to United’s midfielders, as opposed to their centre backs. This was a ploy to avoid overloads in midfield, and to stop Carrick from imposing himself on the game.
In an attacking sense, Schurrle was placed there because of his natural pace, but the aerial balls that Chelsea were attempting in order to get him behind Ferdinand and Vidic didn’t really work out, and he didn’t really get chances to run behind them. In fact, he barely got into the danger zone at all.
Crowding the midfield
As mentioned above, one of Mourinho’s objectives in this game was to stifle the creative play of the home side by crowding the midfield. Apart from Schurrle playing as a ‘deep striker’, Chelsea didn’t really press the ball much at all. The pressure line maintained was quite deep, and much closer to the midfield. Even in the middle of the park, Oscar, Hazard and De Bruyne got narrow, and looked to plug the gaps that passes may be played into. All in all, the Chelsea approach could be defined as a close low block. These tactics meant that a lot of the play was concentrated in the middle of the park.
Manchester United started the game with a variant of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Carrick sat slightly deeper than Cleverley, who was given the license to bomb move forward. Welbeck started on the left hand side, and naturally drifted towards the centre to combine with Rooney and Van Persie. Giving the width on the left was the ever willing Patrice Evra. On the right hand side, Antonio Valencia was tasked with providing width. He also had additional defensive duties as he was playing on the same side as the dangerous Eden Hazard. He carried these duties out well, and finished the game with 6 tackles.
The attacking plan was to play down the right hand side, and use the width that Valencia offered in order to by-pass Chelsea’s midfield. Since the narrow play of Hazard meant that there was space down this side, it was likely that Valencia would get a fair few opportunities to put balls into the box. Unfortunately for United, not one of his 5 crosses found their target, as a combination of profligacy and good defending thwarted United.
Man-Marking van Persie
Over the last few years, Van Persie has proven to be a match winner and a goal machine. The key for Chelsea was to stop him. They did so by marking him very closely. Either Terry or Cahill was always sticking to him like a magnet. This meant that his biggest strength, his movement was taken out of the game a bit. He hardly got to see the ball, and had to drop deeper, go wide, and try a lot of different things to get the ball. This movement on his part had a pleasant kick on effect for United, and Wayne Rooney in general. Van Persie ran all over the park, and took the Chelsea defence with him. As they dropped deep along with the Dutchman, it created space for Rooney to operate in. This led to him being a very influential figure in the game, as he got 3 shots on target for the Red Devils, and all of these were from outside the box, in the zone that was vacated as van Persie made his runs.
Defending the penalty box
Chelsea did not pay any attention at all to the wide areas, and only defended the width of their own penalty area. This meant that it was very difficult for United to get shots off that would test the keeper. They were restricted to shooting from distance. Even when they did get into the box, their attempts were blocked by the wall of blue shirts there. To execute this plan effectively, Chelsea had to bring their pivot deeper, and Ramires and Lampard ended up playing most of the game behind the half way line. As the pivot went deeper, it got harder for the Chelsea players to get the ball out to their attacking players. This defensive approach hindered Chelsea’s play going forward, and with no real target man, or runner, Chelsea weren’t able to stretch United enough vertically.
Possession: United 55% – Chelsea 45%
Shots attempted: United 12 – Chelsea 8
Shots on target: United 3 – Chelsea 4
Pass Completion rate: United 84% – Chelsea 81%
Tackles attempted: United 22 – Chelsea 15
Most Shots attempted: Wayne Rooney (4)
Most Shots on target: Wayne Rooney (3)
Most Chances created: Michael Carrick; Nemanja Vidic (2)
Most Touches taken: Tom Cleverley (92)
Most Successful Dribbles: Eden Hazard (5)
Most Tackles: Antonio Valencia (6)
Most Interceptions: Tom Cleverley (5)
Most Aerial Duels Won: Gary Cahill (5)
Most Passes attempted: Tom Cleverley (75 at 91% completion rate)
Most Crosses attempted: Phil Jones; Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia (5)