The big match up. The Chosen One versus The Special One. On only his second Premier League game in charge, David Moyes took his Old Trafford bow against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in a much anticipated Monday night clash. Would it live up to it’s billing?
Simply put: No. For all the build up and excitement that went into the game, what resulted was a far more cagey affair, particularly in the first half, as the game struggled to live up to it’s billing. United started their Old Trafford opener with David De Gea in goal, Vidic and Ferdinand at the heart of the back four, with Jones and Evra operating at right and left back respectively. In midfield stood Carrick and Cleverley, as Welbeck and Valencia provided width. After much speculation on his future, Wayne Rooney started in behind Robin Van Persie, leading the line.
Chelsea, starting without a recognised striker, looked tight at the back as United struggled to break them down, lacking a final ball to break them down and create anything meaningful. Although the hosts had the better of the possession, one could not say they were particularly dominant as clear cut chances were lacking. Oscar provided the first opportunity for the visitors, his quick shot comfortably saved by De Gea. Van Persie had a good effort as he rounded Ivanovic, his left footed striker hitting the side netting after 20 minutes of play. Just before the half hour mark, Valencia was lucky to escape a booking after a late challenge on Oscar, as Martin Atkinson looked to allow a physical contest to take place.
However, soon after, the first booking was awarded after De Bruyne and Van Persie tangled, the former going into the referee’s book, perhaps harshly as he also came away with a bloody lip from the incident. Just before half time, De Gea was forced into a low save by Oscar again as both sides went in at half time goalless.
After a forgettable first 45 minutes, both sides came out for the second half looking to pick up the pace somewhat. Welbeck was played in by Rooney but could not come up with anything meaningful. Cahill had a good effort from distance, but De Gea was well matched to the shot after De Bruyne was blocked by Cleverley.
Soon after, Chelsea made their first change, bringing De Bruyne off for Torres. Almost immediately, the biggest moment of the match came as Cleverley shot, catching Lampard’s arm as he turned. However, the appeals from the crowd and fans alike were waved away. A matter of minutes later, Ashley Young came on for Valencia.
With 20 minutes left, Cole went down in the area, claiming he was pulled down by Jones, the referee quickly dismissing such an appeal. Rooney struck from 25 yards, and forced Cech into a good save, the keeper diving to his right to push it away. With just over 10 minutes remaining, Giggs was introduced, replacing Welbeck.
As the game drew to a close, both sides appeared to be content with a draw, the tempo dropping as full time drew near. Van Persie had a chance to get a late winner, setting up and striking a volley well, his effort well blocked by Mikel.
And so it was, the first big clash of the season drew to a close, goalless with little to remember it for besides it’s own failures to produce. Here then, is five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Credit to the boy….
When it became known that Wayne Rooney would be getting a start against Chelsea, the club that has publicly courted him this Summer, many wondered what reaction the striker would receive for the first game at Old Trafford. From early on, the fans made it clear they wanted him to stay, cheering him on, the away section showing similar levels of affection. Regardless of fans’ opinions of him after a Summer of speculation, one has to give credit to the professionalism of his showing on Monday night. From the start he looked to get involved in the game even if his final product was somewhat lacking, perhaps a case of rustiness.
It is still unclear exactly where his future lies and it would not be inaccurate to state he will not hold the greatest of affections from the Old Trafford faithful. but if he were to stay, one might hope he will continue to make important contributions.
2) Big game, too early?
For all the hype that went into the game, it was, frankly, rather disappointing as a spectacle. Both sides looked ineffective going forward, and with Chelsea appearing to set up defensively, it made for a match that ended up cagey, with neither side succeeding in breaking the other down.
Considering it was United’s second game of the season, perhaps it is not so surprising. At this point, it is far too early to see how the title race will pan out, both sides are not quite fully fit yet and transfer business not quite finished. Perhaps this meant the game was looked as a tactical chess match, but what resulted was a game where most chances came from distances and passes did not find their mark. In fact, most talking points stemmed from refereeing decisions, rather than any particularly memorable pieces of play.
3) The refereeing decisions – debatable
The match was allowed to take on a physical nature by Atkinson. While never “rough” so to speak, one felt he showed some leniency in trying to allow the game to be played. That said, one has to admit some questionable decisions were made. Valencia should have been booked for a late challenge, and one must wonder why De Bruyne was booked as he tangled with Van Persie, the latter lucky not to get in trouble in the tussle.
In my opinion, the decision to not award Cole a penalty was correct, the defender going down far too easily, but one has to question why, if he considered it a dive, Cole was not booked for it. The biggest decision of the night came when Lampard appeared to handle the ball from Cleverley’s shot. It was one of those moments that nobody will agree, some saying he handled and therefore a penalty should be given, others will state he had not time to get out of the way from such a short distance and as such it would be harsh to award a penalty in that situation.
My opinion falls into the latter group, but what is clear is that a clarification of what is to be penalised with handball cases is needed.
4) The weight of number 7 off his shoulders?
For all the criticism that Antonio Valencia received last season, it was interesting to find that he was no longer sporting the number 7 shirt come the start of the season. Of course, one cannot make many judgements so early in the season, but one must wonder if he is relishing playing without the weight of expectation that number brings. Against Chelsea, he looked energetic down the right, took players on and succeeded in dribbling by the opposition.
If he can improve further, his presence down the right could be a real asset through the season. With competition for places heating up out wide with the signing of Zaha, as well as the emerging talents of United’s youth players, perhaps he has been stimulated and looking to impress. Regardless, a healthy set of wingers is exactly the type of situation United need.
5) Moyes’ first big test
For all the mind games and talk of United that Mourinho seems to have provided over the past few weeks, David Moyes was given an early test against a big rival to start the season. He set up with a strong side, playing Rooney, Welbeck and Van Persie. There were no particularly bad performances, and tactically matched Mourinho, although it is unlikely we will see Chelsea set up quite so defensively in other big matches later in the season.
In his first big test, he came off well, although both sides could be accused of showing each other a little too much respect. There will still be some questions regarding the way United conducted their transfers business this Summer, and what might happen as the transfer window draws to a close. The midfield will of course, be pointed to as a weakness, but regardless, Moyes will be judged on results, and if United can build from here, and provided the side does not suffer heavily from injuries, then there may not be many complaints come the end of the season.