x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Honours even as Manchester United draw 0-0 with visiting Chelsea

Neither club could find a goal. Thus, neither David Moyes nor Jose Mourinho has the early advantage in the contest for supremacy, writes Richard Jolly.

Chelsea defender Ashley Cole, left, turns under pressure from Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford last night. Phil Noble / Reuters
Chelsea defender Ashley Cole, left, turns under pressure from Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford last night. Phil Noble / Reuters

MANCHESTER // If it was billed as the “Chosen One” against the “Special One”, but by the end, the salient number was nil.

Neither Manchester United nor Chelsea could find a goal. Thus, neither David Moyes nor Jose Mourinho has the early advantage in the contest for supremacy.

But neither has lost face or a game, either, and that serves as a consolation for both. The Londoners, having played an extra game, top the English Premier League, while Moyes was rarely threatened with defeat in his Old Trafford debut. He was granted a warm ovation, whereas his Chelsea counterpart was teased by the United support with chants of: “Jose Mourinho, you wanted this job.”

Truth be told, there were reasons to focus on the dugouts and the stands. Recent meetings between these clubs had been spattered with scorelines like 5-4, 3-3, 2-3 and 2-2. This was not an addition to the list of frantic classics. Rather, it was tight and tactical, the way, some would say, that Mourinho likes it. This is a battle that will span 38 games and neither he nor Moyes wanted to hand the other the early initiative.

If the Portuguese’s pre-match comments constituted the phoney war, the first shots were fired when the team sheets were submitted. For the first time since April, the Chelsea target Wayne Rooney started for United. Mourinho, meanwhile, left Juan Mata on the bench.

Oscar has been installed as the creator-in-chief by Mourinho, who prefers pace on the flanks. Equally surprisingly, the Chelsea manager dispensed with his specialist strikers altogether, a vote of no-confidence in the front men at his disposal, and fielded Andre Schurrle alone in attack.

A left-field switch involving a left winger, it did not succeed.

The German was isolated and ineffective, which had the by-product of making Mourinho’s pursuit of an out-and-out attacker more urgent. His experiment was abandoned after an hour when striker Fernando Torres was introduced.

The conventional approach came from Moyes. His side bore distinct similarities, in both shape and personnel, to Sir Alex Ferguson’s team when the latter won at Stamford Bridge 10 months ago, partly because of a struggle to sign new players.

Rooney, once again, was the bridge between midfield and attack. It was a sign of Moyes’s trust, rendering an unsettled player the fulcrum of his side, in a situation where other managers might have made him an outcast.

Disloyal as Rooney has appeared, he was cheered enthusiastically, albeit with the Chelsea fans joining in and taunting their United counterparts that the forward will soon be joining them. If a third bid from Mourinho does succeed – two have already failed – Rooney prefaced his arrival at Stamford Bridge by hassling his future teammates. On the field, at least, his commitment to the United cause could not be questioned. Some passes were misplaced, but that was partly attributable to Rooney’s ambition and his attempts to slide Robin van Persie in on goal.

He never managed it, as neither goalkeeper was overly busy. The first 20 minutes only contained one effort of note, an Oscar snap shot that went straight at David de Gea. Then Michael Carrick robbed Ramires and Van Persie unleashed a ferocious shot that flew into the side-netting.

Petr Cech saved a series of efforts from Rooney, though only one was truly testing, and spared the match the most irresistible of plots.

When Rooney found Danny Welbeck, the younger Englishman scooped a shot over. It was the clearest chance of the night.

Perhaps some official assistance was required to bring a breakthrough, but referee Martin Atkinson ignored United’s appeals for a penalty when Tom Cleverley’s shot struck Frank Lampard and then Chelsea’s as Phil Jones tugged Ashley Cole.

While the left-back was frustrated then, it was a night for defenders. John Terry and Gary Cahill prospered for Chelsea and Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand stood firm for United, albeit against a side without a world-class forward.

So now Moyes and Mourinho’s battle takes on a new sphere as they fight it out for Rooney’s services.

Report card

Man of the Match: Michael Carrick – Provided yet another example of intelligent midfield play and accurate passing.

Man Utd verdict: They look a better team with Rooney back in the fold but, though Tom Cleverley was solid enough, showed why Moyes wants a midfielder. 6/10.

Chelsea verdict: Very much a work in progress. With their creative players not creating many chances, it was strange Mata was left on the bench. 6/10

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