This may not have been a particularly entertaining match but there were plenty of tactical points to highlight from this goalless draw at Old Trafford. Chelsea’s use of Schurrle as a striker and Rooney’s selection are just two of the big talking points. Here are five quick observations…
Man United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck; van Persie
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Lampard; De Bruyne, Oscar, Hazard; Schurrle
With Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku and Demba Ba to choose from, Mourinho made a very brave move in opting to play German winger Andre Schurrle as the lone striker in his side’s 4-2-3-1. Behind Schurrle, Oscar had the majority of the creative burden on his shoulders in the number ten role, with Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne lining up either side of him.
What was evident from the start with Schurrle upfront was how direct Chelsea played. In the first 15 minutes Chelsea’s attacks consisted of playing the ball forward as quickly as possible at every opportunity, with the back four clearly told to knock balls behind the United backline for the German to chase down.
However, this meant Chelsea were wasteful with most of their passes, resulting in the loss of possession – they could have done with being more patient with their build-up play to try and frustrate the home crowd. To put it simply, too much of Chelsea’s passing was going past Frank Lampard and Ramires in midfield.
Chelsea needed Schurrle to be more clever with his movement. He was excellent at stretching the play but offered absolutely no link-up play whatsoever. Instead of only running away, he could have also dropped deep at times, allowing Hazard or De Bruyne to move into more advanced positions and this would have posed more questions for United’s centre halves.
Manchester United manager David Moyes opted to use both Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie in the same side, with the former operating behind the latter in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Rooney enjoyed a great deal of freedom in his role and managed to find plenty of room in the spaces between Chelsea’s centre backs and central midfielders.
John Terry and Gary Cahill were unwilling to follow Rooney when he moved deep but Ramires and Lampard lacked the defensive nous to man mark him fully – instead Ramires tended to buzz around him without fully committing to marking him.
Rooney was United’s main playmaker with nearly double the touches of Van Persie and the two of them showed a good understanding with Van Persie’s movement creating the spaces for Rooney to drift into.
United could also have done with a more imposing and creative midfielder than Tom Cleverley to play alongside Michael Carrick and it was frustrating to see Shinji Kagawa left on the bench – although admittedly he would have drifted into very similar positions to Rooney, which could have led to overcrowding.
When defending the edge of their box Chelsea were incredibly narrow. United couldn’t break through their opponent and so were forced into long shots or playing the ball wide and getting crosses into the box.
Phil Jones provided great width on the overlap down the right for United but his crossing tonight was very poor. Winger Antonio Valencia would have been an ideal player to whip crosses into the box but he was too narrow in attack.
Defensively however Valencia was excellent and more than justified his role in the side. Despite an inconsistent season last year Moyes knew exactly what he was getting tonight with the Ecuadorian making five tackles in the first half and succeeding in keeping Ashley Cole pegged back. Valencia became a greater threat going forward in the second half too as the game opened up and can perhaps feel hard done at coming off on 66 minutes.
Chelsea’s double pivot
With Ramires and Lampard (yellow rings) making up Chelsea’s double pivot there could have been question marks over how much protection Chelsea’s back four would get. It’s fair to say Rooney got plenty of room in front of the Chelsea defence but the away side were never caught out on the counter with both Ramires and Lampard positioned too far forward.
Ramires played a limited anchoring role, something people have often questioned he is capable of doing, and it says a lot that John Obi Mikel only started on the bench. Ramies may have offered little in terms of vertical movement but Lampard ventured forward more as the game developed, giving the partnership a nice balance.
On 60 minutes Torres replaced De Bruyne with Schurrle moving to the right wing. Chelsea now had a natural striker to use as a reference point for their attacks and Torres looked lively on a few occasions around the box, but lacked a final pass of any quality.
Chelsea will certainly be happy with a draw but it’s fair to say that playing Schurrle up front didn’t really pay off as their play became too rushed and predictable.
Moyes would obviously have preferred a win but he knows that a point is not a bad result. His selection of Valencia and Rooney was justified but not using Kagawa, when United lacked quality in central midfield, seems a strange decision.
It should also be mentioned how well all four centre backs played tonight – although this was helped by the fact that most of the play was in front of both back fours. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand made a combined 23 clearances, five tackles and five interceptions, whilst Cahill and Terry made 20 clearances combined.
As always feel free to comment. You can follow me on twitter @TTTFootball.
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