The first showpiece contest of the new Premier League season failed to ever spark into life as Manchester United and Chelsea played out a goalless draw at Old Trafford. Given what transpired during a drab 90 minutes, one suspects that neither David Moyes nor Jose Mourinho will be unhappy with the outcome. Perhaps the early timing of this meeting between two of the favorites for the title played a big part in neither manager seemingly being prepared to risk having an early stumble from which to have to recover.
Indeed, there was arguably more excitement surrounding the announcement of the two teams than anything that occurred on the field. Wayne Rooney, the subject of two failed bids from Chelsea and expected to be imminently the subject of a third, was included in the United starting lineup. Juan Mata, meanwhile, linked with an exit from Stamford Bridge and even thought to be on United’s radar, remained on the bench throughout. The Spaniard must have been particularly miffed at been cast aside given that Mourinho began with four of his array of attacking midfielders as Andre Schurrle was given an unfamiliar role leading the attack.
Rooney certainly looked committed to the cause and he played 90 minutes for the first time in several months. To say that he stood out, though, perhaps says as much about the general standard of the game as Rooney’s performance. The one clear-cut chance in the entire match was set-up by Rooney, who found Danny Welbeck, but the man who scored two goals in his opening match of the season last week instead replicated the finishing that saw him score just once in the league last campaign.
While it is simplistic, and often erroneous, to say that playing without a natural striker is a defensive tactic, that was certainly the case with Mourinho on Monday. Indeed, both teams started conservatively, with Mourinho throwing up few surprises in his safety-first approach and looking to rely on infrequent breaks. The visitors did occasionally sparkle in the final third with some neat interchanges twice setting up Oscar on the edge of the box, but the Brazilian’s shooting wasn’t quite crisp enough as the first effort went wide of the target and the second tamely to David de Gea in the United goal.
Perhaps sensing that Chelsea weren’t going to take the initiative, United, realizing that they were the home side, began to step things up midway through the opening period. In one of the better moments, Robin van Perise created an opening for a shot, but saw it helped into the side netting by Branislav Ivanovic.
The performance of Rooney in many ways was summing up his side’s showing. There was much to admire about his and his team’s liveliness and movement to look for the ball. There was, though, a stark lack of a quality final product.
Starting behind Robin van Persie, Rooney was heavily involved. And there was a sharpness to his play on occasions too, despite his lack of action in recent months. His best chance to make a mark came as Tom Cleverley found him on the edge of the box and there was a nice turn to open up space for a shot but it was tamely sent straight at Petr Cech. Rooney’s final pass, as it was for both sides, also lacked quality too often.
There was little shift in the story in the second half. Chelsea became increasingly happy to settle for a share of the points, with Fernando Torres failing to make any impression after he came off the bench to provide a natural focal point to their attack.
United were slightly more positive, but were hardly going all-out for the win and when Welbeck side-footed over the bar there was an inevitability about the final outcome. Both sides had penalty appeals, United for a hand ball against John Terry and Chelsea for a challenge by Phil Jones. United’s was the stronger claim, but, had either have been given it would have been harsh. Indeed, there would have been something unjust had either side emerged with maximum points from a contest that will not live long in the memory.