MANCHESTER — Chelsea and Manchester United played out a 0-0 draw on Monday, as both sides settled for a point in their fiercely contested Premier League clash.
The most anticipated game of the season so far took center stage at Old Trafford on a perfect August evening in front of 75,032 but both teams didn’t read the script. Swirling subplots involving Wayne Rooney, José Mourinho, transfer bids and much more dominated all the pregame chat but the main event didn’t live up to the billing.
In a cagey affair from start to finish, Chelsea set up to snatch a draw at the home of the reigning Champions and carried out their game plan superbly. And while their were brief moments of promise from David Moyes’ United side, his first home game in charge ended with a draw.
However plenty of question marks still remain over his sides title credentials as they failed to cause Chelsea any real problems throughout a tepid 90 minutes. The closest United came to scoring came was in the 77th minute as Wayne Rooney found space 30 yards out before unleashing a powerful effort that Peter Cech had to dive to his right and push it out for a corner.
While Chelsea’s ultra-defensive setup limited them to goalscoring opportunities, they played patient soccer that allowed Brazilian midfielder Oscar to have a few half chances, but nothing more, on United’s goal.
All eyes were understandably on Rooney as the 27-year-old England international started for the first-time since the end of last season. And the man Chelsea want so badly showed exactly why he’s so coveted with a virtuoso display of hard work, skill and determination.
In an unprecedented move, Mourinho decided to name his starting lineup without a recognized forward as young German attacker Andre Schurrle played in the false no. 9 role, further adding to the mind games the “Special One” had been playing all week. And despite not playing an out-and-out forward, Mourinho’s men looked composed and patient when going forward throughout the first half.
The games first chance came after 10 minutes, when a flowing Chelsea move saw the ball break to Oscar on the edge of the box. However the 21-year-old Brazilian could only smash his fizzing effort straight at David De Gea.
Following a cagey start the game became very disjointed in the first half but Manchester United eased into proceedings and gradually became a dominant force. Rooney looked rusty but a few nice touches to set up attacks were widely applauded by United’s fan as Chelsea’s supporters chanted “We’ll see you next week” in reference to his long-rumored transfer to Stamford Bridge.
Buoyed by that chance United pressed up the pitch and almost got the games opener, as Ramires was caught in possession 30 yards from goal. Van Persie picked up the loose ball but his first touch took him away form goal, however he rounded Branislav Ivanovic on Chelsea’s right and rifled a shot towards goal that struck the side netting.
The game then threatened to boil over as Oscar was caught twice in quick succession on the halfway line, first by Antonio Valencia then by Rooney. And then Kevin De Bruyne was booked for taking out RVP when it looked as though the Dutchman had run into the Chelsea winger.
In the 39th minute Phil Jones settled the ball on United’s right before pulling back a cross that John Terry could only half clear as the ball dropped to Tom Cleverley 25 yards out but the England international smashed his left-footed effort over the bar.
To see out the half another chance fell to Oscar as another piece of patient build up play from Chelsea’s striker-less attack resulted in an opening. De Bruyne played a searching ball to Hazard on the edge of the back and his lay off found Oscar who once again hit his shot straight at De Gea.
After the break both teams remained edgy as United tried to force the issue. In the 49th minute, Red Devils left back Patrice Evra made a surging run forward and played a lovely one-two with Welbeck who back-heeled the ball into his path. But Chelsea’s Gary Cahill read the situation perfectly to shut Evra out and clear the ball.
In the 55th minute Rooney showed just why Chelsea want to sign him, as he wriggled free of Ramires’ challenge on the edge of the box before clipping a sublime short pass to Welbeck in the box. However Rooney’s England colleague fluffed his lines and scooped his effort horribly over the bar.
Chelsea defender Cahill then hit a piledriver from over 35 yards out in the 58th minute that tested De Gea’s handling as the midfield battle continued to rule supreme in the second half at Old Trafford.
A frantic few minutes then ensued as Schurrle was played through one-on-one but failed to beat the offside trap as he crashed his effort against the bar. In a bid to alter his sides fortunes Mourinho sent on Fernando Torres in the 59th minute for winger De Bruyne. Chelsea had held United for 60 minutes, now was their chance to attack. Yet that never materialized.
But in the games 61st minute United’s players, coaching staff and fans were incensed as Cleverley’s shot slammed into Frank Lampard in the box and seemed to strike the Chelsea’s midfielders hand. But referee Martin Atkinson waved play on. And then in the 71st minute Chelsea’s Ashley Cole screamed for a penalty as he nutmegged Jones and threw himself to the ground. Mourinho looked away in disgust but replays showed Cole was lucky to get away without a card for simulation.
The loudest roar of the night was reserved for Rooney as the United attacker tracked back the full-length of the pitch to halt Ramires’ right-flank run with a perfectly timed sliding tackle. Rooney’s sublime tackle sparked United into life as the England forward unleashed a rasping long-range effort in the 77th minute that Cech had to tip around the post.
After that the game petered out to a stalemate as both teams settled for a draw in the biggest game of the 2013-14 season so far. Honors even at Old Trafford but plenty of questions still remain as both sides start to mount their title challenge.
Manchester United: De Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Cleverley, Valencia (Young 65), Rooney, Welbeck (Giggs 77), Van Persie. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Buttner, Smalling, Anderson, Kagawa.
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Lampard; De Bruyne (Torres 59), Oscar, Hazard (Azpilicueta 92); Schurrle (Mikel 86). Subs not used: Schwarzer, Essien, Mata, Lukaku.