Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea: Stalemate at Old Trafford (Video)

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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.

(MORE: Wayne Rooney dazzles for Manchester United, is this the end of the saga?)

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.

(MORE: Jose Mourinho praises “kids” after defensive masterclass)

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.

source: Getty ImagesBut it was again Chelsea who looked lively on the break, as a move down their left flank in the 22nd minute found Oscar free on the edge of the box, but the Brazilian skewed his shot wide.

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.

(MORE: Jury still out on David Moyes at Manchester United)

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.

LINEUPS

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.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.