While this fixture is always eagerly anticipated, the fact that both clubs have new managers gave this encounter added interest and was billed as the “Chosen One” (David Moyes) versus the “Special One” (Jose Mourinho). Moyes added more spice to the proceedings by selecting the unsettled Wayne Rooney to start against the club that has been so anxious to acquire him.
Not that Chelsea is a stranger to new coaching staff. The club has had a different manager for each of the last four Premier League games they have played against United and many more before that during Sir Alex Ferguson’s lengthy tenure at Old Trafford.
Interviewed just prior to the game, United and England midfielder Michael Carrick admitted that because of the managerial changes, the match would have “a little bit more added to it and we’re all excited.”
From the Chelsea camp, international center back Gary Cahill simply commented, “We are in good form and looking forward to the game.”
The aforementioned selection of Rooney for the veteran Ryan Giggs was Moyes’ only change, but there was a place on the bench for Ashley Young who had finally recovered from the ankle injury sustained last April.
Mourinho’s team sheet did raise a few eyebrows however. Juan Mata was very much Chelsea’s main man under Rafael Benitez, and scored the winner at Old Trafford last season, but the Spanish international was consigned to the bench in favor of 22-year-old Belgian signing Kevin De Bruyne. There was also a spot for the other newcomer Andre Shurrle.
This meant that there was no place for last season’s top scorer Fernando Torres, while Demba Ba did not even make the squad. When questioned about the fact that Chelsea would start the contest without a recognized striker, Mourinho told Fox Sports, “I am not afraid to make decisions. We worked well in the week with this game plan.”
Old Trafford Welcomes Moyes and Salutes a Star of Yesteryear
Notwithstanding the traditional rivalries between the big clubs from Manchester, Merseyside and London, the biggest rivalry in the Premier League over the past decade has to have been that between United and Chelsea. The fact that they have won eight of the past nine league titles between them speaks for itself.
But United finished a full 14 points ahead of the London club last season and so the spectators could be forgiven for expecting that the visitors would be going all out to prove that the balance of power was about to change and that a feast of football was in store.
The scene was set and the atmosphere in the ground was electric for Moyes’ first home game. The new manager emerged from the tunnel with his team to a rapturous ovation which continued until he reached the dugout occupied for so long by Sir Alex Ferguson. Prior to the kickoff there was a minute’s applause for United goalkeeper Jack Crompton, a member of the sides that won the FA Cup in 1948 and the League title in 1952, who passed away last month at the ripe old age of 91.
When the match finally got underway it quickly developed into a war of attrition. Chelsea was solid in defense, but when going forward the players appeared uncomfortable with the decidedly continental style system and not quite sure where they were supposed to be at any given time. Neither Petr Cech not David De Gea was seriously troubled for the entire first half.
The second period was only marginally more exciting. United was certainly the more enterprising with Rooney putting in an outstanding all-round performance. His shot from the edge of the box tested Cech, but Robin van Persie was in space to Rooney’s right and had the Englishman opted to pass rather than shoot, United might well have eked out a narrow win.
The home side appealed for a penalty when a Tom Cleverly drive cannoned into Frank Lampard’s right arm. However, it was a fiercely hard shot from close range and Lampard was not even looking at the ball having defensively turned his face away. Some of these situations have resulted in penalty shots being awarded in recent times, but referee Martin Atkinson was having none of it and that was probably the correct decision.
So this eagerly anticipated encounter ended without a goal. Being the away side, Chelsea would certainly be happier with their point than the hosts. This was confirmed by the Blues’ two England veterans who were interviewed by Fox Sports after the game.
Skipper John Terry stated that it was “a great point for us away from home,” while Lampard admitted that at this early stage of the season “neither team wanted to lose” and so it all ended up “a bit of a stalemate.”
Chelsea remains on top of the tree but have played a game more than United. That will be cancelled this weekend when Chelsea contests the European Super Cup while David Moyes’ team travel to unbeaten Liverpool.