Even though it seemed Chelsea and especially their manager, Jose Mourinho, were quite pleased with the goalless draw they managed to produce, the defensive selections and the neutralizing of creative players like Eden Hazard or Juan Mata (who didn’t even play) do create some sense of concern about the kind of football the club is going to produce this season.
No matter how high up you are in European football hierarchy, a visit to Old Trafford is a very tricky one. Not just the way Manchester United usually play at home. It’s about playing against 76,000 fans who might not be the rowdiest in the Premier League, but still create a respectful effect. Referees whistles tend to go with the home side more of ten than not, so caution is recommended.
But there’s a difference between caution and simply playing not to concede, and the hell with scoring. Jose Mourinho decided he’ll use Andre Schurrle as his scapegoat for a striker, even though the young German has no ability whatsoever to preform against this kind of defense as a target man and produce something. Fernando Torres at the end of the match, with Chelsea not really trying harder to score, didn’t do much better.
It’s interesting to see how each manager handles the amount of attacking midfielders he has. Rafa Benitez didn’t always play with the creative trio, opting to use Victor Moses quite often in order to give him an actual winger. Andre Schurrle should be playing in that manner as well, but Mourinho has different plans. He seems to respect the hell out of Oscar, giving him the chance to be the one who plays behind the striker in a more free role, moving up and down from attack to the middle of the pitch, while Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard are in a much more limited role.
Hazard is suppose to be the next big thing in Europe, or at least he was when he was signed from Lille. He began his Chelsea career in the best way possible, but inconsistency and role changing have hurt and even cut off the momentum. Against Manchester United, even though he was probably the most involved of Chelsea players, he didn’t have a target man to play off of, and was busy too many times wasting energy by chasing down wingers. It’s not that he shouldn’t be doing anything defensive, but he deserves to play in a role that suits his talents a bit better.
While Mourinho has endless choices in the behind the striker position, his selection at defensive midfield is a bit more limited. Frank Lampard, Ramires, and John Obi Mikel. The Nigerian made his first appearance of the season, coming on late for Schurrle so it wouldn’t seem like Chelsea are actually trying to win the match. Ramires works hard but always tends to drift wider because he’s actually more of a winger at his best, while Lampard simply doesn’t know what to do as a defensive midfielder. Without a target man to play off of and draw some attention, his only possible contribution – coming from behind to try and score, was gone as well.
Chelsea played a smart defensive game, which is what you expect from a Mourinho team, but you also expect a bit more creativity from a side with these kind of players, and from a manager who keeps lying to everyone about that fact that he loves to play attacking football.