Dull affairs are a rare events at Old Trafford. Dull affairs involving United and Chelsea even more so but, despite all the hype that had preceded the fixture, tonight turned out to be the exception rather than the rule.
David Moyes’ home debut, Wayne Rooney playing in front of the fans he’s desperate to get away from against the side he’d love to join and Jose Mourinho’s return to the venue many thought could be his home turf had provided plenty of talking points ahead of kick off.
None of them, however, proved to be decisive. The chosen one – a banner sounding sinisterly too scouse – and the special one roamed the touchlines, while the angry and confused one was arguably United’s best performer, on a night when his teammates failed to shine.
Having been handed a starting berth alongside Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia in support to Robin Van Persie Rooney was greeted to a surprisingly warm reception, as United fans seemed determined to make him feel wanted at Old Trafford, more than he’d ever be in South West London.
Quite why fans would cheer a player who’s been desperate to leave the club twice in three seasons remains anyone’s guess, but while Rooney’s respect for the club could be questioned, his commitment couldn’t.
The 27-year-old was United’s best player in the first half as he roamed intelligently behind Van Persie, relatively well supported by Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley.
United struggled to create any clear cut opportunities in the first half, but their back four was never threatened either, courtesy of Mourinho’s decision to field a team without a striker.
Mind games to highlight just how bad his team needs Rooney? Perhaps, but Chelsea’s bluntness up-front was almost as remarkable as the lack of entertainment on offer in the first half.
Robin Van Persie fired against the side netting halfway through the first half and that was as good as it got, until Danny Welbeck skied an inviting pass from Rooney just after the restart.
The doom merchants will point at Welbeck’s lack of accuracy in front of goal, but the England striker’s movement was again impressive tonight, as was United’s solidity at the back.
In some quarters Moyes has almost been derided for turning Everton into a side difficult to break down, amid fears he could do the same with United.
It might too soon to express a verdict but, judging on tonight’s performance, the former Everton manager has obviously transferred his tactical credo to his back four.
Marshalled by Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic United never looked like conceding, despite Chelsea’s plethora of attacking midfielders and Ashley Cole’s pathetic attempt to win a penalty.
Incredibly, Cole manages to make United fans hate even more as each season goes by, his petulance and arrogance reaching staggering levels at times tonight.
Martin Atkinson’s obligatory controversial decision arrived in the shape of a penalty appeal which was, unsurprisingly, turned down after Frank Lampard’s hand had stopped Cleverley’s shot.
Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs replaced Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck but there was no fairytale end to Moyes’ home debut.
Still, four points between Swansea away and Chelsea at home are three more than Sir Alex managed in the corresponding fixtures last season.
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Tags: Match Reports