The Monday night mystery
Monday night’s meeting of Moyes and Mourinho at Old Trafford threw up more questions than it answered. In doing so it was very much in keeping with the season as a whole to date.
As former England boss and United assistant manager Steve McClaren stated in our TV studio, the first few weeks of the season are very much about teams discovering their strengths and weaknesses. He also pointed out, with a mischievous glint in his eyes, that it looks as if we are in for some blockbuster moves in the transfer market before we can form any concrete opinions about the title race.
Take champions Manchester United for instance. Their best player on the night (and in fact their only player to have a shot on target) was Wayne Rooney, who had been linked with a move to Chelsea. It looks as if the move to London has gone away now but will Manchester United be any stronger than they were last season?
Tactically, the game was won by Chelsea – if only because they obviously went in search of a 0-0 and they ended up getting it. Despite being the more ambitions team, United’s reliance on long balls increased as the game wore on and it could increase further should David Moyes be able to prise Marouane Fellaini away from Everton.
If Moyes is also capable of getting his hands on Leighton Baines, he might see more productivity from wide areas where United, especially Patrice Evra, were notably poor on Monday. Still, as our experts wondered after the game, will Europe’s big teams be quaking in their boots at what they are seeing from England’s reigning champions?
Germans, especially Jurgen Klopp of Dortmund, will doubtless be baffled by United’s continued uncertainty over Shinji Kagawa’s ability. Monday’s game, with Chelsea’s solid defensive unit of six (Ramires and Lampard shielded the back four all night) was so hard to break down (especially with United’s sloppiness out wide), that a player like Kagawa might have been able to conjure up a way to penetrate. Perhaps they don’t like what they have seen so far (and are also mindful that the Japanese player has been injured) and would rather turn to someone like Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil.
As for Chelsea, well surely only Jose Mourinho could have answered our pre-match questions about his strikers by not picking any of them. What’s more, as much as he might have publicly applauded Rooney’s contribution, a later study of our “heat map” technology (which shows where players operate on the pitch) would have demonstrated to Jose that Wayne works incredibly hard across the midfield areas these days but rarely enters the box. Surely Chelsea need a player who gets on the end of things rather than yet another number 10?
What of his vast array of options in that area? Do we yet know exactly what kind of player Oscar is? Is he best deployed as a runner from midfield areas in the Lampard mould? How effective is Hazard? We know he likes to dribble but on Monday he carried the ball five times only to be dispossessed on four occasions. He also lost it three times with a poor touch. De Bruyne and Schurrle still look as if they have a little way to go before they “bed in” to this team.
What’s the story with Juan Mata, Chelsea’s player of the season for the last two years? We have to take Mourinho at his word when he speaks of resting the Spaniard after Confederations Cup duty and the stresses of last season as well as injuries but it does seem odd that he has not featured more.
What we do know is that Chelsea thus far are a far cry from Madrid in terms of strategy. They and Crystal Palace are the two teams who have produced the least from wide areas so far this season, and Chelsea have played one more game.
After two wildly contrasting outings this season, we are yet to fully know what to make of Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City but (set-piece defensive aberrations aside) they do at least appear to be settling into a pattern of play. Arsenal this season don’t look much different from Arsenal last season. Our ever-passionate studio guest Tony Adams told us the other day that they will always see off teams like Fulham but that they still look too open defensively to expect to beat the big teams in crunch games.
We did expect the title race to be contested between a less exclusive set of contenders this time around and Liverpool and Tottenham genuinely look as if they will be in the mix. They are the only two clubs with 100 per cent records but, while their form has been encouraging, they have not looked entirely comfortable in their consecutive 1-0 wins (Spurs remember have had to rely on two penalties).
Both face testing assignments this weekend, which could well see them lose their perfect records and both look as if they have further work to do in the transfer market before they can be seen as genuine title contenders.
As obvious as this may sound, we will not fully know what to expect from the six apparent title contenders until the window closes on September 2. We knew that from the start but, after two rounds of matches, we are, if anything, more confused than when we started.