Wayne Rooney’s headline-grabbing presence couldn’t inspire Manchester United to victory in David Moyes’ first home game in charge as Chelsea ground out a 0-0 draw in the Premier League’s first blockbuster match of the season.
Rooney, the subject of two bids from Chelsea over the summer, played the full 90 minutes in his first start of this season and was one of the few standout performers in a disappointing match at Old Trafford tonight that failed to live up to its billing.
Chelsea played with no recognised striker for 60 minutes and barely threatened, although a draw keeps the team unbeaten after three matches in Jose Mourinho’s second spell and top of the early standings on seven points.
United had the better of a hard-fought, error-strewn game, with Danny Welbeck wasting its best chance in the second half, but the attacking spark that lifted them to a season-opening 4-1 win at Swansea last weekend was missing.
Rooney’s name on the United team sheet added extra spice to a match between two perennial title contenders that is always eagerly anticipated.
Just as eye-catching, though, was Mourinho’s surprise lineup that included six midfielders and no recognised striker.
What was essentially a 4-6-0 formation by the visitors ensured a congested midfield and few clear-cut chances at either end. A game watched around the world was something of a let-down.
Rooney, who was given a warm ovation by United fans and serenaded with chants of “We’ll see you next week” and “Sign him up” by the travelling Chelsea support, was neat and tidy throughout in his role behind Robin van Persie, linking up play well and showing good fitness levels.
He had started on the bench at Swansea, coming on for the final 28 minutes and also looking sharp, and Moyes certainly made a statement by selecting him here in what was arguably the biggest match so far in the Scot’s coaching career.
It must have been a strange evening for the England striker, who indicated to United toward the end of last season that he wanted to leave and has been relentlessly – and openly – pursued by Mourinho. United has stuck rigidly to its “not for sale” stance on Rooney but is likely to receive a third offer from Chelsea before the transfer window shuts on September 2.
Van Persie has replaced Rooney as the leading striker at United but he got no change out of Chelsea’s sturdy center-back partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill, with a 23rd-minute shot into the side-netting the Dutchman’s only real chance.
At the other end, Oscar had two low efforts easily saved by United goalkeeper David de Gea in the first half but Chelsea’s counter-attacks were sporadic and ineffective.
Despite fielding a plethora of playmakers and attacking midfielders, Mourinho – strongly linked with the United job before Moyes replaced Alex Ferguson – tellingly chose not to start Juan Mata, who has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge.
The Spain international – one of the league’s top performers last season – was on the bench with compatriot Fernando Torres, who was introduced on the hour to finally give Chelsea an attacking outlet. But it was United looking slightly more dangerous with Welbeck scooping over the bar when well-placed after receiving Rooney’s disguised pass.
Errors remained frequent, though. One five-second passage of play summed the game up, when Torres passed straight to Patrice Evra, who then slid the ball out of play trying to find Van Persie.
In one of the many subplots surrounding the game, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand played against each other for the first time since Terry allegedly racially abused Ferdinand’s brother, Anton, in a league match in October 2011. The pair shook hands before kickoff.
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