A long way from Moscow: 5 things from Man United 0-0 Chelsea
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1. Man United responded, but a familiar scoreline
These two clubs faced each other in the Champions League final in Moscow in 2008, then as Europe's best two sides. But they look a long way behind the continent's elite at the moment.
After this scoreless battle between sixth and 14th in the Premier League, Louis van Gaal has had goalless draws in 8 of his 57 league matches as Manchester United manager.
That's 14% of his games in charge - the highest percentage of any Red Devils boss since Lal Hilditch, who sounds more like a character from Coronation Street.
Hilditch was actually United's first player-manager, taking charge of the side between 1926 and 1927, drawing 14.3% of league fixtures 0-0.
United were, however, much improved from their inept performance at Stoke on Boxing Day and they were particularly impressive in the opening half hour against Chelsea, hitting the woodwork twice through Juan Mata and Anthony Martial as crisp interplay got the better of the visitors.
The tempo dropped as the game went on and Chelsea got to grips with the United attack a little better, but the hosts still had a huge 67% possession - completing 551 passes to Chelsea's paltry 221.
Their pass completion rate was 89%, compared to 77% at Stoke. They also made 146 passes in the final third, compared to 93 at the Britannia Stadium. United were poor in front of goal though, as their grand total of 551 passes produced 12 attempts but only 2 shots on target - and even one of those should have been buried by Ander Herrera from close range, only for Thibaut Courtois to make a fine save.
"I'm a little bit frustrated that we didn't score because we dominated the game," Van Gaal said afterwards. "We had chances, we had shots on goal, the goalkeeper was beaten and we hit the post."
Van Gaal appeared right to assert that his players had responded for him following the Stoke defeat, as he clarified that he would not be resigning. "When the players are fighting for me I always stay because that is the most important thing, and that you have seen today," he said.
It is hard to assess whether this match will prove to have been a positive or a negative for United. The key thing now is whether this performance was a building block, or whether the Hilditch similarities continue.
2. Chelsea missed Costa
Chelsea were similarly wasteful in front of goal on occasions, converting 8 shots into only 3 on target. Nemanja Matic fired over the bar from a particularly promising counter-attack in the second half.
The Blues were without the suspended Diego Costa, who netted twice against Watford on Boxing Day, and definitely missed the striker. Without him and injured duo Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao, they opted to play Eden Hazard as a false nine. "As everyone knows we have some problems in our striker positions due to suspension and injuries so we had to think how to solve that problem," Guus Hiddink said afterwards. "We thought to do it with Hazard. He's done it before and he's a very versatile player."
But the Belgian did not have the impact he would have wanted on his return to the starting line-up. Hazard was halted in his tracks by a United foul on 6 occasions - he was fouled 4 more times than any other player on the field. He also misplaced 9 of his 36 passes and didn't have a single shot during the match. Pedro was the most effective of Chelsea's attackers, creating 3 chances, while Matic completed 5 out of 5 take-ons.
3. Rooney started better than he finished
Wayne Rooney was brought back into the team after being dropped at Stoke and made an immediate impact, creating 2 chances in the hosts' bright start. The England forward made 3 chances for others and had 2 shots, but he was better in the first half than the second. Before the interval he completed 18 of 20 passes, after it he completed only 14 of 19 and missed a fine chance from a left-wing cross.
4. Terry blocked United's path
Man United had their chances but on the whole Chelsea defended well. John Terry was at the forefront of that, putting his body on the line to block an impressive 4 shots, as well as making 5 clearances.
John Obi Mikel also did an important shielding role after being handed a rare start in midfield, completing 12 ball recoveries - more than any other player. Cesar Azpilicueta topped the interception stats with 6.
There was an intriguing battle between Branislav Ivanovic and Martial, who ghosted past the right-back far too easily to hit the post early on and did have some bright moments on the left flank. Martial, however, succeeded with only 2 out of 11 take-ons as Ivanovic fared better as the game went on. The Serbian was successful with 5 of 6 attempted tackles, made 4 clearances and completed 10 ball recoveries.
5. Schweinsteiger makes a difference
United have lacked leaders in recent weeks, most notably at Stoke as Bastian Schweinsteiger served the final match of his three-game ban. The German returned for this match and played a major part as Van Gaal's men dominated possession. The experienced World Cup-winner was a calming influence in midfield and completed 91 passes during the match, misplacing only 5. Schweinsteiger has sometimes been accused of only playing sideways passes in the centre of the pitch and offering little going forward, but he also completed more passes in the final third (22) than anyone else as well as attempting 3 shots and making 9 ball recoveries.
- Man United have now gone 8 games without victory in all competitions, their worst run since January 1990 (also 8 games).
- 5 of Man United’s last 8 games at Old Trafford in all competitions have ended goalless.
- Van Gaal has overseen 11 goalless draws as Man United boss, 6 of those coming since the end of October.
- Guus Hiddink hasn’t lost any of his last 5 competitive contests with Louis van Gaal (W4 D1).
- Hiddink has dropped 4 points in 2 games as Chelsea boss this season, only 1 fewer than he did in 13 games in 2008/09.
- The last 4 fixtures between these 2 sides at Old Trafford in the Premier League have produced just 3 goals in total.
- Man United have kept a clean sheet in their final Premier League game of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015
- The Red Devils have kept 7 clean sheets and conceded just 3 goals in their 9 Premier League home games in 2015/16.
- The Blues are unbeaten in their last 6 Premier League meetings with Man United (W3 D3).
- This is United’s lowest points total after 19 games of a league season since 1990 (22 points then, 30 this season).