David Moyes takes on Chelsea and Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford.
Author: Sleepy Nik
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There has been plenty of talk about the difficulty of United’s opening fixtures, and one view would certainly conclude that facing Mourinho’s Chelsea later in the schedule would have been more beneficial – but perhaps Chelsea’s early visit gives David Moyes a chance to show the rest of the league what he and the team are all about. Whilst it is true that United are currently lacking in the midfield department (and the transfer dallying has left a lot to be desired thus far), it can’t have been easy for the squad to stomach the ‘third favourites’ tag, particularly after such a comfortable ride last term.
Tactically then, the crucial question for Moyes is basically whether to stick with the tried and tested 4-1-4-1 that served United so well at Swansea, or whether he will seek to combat Chelsea’s fluid front four with somewhat of a 4-3-3 system; something Moyes experimented with in pre-season on occasion. Chelsea are likely to go with the same side as the one that started versus Hull on the opening weekend, which means De Bruyne will team up with Oscar and Hazard just ahead of Ramires and Lampard, and just behind Torres, who is likely to return in place of Ba. And given how early in the season this game has materialized, matching Chelsea up in the middle is probably at the forefront of Moyes’ mind.
To counter Chelsea’s attacking 4-2-3-1 (a system sure to be enhanced by the Portuguese manager), Moyes may have to start one of Giggs, Anderson or Jones in the centre with Carrick and Cleverley. Jones started this fixture last season, and if he does get the nod on Monday evening, Valencia may be asked to slot in at right back, with Smalling not quite match ready. On the face of it, this move could be seen as a negative one, especially given the Ecuadorian’s return to form, and the trouble he caused Cole last season at the Bridge – but perhaps this is a tactic that could actually prove quite useful, with Mourinho likely to ask Cole and Hazard to link as much as possible in the final third. Valencia then could use his pace to time his counter attacks in the space vacated down Chelsea’s left side, providing that much needed width in a 4-3-3. One particular pleasing aspect so far under Moyes has been the attacking threat of the fullbacks, but particular Evra. Time and again the Frenchman has sought to hit the by-line and centre the ball, more often than not to van Persie who times his runs to perfection.
What isn’t in doubt is that United will have to crowd the zone just in front of the back four, so we can expect a bank of five in defensive transitions, with Welbeck dropping in on Lampard (the Englishman very keen on the diagonal into the attacking fullback in the games thus far) and Ramires. De Bruyne’s movement will also be key for the away side, preferring to pick up the ball in slightly deeper positions than Mata, and running at defenders (rather than moving horizontally across the line), drawing them into the challenge. Jones, Carrick and Cleverley will have to work as a triumvirate in this zone, working closely with the fullbacks.
United’s threat on the counter with Welbeck and van Persie in particular will give them a chance of winning the game (particularly too in targeting the lackadaisical Cahill), and the midfield three will try to release either one into feet as quickly as possible. Rooney will certainly feature, but whether he is psychologically ready to start this game is another question (Moyes should choose between Giggs and Kagawa). Of course, the psychological ‘warfare’ aspect of the game itself will actually go equally as far to determining the outcome as the team selections – Mourinho is a master at ensuring his troops are battle-hardened. This contest then, is also Moyes’ first opportunity to showcase his man-management skills, and how far he is able to influence the collective nerve of his players will go along way to deciding the result.
Prediction: 2-1 United