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article imageMourinho & Van Gaal stifle the midfield zone at Old Trafford

By Tyrrell Meertins     Oct 26, 2014 in Sports
Louis van Gaal learned from his previous mistakes in Bayern Munich’s loss to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League final.
Van Gaal’s Bayern dominated nearly 60 percent possession throughout the match, but Mourinho’s Inter were devastating on the counter, and Diego Milito’s clinical finishing proved decisive on a monumental night at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Just over four years later, the two managers met at Old Trafford, this time with Mourinho missing his reliable finisher in Diego Costa, and Van Gaal adopting a reactive approach in a frenetic encounter against the league leaders. Stylistically, Van Gaal instructed his side to man-mark across the pitch — an approach Holland utilized in the World Cup this summer — thus leading to a scrappy battle in midfield.
Chelsea struggled to stamp their authority on the match in the opening half, as Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata pressed Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata, and Daley Blind followed Oscar when he dropped into deep positions with the intent of helping his side build from the back. Equally, Rafael and Luke Shaw tightly marked Willian and Eden Hazard in wide areas, and Van Gaal’s centre-backs also stepped up on Drogba, as he didn’t pose a consistent threat into space behind United’s high-line.
Likewise, the roles in terms of pressing was replicated for Chelsea, with Oscar preventing Blind from dictating the tempo of the match from deep, while the Brazilian also helped Didier Drogba close down the United centre backs. Mourinho also counted on his diligent wingers to protect their full backs, and Nemanja Matic breaking up play with a combination of tactical fouls and key tackles, thus explaining Angel di Maria’s quiet afternoon.
Very few quality chances were created through well-worked moves from open play, as both sides focused on key defensive detail, while the creative players were often harried when they received the ball in key zones. United were successful on the break as Robin van Persie’s linkup play often ignited attacks — Thibaut Courtois denied the Dutchman following Adnan Januzaj’s clever through ball, the young Belgian gained a yard on Branislav Ivanovic and fired a shot into the side netting, and Di Maria’s wayward side-volley flying over the bar.
Chelsea, on the other hand, relied on their pressing higher up the pitch to get into key areas, but on two occasions — Marcos Rojo’s poor pass to Drogba, and Oscar dispossessing Blind at the halfway mark — saw Chelsea break with numbers but the Ivorian’s poor final ball halted the attack. United’s man-marking also provided Gary Cahill time and space to drive into the home side’s half, and he contributed a long ball over the defence that saw Oscar tee up Drogba, but David De Gea made a key save.
Where Di Maria struggled to impose himself on the match from open play — his set-piece deliveries and crosses into the box were poor — Eden Hazard varied his movement to receive the ball in pockets of space, before gliding past United defenders. The Belgian nearly found a breakthrough in the first half before tumbling over, and his combination with Drogba led to the corner that resulted in the Ivorian’s opener.
“We played very well against a good Man United. I am so happy with my players,” Mourinho said.
“We got the same result as last season here but if I compare what we did last season here and what we did this season it clearly shows the evolution of this team. We are not happy with the point.”
Chelsea retained the ball and stretched the field following Drogba’s opener, but the decision to introduce John Obi Mikel summed up Mourinho’s content with the result. The away side dropped deeper into a 4-5-1 as the second half wore on, and apart from a clever reverse Shaw pass to Van Persie in the box that resulted in another Courtois save, United didn’t pose a threat in the final third.
"Again, it is the same old song," Van Gaal told Sky Sports 1. "We created a lot but we didn't finish our chances and Chelsea scored the first goal.
Despite both managers opting for caution throughout the match, United excelled on the break, whereas high pressing and the individual brilliance of Hazard created chances for the away side. Coincidentally, both Drogba and Van Persie’s goal — Ivanovic’s injury time sending off was key to the latter’s late equalizer as he was responsible for marking Fellaini on corner kicks — stemmed from set-pieces, further highlighting the successful approaches from both sides intending to negate the opposition’s threat in central areas.
Old Trafford broke into jubilation when the full-time whistle blew, but despite dropping two points, Chelsea displayed another hint of growth in a tricky away match.
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