Saturday 24 February 2018

Van Gaal retains player trust and Chelsea resemble a platter of sushi - Five things we learned from Old Trafford draw

Manchester United's Juan Mata with Chelsea's Eden Hazard after the game
Manchester United's Juan Mata with Chelsea's Eden Hazard after the game

Chris Bascombe

Louis van Gaal's future at Manchester United remains uncertain as Chelsea hold on for an away point. Here is what we learned from the goalless draw.

Van Gaal has not lost the dressing room

It tends to be one of the first boxes ticked when a manager is under siege, the body language of players betraying their feelings as they await the inevitable exit of their coach. For further details, ask those at Chelsea so well practised in the art. Whatever accusations have been levelled at this United squad, downing tools to hasten Van Gaal’s exit is not one of them.

There was an intensity and tempo to United’s play that ensured lack of effort could not be added to the list of limitations. That was both a source of reassurance and concern for United fans. If these United players have been trying its best – and they certainly did here - it suggests the main issue is lack of quality.

Mourinho does not need to attend a match to create ‘unwelcome’ speculation

This was a meeting of two teams suffering from PMT. For Chelsea, post-Mourinho tension. For Manchester United, pre-Mourinho turbulence has left Louis Van Gaal wondering if this was a case of ‘vaarwel’.

It was evident during the last Old Trafford fixture sections of the United crowd wanted Jose in place, but the sight of Manchester United scarves hailing ‘The Special One’ took crassness to a level not seen since ex-midfielder Paul Ince paraded himself in the club jersey in the early 90s (weeks before West Ham had accepted a bid).

Chelsea still look like they need a pre-season

Jose Mourinho admitted his ex-players were undercooked at the start of this campaign and they still resemble a platter of sushi. There were numerous opportunities to pounce on the counter-attack and had the dynamism and ruthlessness of last season been there they could have punished unforced errors in United’s defence – Nemanja Matic the main culprit in the second half.

Such is the quality in this side there is a presumption the olds ways will return eventually but the champions remain a yard off the pace in fitness and sharpness.

Too often it has been United who have looked pedestrian and the fact they made Chelsea look so one-paced must be a concern for Guus Hiddink.

Hazard has talent to be on the same pedestal as Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez, but what about the application?

This was supposed to be the season Eden Hazard made the great leap forward, prompting weekly questions about an inevitable bid from Real Madrid and Barcelona. The lack of such stories is a reflection of how far the Frenchman’s form has dipped, and like the rest of the Chelsea side the main issue seems one of fitness.

While Ronaldo, especially, gives the impression he'd stare admiringly at the body of Greek God, Hazard has the look of someone who’d much prefer the inner beauty of a Greek kebab. Such fitness levels have stopped comparisons with Messi and Ronaldo. On the ball Hazard remains a joy to watch, but when it comes to doing his bit to get it? Not so much. He looked exhausted after an hour.

What a difference eight seasons make

In 2008 Chelsea and Manchester United met in the Champions League final, English football justly applauded for imposing its domestic strength on the continent. There is no greater evidence of the Premier League’s current dearth of quality than the same clubs toiling ahead of another period of transition.

Barcelona and Bayern have truly taken over, and although the Chelsea supporters mocked United’s imminent arrival in the Europa League, they will be looking at their forthcoming meeting with Paris St Germain with more trepidation than confidence. The excitement might be here but the Premier League has plenty of catching up to do.

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