Under-fire Louis van Gaal shows he can inspire his players, Eden Hazard’s problems are in his head and other things we learned from Manchester United 0 Chelsea 0.
By Editor Wayne Veysey
Van Gaal is willing to lift the shackles
You could see United’s intent from the off. They were aggressive with and without the ball, and the result was a fluent display at odds with their negative performances this season. The home side might not have scored but they hit the woodwork twice in the first half with rasping shots and Thibaut Courtois denied Ander Herrera with one of the saves of the season. The United players had clearly been given instructions to play with greater freedom by Van Gaal and they responded. Maybe the Dutchman can still inspire them, after all. United were not quite as positive in the second half but the performance was more in keeping with the club’s tradition of adventure and attacking football. Van Gaal could well have bought himself more time.
Hazard slump continues
There is no end in sight for the troubles of the reigning Footballer of the Year. Restored to the starting line-up, Eden Hazard was asked to lead the line in the absence of the team’s three senior strikers. He delivered another iffy display as he failed to end his goal drought or locate the switch that turns on the magic. The Belgian has now failed to find the net in 26 matches this season and hasn’t supplied an assist in his last 11 Premier League appearances. For a player of such gifts, that is a lamentable return and suggests that his problems are in his head.
Rooney shows the fire has not burned out
It has been a horrible season for Wayne Rooney, and his Boxing Day demotion as United slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Stoke was a new low for a player used to untouchable status. But the England captain showed against Chelsea that the fire has not completely burned out. Deployed in the centre-forward position he looked sharp and hungry, particularly in the first half as he led the line superbly, holding the ball up well and bringing others into play. However, peak Rooney would surely have burst the net with the 86th minute golden opportunity presented to him by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s wonderfully inviting cross.
Hiddink summons Mourinho-like display
In the final analysis, this will be regarded by Guus Hiddink as a decent point. Without an established striker to call upon, they managed to keep out a much-improved United and fashion some fine chances of their own, particularly the one that Nemanja Matic blazed over the bar in the second half. In many ways, it was the type of display that a Jose Mourinho team might have produced. At least, one when the players were not on virtual strike.
Ivanovic does not deserve a contract extension
He has been a magnificent Chelsea servant but even the most ardent of Branislav Ivanovic supporters would struggle to mount a convincing argument for why he should be granted a contract extension beyond next summer, when his current deal expires. A number of wide players have had the 31-year-old on toast this season and Anthony Martial, deployed on the left flank, added his name to a growing list. Ivanovic’s mind may still be willing but the legs are not, and his lack of recovery pace is being targeted by opposition managers virtually every game.