Manchester : Wayne Rooney returned to Manchester United’s starting line-up but failed to inconvenience his suitors Chelsea in a forgettable 0-0 Premier League draw at Old Trafford. Rooney has been the subject of two failed bids from Chelsea in recent weeks, but he was one of the few impressive players on a night when the season’s first major head-to-head clash failed to live up to its billing.
The England striker tested visiting goalkeeper Petr Cech on three occasions, while David Moyes, in his first home game as United manager, saw his side refused a second-half penalty following an apparent handball by Frank Lampard.
Jose Mourinho provided a provocative touchline presence and was goaded throughout on his return to Old Trafford as Chelsea coach, but his team rarely threatened ahead of Friday’s UEFA Super Cup against Bayern Munich.
The point was enough to send Chelsea top of the nascent standings, but they have played a game more than the rest and United can draw level with them if they win at Liverpool on Sunday.
Rooney’s inclusion in United’s starting XI, for the first time since April, caused the evening’s first ripple of excitement, but Mourinho’s team selection was every bit as eye-catching.
The -Portuguese named a team without a recognised striker, deploying Andre Schuerrle up front ahead of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, and leaving Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku on the bench. Moyes acknowledged in his programme notes that he must prove he is ‘the right successor’ to Alex Ferguson, but the home fans showed their approval of his appointment with a banner reading ‘THE CHOSEN ONE’ that was displayed in the Stretford End.
He could not have picked a more high-profile opponent for his first turn in the Old Trafford dug-out, or a more glorious evening, but the fare on the newly laid pitch was disappointing.
Twice, Oscar shot straight at United goalkeeper David de Gea, while United’s best chance of the first half saw Robin van Persie deceive half the stadium into thinking a goal had been scored with a snapshot that ruffled the side-netting.
Rooney, for his part, looked determined to influence the game, despite Chelsea’s fans mischievously taking up their United counterparts’ chants of ‘Rooney!’ and pledging: “We’ll see you next week!”
Playing in support of Van Persie, he constantly dropped deep to demand the ball, but when he managed to find space on the edge of the box with a smart turn, his shot lacked the power to trouble Cech.
Chelsea were content for their hosts to attack them, but the tactic almost back-fired in the 56th minute when Rooney found Danny Welbeck inside the box, only for the England forward to poke the ball wide.
In response, Gary Cahill tested De Gea’s handling with a meaty drive from distance, but Mourinho decided his team needed a greater cutting edge and sent on Torres for De Bruyne. For all the enmity between the sides, the game lacked bite, but United appeared to have cause to feel aggrieved when referee Martin Atkinson failed to award a penalty after Tom Cleverley’s shot struck Lampard on the hand.
Rooney raised the biggest cheer of the night with a full-bodied sliding tackle to dispossess Ramires, before giving Cech his last and most searching examination of the night with a powerful drive from 30 yards.