Jose Mourinho sends clear signal by leaving Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku on Chelsea bench
Even for Jose Mourinho, this wasn’t particularly subtle. As his wait for the arrival of a top-class centre-forward extends into the final week of the transfer window, the Chelsea manager opted to hand Andre Schürrle his full debut out of his natural position away at the Premier League champions here last night.
It was an implicitly damning assessment of his strikers Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku, who were both left to ponder their plight on the substitutes’ bench. It was an even further and harder fall from grace for Demba Ba as he went from leading the line against Hull City to watching the game from anonymity outside the matchday squad.
Of course, being Mourinho, he could not just leave it at an interpretation of the team-sheet. In his pre-match television interview, the 50-year-old said: “I go for mobility, I want to come to try to win the game, but instead of playing with one target man I play with four attacking players and we are going to try to create them problems.”
Torres, Lukaku and Ba are by that criterion immobile. Ouch. Mourinho’s selection was inevitably and tantalisingly juxtaposed with David Moyes’ decision to start Wayne Rooney from the outset for Manchester United.
Rooney, the subject of sustained interest from Stamford Bridge, found himself the subject of a rather odd sensation: cheers from all four corners of the ground. The last time these two sides met here in May, both sets of supporters were united in their derision of Chelsea’s interim manager Rafael Benitez.
Indeed, had Benitez picked this particular line-up, there would surely have been a greater degree of consternation among the travelling support, especially given Juan Mata’s absence.
Mata was the club’s best player last season and the explanation that the Spaniard is short of match fitness after a hamstring injury looks increasingly suspect when he is omitted from matches of this magnitude.
Surely Mata three-quarters fit is worth inclusion if Mourinho really fancied him? Chelsea certainly lacked penetration during the opening period. United made more of the running as the Blues lacked a presence in attack to hold the ball up sufficiently so they could retort on the break.
Schürrle, who scored 11 goals in 34 league games for Bayer Leverkusen last season from the left flank prior to his £18m move, worked tirelessly but Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic rarely looked troubled.
Mourinho watched stoically from the sidelines. He made notes using an electronic notepad on a device that looked likely to also take phone calls, presumably in case his team selection elicited an immediate response from owner Roman Abramovich or an agent with a striker to shift wanted a word.
The player chief among his thoughts – Rooney – was doing his best to ignite United. He was inventive in possession and industrious without, but United were not at their free-flowing best.
Mourinho abandoned the Schürrle plan with an hour played. Torres entered the fray with Schürrle moved left but the pattern of the game altered little. A match with a subtext all about strikers ended goalless.
“The result in the end will make the judgement – Jose was right or Jose was wrong,” concluded Mourinho in that pre-match exchange. A draw at Old Trafford was a satisfactory conclusion for Chelsea. The fact it was achieved while highlighting the club’s need for another striker will bring a knowing smile to his face.