“It was a special game against special opponents. They’re the tallest, strongest team I have seen in England. They were very physical with a great, tough, aggressive attitude.”
Those were the words of Jose Mourinho on 7 November 2004 after his first meeting with an Everton team managed by David Moyes, a tight contest at Stamford Bridge settled in Chelsea’s favour by a piece of late brilliance from Arjen Robben.
Nine years on, Moyes faces Mourinho and Chelsea for the first time tonight as Manchester United manager, still seeking a first victory over the Portuguese and further than ever from the Chelsea man in terms of trophies won. Yet in one key area he has already proved himself his rival’s equal – namely in his ability to stand toe-to-toe with Mourinho in a tactical battle.
This is the view of Pat Nevin, the former Chelsea and Everton winger, who foresees the first of what could prove a series of fascinating duels between the two managers. Nevin, a match analyst for the BBC, cites the way that Moyes’ Everton regularly made life difficult for Mourinho’s Chelsea as evidence that his compatriot can match the Portuguese in a tactical confrontation.
“Those two always had really good technical, tactical battles,” Nevin told The Independent. “It didn’t matter where it was, Everton always gave Chelsea tough games. Davie had to react to Jose tactically and he was among the very best at it. Obviously he didn’t win many games but he shouldn’t have done because player for player, pound for pound there was no way they were as good, having not had as much to spend.”
Mourinho had five victories and three draws against Moyes’ Everton. The three draws all finished 1-1, the last on the final day of 2006/07 at Stamford Bridge when James McFadden’s potential winner was disallowed. There were also three defeats by a single goal – including a 3-2 away success in December 2006 when Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba scored in the last 10 minutes.
Nevin is a long-standing admirer of Moyes’ leadership qualities – ever since he was pulled to one side after a Celtic boys’ game and met with those piercing blue eyes and a ticking-off for pulling out of a 50-50 challenge – and he argues that his previous meetings with Mourinho were the high point of a new coaching trend in the English game.
“Mourinho brought that concept of adapting and changing almost continuously. Every manager now does that to some level but I didn’t see anyone doing it with the rapidity and intelligence that those two were doing it to each other.”
Moyes’ cautious transfer dealings may have earned him the nickname “Dithering Davie” but he is lightning sharp on the touchline, his preference for versatile players enabling him to make the frequent changes to Everton’s shape which led another Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti, to name him as his toughest opponent in England. Nevin offers as an example Marouane Fellaini, a player whom Moyes now wants for United.
“He always had players who could adapt to different positions. Fellaini is a classic example – you can play him as a centre forward, behind the front two, as a central midfielder or sitting in front of the back four. He will be four different players for you depending on what you want in a specific moment of the game. He is a classic Moyes player and that’s one of the reasons why he will be loath to let go of [Wayne] Rooney because he can give you four different positions.”
One of the big questions tonight is whether Moyes – now blessed with better attacking options – will send out a team to stop Chelsea, or to seize the initiative. Nevin is as curious as anyone to learn the answer.
“I’d be intrigued to see who budges for whom – who will set out a team to stop the opposition and who will set up a team to beat the opposition. Both of them might just go for it, but even if Mourinho sets up a slightly more defensive team, if it doesn’t go well, just watch him change it and change it really quickly.
“People might think Mourinho would be favourite because you look at the trophy haul,” he adds. “But I wouldn’t write off Moyes. It’ll be a brilliant head-to-head to watch.”