Gary Neville compared the tactics used by Chelsea and Manchester United to Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, calling the match ‘negative.’ Both Graham Potter and Erik ten Hag chose to overload the midfield to seize more control rather than going out for a win and saw a scrappy game only sparked by late drama with two late goals. Chelsea blinked first after just half an hour, choosing to remove Marc Cucurella for Mateo Kovacic in order to get a grip on the match.
Ten Hag responded after half time with Fred and McTominay both coming on, leaving the visitors without a recognised striker. The Blues ought to have won the game with Jorginho’s late penalty but fell foul to a last-gasp Casemiro equaliser deep into stoppage time. Speaking on the Gary Neville podcast, the former United defender praised Potter’s proactivity to make early changes.
“After about five minutes it became perfectly obvious that Manchester United were absolutely dominating Chelsea, that two in there that Chelsea had, Jorginho and Loftus- Cheek, that was the real fundamental part of the game.
“I’ve got to give some credit to Graham Potter. We always say that managers sometimes it’s harsh making substitutions after half an hour, he took Cucurella off and he needed to do that. “I said in the first half, both systems were screening against one another but Manchester United were by far dominating Chelsea’s, Casemiro was getting on the ball, Eriksen and Fernandes were getting into the pockets and I thought Eriksen and Fernandes, with all their quality and at the top of their game, should have done more.
“The game turned, that 10 minutes before half time, even though United had the best chance when Antony had his shot in the right channel. Aubameyang started to get in the game a little bit, Chelsea started to lock onto United’s midfield players, Kovacic’s introduction in a flat midfield alongside Jorginho and Loftus-Cheek, Mount coming into position to take on Casemiro, and then they had the split strikers.”
Chelsea didn’t manage to force much in terms of goalmouth action though and left David De Gea as a bystanding throughout. Neville was disappointed by the manner of which the game panned out though, adding:
“From that moment they regained a bit of control Chelsea but it was a real struggle. In the second half I thought Chelsea were better, and they certainly had to be better than they were in the first half but it was quite negative in a way, the game, in a sense that both managers took off their most attacking players. “It became a game of sitting back in shape and hoping something would happen. There was a don’t lose attitude in the game and we’ve criticsed managers here down the years from Manchester United and Chelsea, be it Jose Mourinho or Antonio Conte when they’ve made negative substitutions in a game to try and win it.
“Today two very positive managers who usually are on the front foot took a backwards step, they didn’t want to lose that game. They both got their wish in the end but I’m not sure whether that’s how they designed it. “The game got more ugly, more broken and more of a struggle.”
It was intriguing from a tactical point to see Potter in full flow. Whereas his initial selection never truly got flowing, the change to a 4-1-2-1-2 with a diamond midfield is a system suited to the Blues’ midfielders but still puts pressure on the attackers to produce a lot of their own chances. It is a system heavily used by Carlo Ancelotti at Stamford Bridge and not seen since.
For Potter to be compared to Conte and Mourinho is a blessing and warning. If the new manager can harness the defensive solidity of those bosses but combine them with Ancelotti’s attacking freedom then Chelsea are in business. For now, Neville’s words may hurt a manager known for his attacking football and creativity, but ultimately dropping late points will cut deeper.