Master Louis Van Gaal v student Jose Mourinho: Trick or teach?
MAN UNITED 1
(Robin van Persie 90+4)
(Didier Drogba 53)
Manchester United fans may bask in a little glory.
The draw with Chelsea debunked the simplistic narrative between former master and pupil.
According to popular mythology, Louis van Gaal groomed Jose Mourinho for greatness - only for the Portuguese prodigy to trump the success of his own teacher.
But the Manchester United manager showed you can teach an old Dutchman new tricks. Here's how the famous friends got on at Old Trafford yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Both men are creatures of habit.
As a rule, Mourinho nullifies whereas van Gaal favours freedom. But caution curtailed the creativity in a lively contest that entertained in a loud, banging WWE wrestling kind of way.
Perhaps aware of his side's underdog status, van Gaal put away his diamond and opted for a more obdurate approach.
The game's mavericks were haunted by man-markers. Daley Blind is a fine distributor, but his role was reduced to that of chaperone, following Chelsea's attackers around like a lovesick puppy.
The United manager possibly had no choice, considering his defensive vulnerabilities, but his tactics left Robin van Persie sitting alone in a deckchair filling in Sudoku puzzles, such was his isolation.
For his part, Mourinho stuck with Chelsea's reliable 4-2-3-1 counter-attacking formation, making him the more adventurous manager, but only marginally so.
RESULT: Mourinho 1 Van Gaal 0
Van Gaal played Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, patching up his weakened ranks and sticking a Band-Aid across the backline.
Knowing that Rafael da Silva is not immune to the odd error, the United manager instructed Angel di Maria to track back and put in more defensive work than the Argentine winger is usually accustomed too.
Using man-markers also offered further protection and dammed the flow of Chelsea's attacks.
In some ways, United's defenders were stretched further against West Brom. They held the line doggedly, much to the frustration of the Blues' forwards, who shared five yellow cards among themselves.
Chelsea's back four, on the other hand, picked themselves, but Branislav Ivanovic's avoidable red card cost them victory. Van Gaal's defensive approach irritated Chelsea. Frustration got the better of the Blues.
RESULT: Mourinho 1 Van Gaal 1
In this particular area, the old man outflanked the younger upstart.
If this tactical battle played out on celluloid, van Gaal would be Gandalf to Mourinho's Frodo.
He almost schooled the "kid".
Ander Herrera's inconsistency made the decision easier, but the selection of United's forgotten figure of fun proved a masterstroke.
In the tunnel before kick-off, Marouane Fellaini manhandled compatriot Eden Hazard in a subtle, primal display of aggressive affection.
It wasn't quite Roy Keane eyeballing Patrick Vieira, but a clear message was sent. Fellaini would not be cowed.
On the contrary, he played like a man possessed. It was his header in injury time that led to van Persie's equaliser.
More importantly, he neutralised Cesc Fabregas.
Van Gaal analyses opponents in sections, dividing them into groups and areas of the pitch, focusing on each separately. He cut Chelsea into slices and gave the middle chunk to Fellaini.
The Belgian was a stubborn muscular menace for Fabregas and a convenient staging area for his own teammates.
Not quite in Nemanja Matic's class, Fellaini fell away as the game progressed but did enough to stop Fabregas spinning away like a funnel web spider to weave those intricate, silky patterns.
Picking Fellaini showed van Gaal's confidence and adaptability. He took a risk by leaving a high-profile, expensive signing on the bench in favour of a much-maligned midfielder.
The gamble wasn't particularly pretty, but it just about paid off.
RESULT: Mourinho 1 Van Gaal 2
Both managers made the most of depleted resources. Mourinho was without Diego Costa and Loic Remy. United missed Wayne Rooney and Radamel Falcao.
But a couple of veterans rescued them. Didier Drogba's fine header made a mockery of United's pre-season decision to clear the decks of elder statesmen.
Experience has its uses when used wisely and in moderation. But van Persie's dramatic equaliser was a fitting reward for an equally dogged performance.
Like their respective managers, the two strikers made the most of what they had.
Chelsea ran out of ideas and, increasingly, out of steam. United found an equaliser in the 94th minute, from a set-piece.
Mourinho abhors conceding late set-pieces. He turns positively apoplectic if the set-pieces then cost his side a goal.
But the Red Devils kept seeking, chasing and harrying. They would not yield.
Ryan Giggs was on the touchline, imploring his former teammates forward. Van Gaal punched the air in jubilation when van Persie stabbed the ball home.
The striker ripped his shirt off and roared to the heavens, a spontaneous eruption of euphoria and relief.
For a fleeting moment, there were echoes of the old Manchester United, not in terms of panache, but perseverance.
At the final whistle, the slumped shoulders belonged to Mourinho.
His superior side had succumbed. He had been done by a set-piece in stoppage time. He had been outfoxed by his old master.
RESULT: Van Gaal wins and takes the first battle of the season.
By the numbers 14
Under David Moyes last season, Manchester United had 14 points after nine games, one more than Louis van Gaal's side have garnered after the same number of games.