Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel has declared Manchester United were "scared" to attack his side in Monday's 0-0 draw at Old Trafford and says the Blues are happier under Guus Hiddink than they were with Jose Mourinho.
The Red Devils hit the woodwork twice and enjoyed the greater share of chances on goal, but Mikel said the hosts were "hesitant" to take any chances when openings emerged, according to the Daily Mail's Chris Wheeler:
Both teams are not in the right place right now to attack, attack, attack. Sometimes you have to be smart and settle for a point. You could see in the game that United had chances to attack, but were a little bit sceptical or hesitant. Maybe they were a little bit scared. They were playing not to lose as well.
Because of the fast players we have up front who can break, they were cautious and approached the game not to lose.
While Chelsea operated almost exclusively on the counter-attack in their trip to Old Trafford, United relied on lengthy spells in possession but ultimately failed to make that pressure tell.
Ex-Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard told BT Sport the pressure was on United heading into Monday's clash:
BT Sport Football @btsportfootball
"The pressure is on #MUFC!" Gerrard believes #CFC should sit back and hit @ManUtd on the counter attack. #MUNCHE https://t.co/28HbuohLZ712/28/2015, 5:17:44 PM
The Red Devils have now gone eight games without clinching a victory, and it's plausible that streak will only continue until the squad rediscovers its willingness to take risks in pursuit of something greater.
It's a difficult position for Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. It's his job to motivate the squad and marshal his players into playing the attractive football of old, but results will surely be considered the priority over entertainment at present.
Unfortunately for him, the two are expected in equal measure at Old Trafford ever since predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson developed a habit of blending both during his 27 years at the club's helm.
Mikel, who was signed by sacked manager Mourinho in 2006 during his first spell at the Chelsea helm, added that Chelsea are happier under interim coach Hiddink, per the Guardian's Jamie Jackson:
We’ve moved on and the atmosphere has improved since the change of manager. It’s fine now, we’ve just not been getting results. Jose is a fantastic manager and will always be a fantastic guy. But sometimes football is a cruel game and you have to move on. He came back to the club a second time and won two trophies but now he’s gone and we have to move on. Is it the right decision? Who knows? We’ll only see in the future.
He [Hiddink] hasn’t changed much yet but he was here before and he knows the place and all the staff. The players are different – only me and John Terry were here before – but he knows what to do. We’re down there in the table for a reason so he can’t come in and perform miracles but we want to get out of there and climb the table. We’ve had three games now without losing so are making the right steps.
The west Londoners' unbeaten streak under the Dutchman suggests performances are improving at Stamford Bridge, and Monday's stalemate moved Chelsea up to 14th, three points clear of the relegation zone.
Hiddink's men undoubtedly left Old Trafford happier with their share of the spoils, but the goal-shy clash of Premier League powerhouses was largely disappointing, according to ESPN's Robert Bartlett:
Robert Bartlett @RobBartlettESPN
Says a lot about Manchester United/Chelsea this season when their clash, with all its added angles, is fifth in the #MOTD running order.12/28/2015, 11:24:20 PM
Anthony Martial was once again one of United's more promising players in attack, while captain Wayne Rooney returned to the starting XI and contributed an encouraging display.
However, Mikel is within his rights to suggest the opposition's attack was slower compared to Chelsea's, and Van Gaal has in the past admitted his team "need speed and creativity on the wings," per the Daily Mail's Mike Keegan.
Mikel also voiced his belief that Rooney should have been shown a red card instead of yellow for his late tackle on Chelsea midfielder Oscar, a challenge for which the Englishman apologised afterward.
The pressure on United will only increase the longer they go without a win, and while results may not come until they start taking risks, the chances of that happening in their current form are slim.