Looking very much like a team managed by Jose Mourinho, Manchester United rolled out of Merseyside the happier of the two sides after a suffocating performance at Anfield stifled Liverpool’s much lauded pressing game and restricted their hosts to only two efforts on target.
It’s hard not to channel former United boss Louis van Gaal and point to the possession stats with the Reds enjoying a staggering 65% of the ball, but a rash of poor passing and even worse first-touches saw them roll into the break looking second best and though the introduction of Adam Lallana, who was fit enough for the bench, on the hour mark saw an uptick in their fortunes, two world class saves from ‘keeper David de Gea and a massive lasty ditch tackle from Antonio Valencia to deny Roberto Firmino as the Brazilian raced through on goal ensured this one would end in a stalemate.
And begrudging credit where it’s due — United got the point they came for playing exactly the way that’s worked so well for Mourinho in the past. When you come up against a side set up to frustrate, it’s not always to keep your cool — especially in a fixture like this — but by the time we settled down and started to turn the screw, it was too little and too late.
“We lost patience much too early, that was the first problem, and then our passing game was not good anymore,” conceded Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, speaking to the press following the final whistle. “We had 65 per cent possession, but you have to do better things with it when you have the ball. I didn’t expect we would have 10 or 15 chances before the game, but in the first half we could have had – with two better passes – two 100 per cent chances, which we didn’t,” explained the German manager, sounding disappointed. “Second half, we had them but De Gea was finally warm and made brilliant saves. They had their chance with Ibrahimovic, which he would usually [finish] I would say.”
Much like his counter-part in Daniel Sturridge, the big Swede offered very little besides his trademark smug looks with the afformentioned chance — a header from a Paul Pogba cross that he sent across goal rather than bulletting at Reds ‘keeper Loris Karius — his only real contribution of note. That, of course, wasn’t the plan, but had Philippe Coutinho’s long range pile driver not been expertly turned away from De Gea or if Chris Smalling didn’t have a hand full of Emre Can’s chest hair when the German midfielder finally dug out his shot after driving in to the United area, things could have been quite different.
Bad day at the office? Having kept their first clean-sheet of the season, I wouldn’t quite say that, but this is definitely a live and learn situation and one that we have to quickly move on from. With West Bromwich Albion looming at the weekend and what’s almost certain to be a similar test, there isn’t a whole lot of point on lingering on what could have been.