Act Twenty Four – Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United hold Liverpool to a goalless draw in Anfield snoozefest

Anfield

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho came to Anfield for a point. And a point is what he got. The Portuguese manager reverted back to his archetypal tactics on Monday night to smother the life out of Liverpool’s attacking players on show. It might have made for painful viewing for fans of both teams across the world, but Jose Mourinho’s men came away with a precious point from Liverpool’s fortress.

Surprising inclusions for both sides

In a surprising team selection, Mourinho started former Aston Villa winger Ashley Young on the left flank ahead of more creative players such as Juan Mata (bench) and Anthony Martial (injury). Teenage sensation Marcus Rashford started on the right flank while Paul Pogba started in the Number 10 role ahead of Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini completed the midfield for the Red Devils. At the back, Mourinho opted for the steely resilience of Daley Blind ahead of the attacking exuberance of Luke Shaw in the left back role.

What didn’t come as a surprise at all was the exclusion of club captain Wayne Rooney from the Manchester United starting lineup. Dropped by the England manager Gareth Southgate last week against Slovenia, Rooney continued to warm the bench for the 3rd Premier League match in a row as Mourinho continued to deploy Rashford in place of the former Evertonian.

For the Merseysiders, manager Jurgen Klopp made two changes in attack from Liverpool’s last league game against Swansea City. Midfielder Adam Lallana made way for Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can came in for the injured Georginio Wijnaldum in central midfield. The impressive Lallana had suffered a groin injury against Swansea while Wijnaldum picked up a hip injury while on international duty with the Netherlands. Loris Karius started ahead of Simon Mignolet in goal for the reds.

High tempo start from United

United made a surprisingly strong start to the match in front of a hostile Anfield crowd. Liverpool’s success this season has come in the form of early attacking forays inside the opposition half. However, United began the match by pressing Liverpool high up the pitch and disrupting their early attacking rhythm. Jose Mourinho’s teams normally line up in a defensive manner away from home. Hence, the nature of United’s relentless press early on in the match – a trait normally associated with Klopp’s Liverpool – surprised the players.

Liverpool’s cause wasn’t helped by the nature of the passing on display from its midfield players. They constantly lost the ball in the middle of the park and gave United the chance to hit them on the counter. Mourinho’s tactics also silenced the normally boisterous Anfield crowd. Once Liverpool’s early attacking threat was nullified, United retreated to a more defensive setup after about half and hour or so.

The first half ended with scores level at 0-0.

Liverpool’s improved second half showing goes in vain

Liverpool came out all guns blazing after the half time interval. The introduction of Adam Lallana in place of the anonymous Daniel Sturridge on the hour mark altered the dynamics of the contest. Liverpool’s passing became slicker and movement became silkier.

However, Manchester United’s rigid back four comprising of Blind, Valencia, Smalling and Bailly successfully nullified Liverpool’s attacking threat. They were ably supported by United’s central midfield pairing of Herrera and Fellaini with the former scooping up the Premier League Man of the Match award for his efforts after the contest.

It was, however, the brilliance of goalkeeper David De Gea that earned United a point from this contest. Midway through the second half, De Gea made a gravity-defying save to keep out Philippe Coutinho’s 25 yard rocket from nestling in the top corner. He also made a brilliant instinctive save from Emre Can’s scuffed effort from inside the box earlier in the half.

As impressive as they were at the back, United were absolutely woeful going forward. World record signing Paul Pogba was wasteful in possession and offered little attacking threat going forward. But perhaps the worst performer for United on the field was the Big Swede upfront – Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He missed a glorious chance to give United the lead early in the second half when Pogba delivered a delightful cross from the right. Ibrahimovic could, however, not direct his header towards goal and the chance went begging.

The introductions of Wayne Rooney and Divock Origi by both managers late on in the match had no bearing on the complexion of the game whatsoever as the match fizzled out of steam heading into the final minutes. The uninspiring stalemate at Anfield lifted Liverpool into 4th position, 2 points behind league leaders Manchester City. Manchester United slipped to 7th in the league table and 5 off the pace.

We hope for a more lively encounter when the two sides clash at Old Trafford later on in the season.

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