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Opinion: Dejan Lovren’s Mistakes Continue To Cost Liverpool

“They need the points, definitely, for them, it will be maybe a good point but for us, we never play for a point.”

The words of Dejan Lovren in the build-up to Saturday’s game between Manchester United and Liverpool, with fans’ painful memories of Red Monday still stuck in their craws, desperately hoping for a gift from the footballing gods to deliver a game worthy of the spectacle.

Thankfully, the Croat offered himself up for sacrifice, seeming to go on a one-man mission to ensure that his Reds side, indeed, did not play to earn a point – they played to lose all three.

Earlier this campaign against Tottenham Hotspur at home, United angled their goal kicks to the right-hand side of the Spurs defence in order to get the best possible leap off Romelu Lukaku jumping off of his stronger left side. On one, he rose high leaving Toby Alderweireld in his wake, flicking on to an anticipating Anthony Martial who rolled in the decisive goal.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

United succeeded with this move as Lukaku, dropping deep with Lovren following, dominated the passive Liverpool number 6 and headed through to Marcus Rashford, whose silky Ronaldo chop completely caught out Trent Alexander-Arnold before powerfully firing beyond Loris Karius.

Rashford has a knack of showing up for times like these, and the composure he showed here was sublime – but it was a chance handed to him on a silver platter by the dual mistakes of Alexander-Arnold being too wide and Lovren’s laxness in both abandoning position and challenging Lukaku.

Still, the game was in its infancy, only 14 minutes old, Liverpool held the majority of possession up to that point and could still conceivably win easily.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Jurgen Klopp was now presented with two options – switch his defensive positioning and task Virgil van Dijk with going man-to-man in every aerial duel – of which there were many – with Lukaku, or instruct Lovren to stand off.

Instead, Klopp chose to open the mystery box, the under-fire centre-back continued in vain to best the Belgian, and ten minutes later Liverpool were caught out again by the same De Gea-Lukaku link.

Second time of asking, Lovren was straight-up flat-track bullied, powerlessly bouncing off the broad shoulders of the United number nine, whose body positioning and dribbling cut off the rushing Emre Can, sending Juan Mata through and creating the chaos that led to the second goal.

If Lukaku meant to block the path of Can’s run, it’s one of the most effective pieces of screening of the entire season. If he didn’t, he was the luckiest man in Old Trafford.

Either way, Can lost track of Mata, pulling up before half-heartedly attempting a challenge from behind on Lukaku, who’d already spotted the Spaniard and sent in the key pass.

The ball rebounded back to Rashford as Lovren desperately tried to make up space from behind, but a Shearer-esque arrow to the far corner did the job, with a little help from a deflection, and United were two goals up.

To Liverpool’s credit, they were good value for a goal in the second half and it did come off the slicing left foot of Eric Bailly, but United coped well with soaking up the pressure, as they are wont to do.

Alexis Sanchez endured a frustrating attacking game once more, but his defensive efforts in front of the screening two of Nemanja Matic and the ever-improving Scott McTominay were quietly sublime.

Constantly harrying Can in possession, Liverpool’s deepest midfielder had little chance to play the same kind of raking passes his counterpart, Matic, was able to pick. Mourinho’s warm embrace for the Chilean as he was sacrificed in a time-wasting exercise in the sixth minute of added time told the story – he may not have done a crowd-pleasing job, but it was a job well done.

A word of commendation, also, to Ashley Young, who kept Mohamed Salah quiet the entire game.

The 32-year-old was supreme in his marshaling of the player of the year candidate, and while he did venture quite close to the line at points (read: he should have conceded a penalty) what player won’t against an attacking talent as fine as Salah.

The Egyptian sensation was restricted all game, and the frustration told as he sent the final chance flying way over the bar from a Liverpool corner. Totally unmarked, albeit with many bodies in his way, the usual composed Salah would not have shanked it so angrily.

The back line also seemed rejuvenated by the return of Bailly, whose own goal shouldn’t cloud a composed and dominating performance from the Ivorian on his return to the starting line-up. His late-game challenge to deny Sadio Mané a free go at De Gea was fantastic, and he used his pace and game-reading well to negate all of Liverpool’s combination play between Mane, Firmino, James Milner, and Andrew Robertson up United’s right.

Ultimately, Red Monday was sarcastically hailed as a “tactical masterclass” by Mourinho after the fact, but Saturday was an astute performance from both manager and team – it was a fixture worthy of the spectacle of Manchester United vs Liverpool, and United’s man for the occasion, fittingly a local lad, rose once more to decide it all.

But it was helped more than a little by the desire to not play for a draw on the opposite side.

Alex Dunne, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.

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