Tottenham dismantled a woeful Liverpool side on Sunday to join Manchester United on 20 points. The north Londoners now trail United on goal difference alone while both are five points off leaders Manchester City.
That result at Wembley further frustrated the watching Manchester United fans, but it was not because their team were outclassed the day before as newly-promoted Huddersfield showed why the Premier League is regarded as the best league of all by inflicting a first defeat of the season on United.
No, the United supporters were frustrated watching Harry Kane and co. destroy a poor Liverpool team the way a cautious Jose Mourinho refused to do last weekend when it was obvious they were there for the taking.
Mourinho parked his famous bus and in reality was the only happy man in the red of Manchester to leave Anfield with a point. That point may yet prove crucial but the two thrown away might also.
The United supporters were wondering why their team was set up to draw when Liverpool have one of the worst defences in the League. Reds fans were wondering why Jurgen Klopp refused to change his formation when it was clear Mourinho was happy with what he was facing. And finally, the neutrals were wondering why the game was over-hyped in a week-long build-up when in reality it was never going to be an epic battle that it once was.
Some with a similar mentality to Mourinho might suggest had Liverpool parked the bus at Wembley then perhaps Klopp would have left with a point at the very least. Klopp, however, suggests his side could never do that. Given the defence he had on show it was clear he was right, even if that’s not exactly what he meant.
Mauricio Pochettino gambled on exploiting Liverpool’s defensive vulnerabilities in the way Mourinho should have at Anfield. While the debate will rage on that playing away from home is different than in front of your own supporters, it is still the same opposition at the end of the day. United could have silenced the intimating crowd at Anfield by brushing them aside from the off.
Dejan Lovren was substituted early on at Wembley when it was clear he was rattled at facing Harry Kane. Romelu Lukaku went missing at Anfield. He could have caused Lovren the same trouble had he been allowed.
Mourinho’s record against the top sides will cost Manchester United in the long run. While losing to Huddersfield is not, and should not, be accepted, dropping points against the teams around you will ensure you finish behind them as last season showed.
Parking the bus is nothing new to Mourinho, he has done it many times in the past and will continue to do so. It has been done long before Mourinho arrived in England. Sir Alex Ferguson did it many times at Anfield, Liverpool too when they faced the top sides.
The problem with the tactics employed by the ex-Chelsea boss were that he didn’t seem to consider any other alternative when it was clear the shaky Liverpool defence would not relish the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial running at them. The Reds’ defenders would have been overjoyed seeing them both playing as full-backs.
Pochettino will take his side to Old Trafford on Saturday and will be more than happy to leave with a point. However, he will only do so having thrown everything at Manchester United first.
Kane will not go missing as Lukaku did at Anfield. He will be right up against Phil Jones and Eric Bailly, should they be fit, as he was with Lovren. Tottenham’s attacking powers will not spend the majority of the game defending.
The performances since United’s point at Anfield have been less than inspiring. They got a lucky break in the Champions League when young Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar carried the ball into his own net. That was followed by Saturday’s showing at Huddersfield where the lack of passion and poor attitude was raised by Mourinho and confirmed by Ander Herrera.
The Portuguese has destroyed the momentum, which was starting to generate talk that Manchester United were back. His team were obviously deflated from last week’s events as were the watching public.
Sure, they were missing Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini, however they had more than enough to defeat David Wagner’s side.
Saturday’s game at home to Tottenham must now show that last weekend was a blip and Mourinho must finally end his horrendous record against the bigger sides or risk being left behind by both Manchester City and Tottenham, just like Liverpool have been.
City have already amassed six points out of six in the head-to-heads with Liverpool and Chelsea this season.
United have one point from three and need maximum points this weekend to stay in the race. They face Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City before the busy festive period.
What worked for Mourinho in the past may not be the best way forward anymore. Pochettino gave the ex-Porto man some food for thought on Sunday.
This Saturday lunchtime will go a long way in deciding if the 54-year-old is the Special One anymore and if the Argentinean is now the one to fear.
Mourinho needs to trust his players the way Pochettino trusts his.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena