Liverpool and Manchester United played out a scoreless draw on Monday in a match that could generously be described as dull.
The away side’s disruption tactics ensured that the Liverpool could never find their rhythm, and but for a couple of fine saves from David De Gea and a chance for Zlatan Ibrahomovic, there was little of note to report on.
However, the game was not without its talking points…
Playing for a 0-0 draw isn’t a “tactical masterclass”
In the absence of anything even approaching entertainment, Sky Sports desperately tried to paint this as some sort of chess-like tactical brilliance from José Mourinho in the Man United dugout.
No, tactical brilliance would have resulted in a win – getting a 0-0 draw isn’t that hard when that is the height of the away side’s ambition. Of course, far be it from anyone to suggest that one of the best managers in the game, with the world’s most expensive player in the most expensive squad ever assembled, might show a bit more ambition than to go to Liverpool with the aim of stopping them and nothing else.
There were options to be had other than a dull 0-0 and a Liverpool win, but Mourinho didn’t bother exploring any of them. This gameplan and mentality with that team selection would have seen calls for Louis Van Gaal’s head. Mourinho got what he wanted of course, but any fan that claims to be happy with that performance is either lying to themselves or has been so beaten down by the last three years that they can’t remember what a good display looks like.
That this was Liverpool’s first Premier League clean sheet of the season was telling, as their defence was there for the taking.
Playing for a 0-0 draw and having 35% possession isn’t a tactical masterclass, it’s something Tony Pulis would do.
35% – Man Utd recorded just 35% possession against Liverpool; their lowest figure in a PL game in Opta’s records (2003-present). Passive.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 17, 2016
Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum have become vital to this Liverpool team
Liverpool may not have a “biggest star” per se the way that Luis Suárez or Steven Gerrard were, but that does not mean they don’t feel certain absences. In many ways each one of the regular starting eleven has become vital, and on Monday they were without two thirds of their hitherto highly impressive midfield for much of the game.
Wijnaldum’s composure and movement has gone relatively under the radar until now, while without Lallana the rest of the side appeared to be missing the link between midfield and attack. His introduction in the second half restored some balance to the team, and the home side looked much more threatening from there on.
Emre Can has some work to do to force his way back in there.
Daniel Sturridge is in serious trouble, while the Zlatan honeymoon is over
While Lallana changed the shape and nature of Liverpool’s midfield and attack for the last half hour, the sixty minutes before that should worry Daniel Sturridge (and Jurgen Klopp) greatly. The England international is a phenomenal goalscorer on his day, but the doubts over whether he fits into the starting eleven are growing.
Roberto Firmino looked far better in the role, and Divock Origi and Danny Ings will be breathing down Sturridge’s neck soon enough.
A brilliant striker he may be, but that won’t be enough to save him – Lallana, James Milner and Jordan Henderson have all adapted and improved under Klopp and Sturridge has to follow suit or risk being moved on.
On the other end of the pitch, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has now scored just once in his last seven games (and that was against Zorya). Where he exploded onto the scene with some early brilliant goals, he has faded in recent weeks. It might be time, temporarily or otherwise, to consider giving Marcus Rashford the chance to be Man United’s central striker.
Ander Herrera is Man United’s best midfielder
It seemed almost cruel for Adidas to run an ad at half time which showcased Paul Pogba’s range of skills, only to cut back to the another indifferent performance from the French international (that cross for Zlatan aside).
As Pogba continued to make a mockery of his £89m fee, Ander Herrera behind him was highlighting exactly why Mourinho should have been playing him from the very beginning this season. The 27-year-old was the best player on the pitch at Anfield, tackling and intercepting and generally ensuring that Liverpool couldn’t build anything substantial.
Ander Herrera’s match stats vs Liverpool:
5/5 take-ons completed
— Devils Latest (@Devils_Latest) October 17, 2016
For all the bluster and Stormzy surrounding Pogba, Herrera is more important to this Man United team right now.
Loris Karius should look to David de Gea for inspiration
Karius was chosen ahead of Simon Mignolet once again, and while the 23-year-old kept Liverpool’s first clean sheet in the league this season, he looked nervous throughout. Klopp patently trusts the summer signing to come good at Anfield, and obviously, that will take time, but he may have a few more knocks to his confidence in the meantime.
In the opposite goal, De Gea pulled off two excellent saves to deny the home side the win in another excellent performance, but things haven’t always been so rosy for the Spanish international. He endured a tough first season at Old Trafford and found himself replaced in the starting eleven by Anders Lindergaard at one stage, but he persevered and grew into one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Not to suggest that Karius will be as good as that, but it should be a lesson to the young German that hard work pays off – and a lesson to the Liverpool fans to be patient.
Read More About: adam lallana, ander herrera, Daniel Sturridge, david de gea, Georginio Wijnaldum, jose mourinho, jurgen klopp, Liverpool, loris karius, Man United, marouane fellaini, Paul Pogba, Premier League, Roberto Firmino, zlatan ibrahimovic