Although many may argue that billion dollar investments and ridiculously profitable TV deals have increased the Premier League’s competitiveness to nullify historical superiority, there’s no doubt that on Monday night, two of England’s most successful clubs added a new chapter to their ongoing rivalry, at one of world football’s greatest arenas.
In the end, Manchester United held Liverpool to a goalless draw, but there were plenty of takeaways from the stalemate at Anfield.
Battle of philosophies
By including Marouane Fellaini in place of Juan Mata, and Ashley Young in place of Jesse Lingard/Anthony Martial, Jose Mourinho’s team selection indicated that the United manager sought to out-muscle Liverpool on the pitch, relying on set pieces and long balls to gain the upper-hand. Liverpool, on the other hand made just two changes, with Emre Can and Daniel Sturridge replacing the injured Georginio Wijnaldum and recently recovered Adam Lallana. It seemed to be more out of necessity, than tactical adaptability. However, Mourinho had an ace up his sleeve – he countered cynical opinions about his approach by giving Liverpool a taste of their own medicine.
In the first half, Manchester United counter-pressed as a unit, using their physical superiority to disrupt play, and retain possession by winning second balls. When in possession, United employed quick one-touch passing to move the ball, drawing fouls from Liverpool players trying to use their trademark ‘Gegenpressing’ tactic. Liverpool seized control after the introduction of Lallana in the second half, launching multiple attacks at the United back four. Ultimately, neither side were able to seize the advantage while they had it.
It was a match between two differing tactical philosophies; one which always sticks to its guns, and the other which adapts to the opponent’s style of play. On the night, Klopp’s ‘heavy metal’ football was resisted by Mourinho’s troops, who came equipped with earplugs. Although pundits may say that Mourinho played for the draw, the early attacking intent, and his general touchline demeanour demonstrated that he expected more, only settling for the point towards the end.
Stable De Gea, shaky Karius
The match was David De Gea’s best outing for Manchester United this season so far. The Spaniard’s immaculate ball distribution ensured the Red Devils maintained possession from goal-kicks, and he swept up comfortably from opposition set pieces. He effortlessly made two world class saves from Can’s low drive and Coutinho’s thunderous long range effort, sparing United what would have been an undeserved loss. New Liverpool signing Loris Karius had a starkly different game, however. He made two glaring errors, once from a looping cross which he misjudged and failed to clear, and later he tamely gave the ball away to Paul Pogba just outside the box. Fortunately for him, United wasted both opportunities and the tie remained goalless. However, it did raise fresh questions whether Liverpool’s goalkeeping crisis has truly been addressed.
Killer instinct lacking
Both sets of attacking players massively under performed. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was unusually wasteful, committing unnecessary fouls by using excessive force in one on one duels, and missing two golden opportunities to score from Pogba’s passes. He looked visibly frustrated by the end of the match, resorting to cheap fouls and eventually getting booked. United and Liverpool’s obvious weakness was their use of unconventional left-backs in Daley Blind and James Milner respectively, who both lack pace. However, neither Marcus Rashford nor Sadio Mane were able to use their characteristic burst of pace to exploit this weakness. This lack of a killer instinct, coupled with well-timed tackles and good positional awareness by both sets of defenders, particularly Matip and Bailly, saw the defences triumph over mediocre attacking displays.
Herrera and Can the unsung heroes
Ander Herrera and Emre Can delivered solid performances in the middle of the park. Can was replacing the injured Wijnaldum, and staked his claim to be a permanent member of the starting XI with a remarkable performance which saw him win five aerial duels, with passing accuracy of 84 percent which included one key pass. A defence-splitting pass from Joel Matip, which Can controlled well in the box, presented him with an opportunity to score, but resolute shot-stopping from De Gea denied him a goal.
Herrera played the part of a box to box midfielder perfectly. He won five tackles, completed five take-ons and made 11 interceptions, the most by any United player on the night. He seemed to cover every blade of grass, acting as the link between defence and attack, providing Paul Pogba with the freedom to stay up the pitch. In the first half he used his excellent first touch to win set pieces by drawing several fouls using his signature half-turn, and in the second half he regularly tracked back to make important interceptions and clearances. Herrera is known to be a passionate and expressive player, and he channeled his emotions through his man of the match winning performance on Anfield’s hallowed turf. If he continues performing at this level, he will certainly retain his place in the Spanish national squad.
Ref gets it right
Despite much controversy surrounding his native proximity to Old Trafford, referee Anthony Taylor had a great game. He kept his cards in his pockets, keeping the game flowing despite regular minor infractions from both teams. He stood his ground on tough decisions, and was not fooled by either team’s attempts to persuade him to dish out cards. Ashley Young learnt this the hard way, when he received a yellow card for dissent by complaining about the lack of a yellow card for Henderson’s foul on Herrera late in the first half. His assistants also had a made some astute decisions, getting their offside calls right, and judging fouls near the touchline accurately.
Source: First Post