Liverpool settled for a goal-less draw against bitter rivals Manchester United in a Monday night Premier League match at Anfield.The match failed to produce the explosiveness that usually attended the games between the two England’s football giants.
Liverpool were forced by injuries to introduce two new players to their starting eleven.Emre Can came in for the injured Georgino Wijnaldum and Daniel Sturridge came into the team to lead the attack – his inclusion compelled Klopp to move Firmino to the left flank while Coutinho was moved to the central mid-field position usually occupied by the injured Adam Lallana. The team still played its customary 4.3.3 formation.
Mourinho, having a defensive game plan in mind, altered his usual formation and brought in few new faces to his usual starting eleven. Ashley Young and Mauroane Fellaini were included in the starting lineup.
In the early exchanges, Manchester United prevented Liverpool’s players from making attacking runs into their half of the pitch by having many bodies in the mid-field. Liverpool’s inter-linking passes were stifled by United’s players who were throwing tackles, some of which resulted in yellow cards being awarded against them.
The only attacking threat that came United’s way was through Marcus Rashford’s cross from the right flank that was pushed out the goal mouth by Karius.
Liverpool’s mid-fielders’ inability to make penetrative passes through United’s defensive formation prevented them from feeding passes to Daniel Sturridge who was isolated upfront throughout his stay in the pitch. The team, however, found their rhythm in the last ten minutes of the first half.
The second half resumed with Liverpool showing more incisiveness in their attacking play. They completely dominated possession and were evidently more inventive.
United had a chance to shoot into the lead in the fifty fourth minute of the game from a Pogba’s pass that found Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the penalty box, but the Swede chose to head the ball backward, perhaps with the intention of finding an onrushing team mate to shoot the ball into the net – his header, however, flew wide off the goal post.
Liverpool’s defenders played with composure and understanding amongst themselves. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren comfortably handled the attacking threat of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Loris Karius, though not tested too many times in the match, still exhibited some nervousness during the match. His faulty pass to his team mates fell on the path of Ibrahimovic who’s shot at goal was adjudged as off side by the referee.
The introduction of Lallana to replaced Sturridge brought more bite to Liverpool’s attack in the final third.
As Liverpool’s game gained momentum in the second half, many chances came their way.
Emre Can on receiving a pass from Matip inside United’ penalty box, tried to create a space to shoot at goal, but the stiff challenge from Chris Smallings was so much that he could only manage a low drive which De Gea succeded in pushing out of danger.
A timely tackle from Antonio Valencia stopped Roberto Firmino from shooting at United’s goal post after he had freed himself from the left flank and had only De Gea to beat.
Phillipe Coutinho’s trademark curler from outside the penalty box was spectacularly punched out of the goal post by David De Gea.
Mention must be made of the contribution of Manchester United record signing, Paul Pogba. His performance was so pedestrian that it begged the recurrent question whether he is worth the huge amount paid for his purchase.
At the end of the match, Mourinho had succeded in containing the attacking threat of Liverpool, but what defeats the imagination is why he chose to employ a defensive style with plethora of star at his disposal. Mourinho’s defensive tactics show that he has mortal fear for the attacking play of Liverpool. And dropping his more creative players for defensive-minded ones is an open concession that Liverpool’s players are technically superior to his own players.