So after all of that, it was a draw. All of the hype, all of the discussion and all of the pre-match predictions of a potential goal fest it ended up 0-0 at Anfield on Monday Night. An impressive first 25 minutes of pressing and suffocation couldn’t get Manchester United the three points the club and their fans so badly wanted.
Both sets of fans left the stadium disappointed, as neither team had the impetus to throttle the game and make it their own. Manchester United had the best of the play in the first half, but they steadily ran out of puff as they struggled to maintain the incredible intensity that they came out with.
Liverpool grew into the game in the second half, but David De Gea’s brilliance kept them at bay. Both clubs strikers Daniel Sturridge and Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not enjoy their evenings up front, often isolated and quiet overall. The Swede had a golden chance to make his presence felt, but was unable to hit the target and frankly was lucky not to be substituted.
It summed up a frustrating evening at Anfield for the traveling Red Devils.
Drab Draw? No Actually, It Wasn’t
Football fans have this misled assumption that goals determine the entertainment value of a game. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason that the media portrays manager battles ahead of the teams sometimes is because the Premier League and football itself is increasingly gifted in the amount of tacticians it possesses. City has Pep, Arsenal has Wenger, Spurs have Pochettino, Everton have Koeman and it goes right through the whole league nowadays.
Tactics are a growing part of the game. Through this, the tactical battle becomes an increasing focus. The common misconception about low scoring games means that one team has “parked the bus”, but for Monday Night’s clash this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Manchester United came out not sitting behind the ball, but pressing their opponents relentlessly. Teams parking the bus let opponents play, not hassle them to the point where they couldn’t string a pass together just like Liverpool couldn’t at one stage. United’s game plan was to press, then once they tired if they didn’t score they aimed to win the ball back and burst forward.
The problem was, the players winning the ball in central defence and central midfield weren’t able to make that line breaking first pass. The end result was the isolation of the attackers, including Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Ibrahimovic, all of whom suffered frustrating disjointed days as a result.
So don’t believe what social media and the media itself tells you, sometimes you just need to watch a bit closer.
Stars Don’t Shine Brightly
It was a tough day at the office for many of United’s players, unable to make a huge effect on the game. It seems the presence of Marouane Fellaini (even when he plays well) nullifies the influence of Paul Pogba. The Frenchman thrives with ball movers either through passing or dynamism. Fellaini is a useful ball winner and quick disposer (with a short, wide pass for example), but that doesn’t really suit the skills of United’s number six.
Pogba thrives when receiving the ball ahead of the play, rather than behind it. Whilst a brilliant dribbler, it often means he’s left with far too many men to beat. The end result? He often can’t and is labelled to be “trying too hard”. And it was one of those days.
Cagey affairs don’t seem to make the club’s stars shine too brightly. Rashford was extremely isolated on the right, and Liverpool made sure they always had a defender to his left and in front of him when he was dribbling the ball, with a centre half coming in behind. Teams fear the 18 year old. Ibrahimovic also struggled, and his place in the side is being questioned by some after some struggles. The attack is better with him in it, but he needs to find the net. Sunday at the Bridge perhaps?
Herrera’s Impressive Rise Continues
Ander Herrera bossed the midfield on Monday Night at Anfield, and was the best player on the pitch:
- 100 percent dribble success (5 of 5 completed)
- 11 interceptions (eleven!)
- 7 successful tackles
He dominated in a display that will have sent a message to the footballing public and his manager that he is here to stay. He continues to impress in a deep lying midfield role. His passing wasn’t as line breaking as it has been in other fixtures, but apart from that he was faultless.
His passion endears him to the fans, and his post match comments combined with his performance potentially make him look like a future leader of the club.
“This is the way we have to play big matches. We were better in the first half, but they were better in the second half. David made two fantastic saves but Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] as well has a big chance.
For us I think it’s a fair point. Both teams didn’t deserve to lose. We can take a lot of things from this game, but now we have to win matches. We want to be champions. We are Man United and we have win matches.”
More and more it is baffling how on earth Louis Van Gaal could freeze him out and not give Herrera a chance in his two disastrous years at the club. Now that he’s gotten his Spanish call up, the sky is the limit for the brilliant Basque.
Mourinho Gets It Mostly Right
Jose Mourinho knew he’d be criticised. He knew his reputation of days gone by would return. And when the game ended in a 0-0, social media took no time in lambasting Mourinho for causing such a negative result. The Portuguese is no fool though, and he has got his tactics wrong already this season (against Manchester City). He wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
Liverpool’s free flowing and viciously fast attack has already thoroughly beaten Chelsea and Arsenal away from home, and thrashed Leicester at Anfield. They should have beaten Tottenham as well. Mourinho set up his men in the best way to counter those with the personnel at his disposal, damn or be damned.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was as good as anyone has played Jurgen Klopp’s men this season. Some may criticise, but they should be doing the opposite. If Ibrahimovic slots Paul Pogba’s wonderful cross to make it 1-0, the narrative changes vastly different to how it will now play out this week.
All Is Not Lost
The 0-0 draw at Anfield is not an ideal result, particularly in the aftermath of the home draw with Stoke City. But as an isolated game, an away draw to Liverpool is not the end of the world. With Fenerbahce, Chelsea and Manchester City next in coming fixtures, United will be desperate to take positives from this and inflict them on their upcoming games.
They face a tough run ahead, but United are piecing it together slowly. Patience is one of football’s toughest asks, it might pay off though if fans are willing to see it out a little longer.