Liverpool Review and Champions League Preview
I’ve always thought of myself as something of an anomaly as far as modern-day United fans go. Although I’ve experienced more than my fair share of glory – witnessing unforgettable moments that most football fans could only dream of during those phenomenal, victorious years under Fergie – I have never allowed myself to become complacent in the teams ability, instead adopting an entirely pragmatic attitude, going into any United game. No subconscious sense of entitlement and never once taking victory for granted, regardless of who we’re up against.
Having said all of that…
After the few weeks of football we’ve just experience following the 0-0 draw at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium (yes, of course I Googled that) it’s safe to say that my levels of confidence are, for once, entirely aligned with the “Not Arrogant, Just Better” United mantra going into tomorrow’s must-win last 16 2nd leg game at home to Sevilla. And why not?
Let’s reminisce for a brief moment about the past 15 days of football. Would be rude not to.
First came the inspiring victory at home to the champions of England at the end of February, followed by injury-time Matic magic at Selhurst Park. However nothing could beat Saturday’s win against Liverpool – one of the most enjoyable victories over the old enemy that I can remember.
All the talk going into the weekend’s game was about the masterful Klopp and his swashbuckling side visiting dull, bus-parking United – a depressing departure from the days we used to win games 13-0 every week under Sir Alex, eh? – and teaching us a lesson in playing beautiful football. However it didn’t quite go to plan for Salah and co.
Mourinho’s tactics – centred around an airtight midfield duo of McTominay and Matic, and resilient (evergreen) full-back pairing of Valencia and Young – exposed a classy Liverpool as completely ineffective when the impact of their strengths are minimised. And instead of their fantastic forwards stealing the limelight, as many expected, it was actually the likes of Lovren, van Dijk and Can who grabbed the headlines for how poorly they dealt with the superb Lukaku, Sanchez and Rashford.
Liverpool’s superiority over the opposition in recent months has been largely due to their reliance on individual brilliance: quick and dangerous attackers who have the freedom to switch positions to cause absolute mayhem. However when the rapid, flowing attacking play was effectively dealt with they were completely out of ideas, and no amount of possession was able to change that (they had 68% possession by the way, in case your token Liverpool mate hadn’t gotten round to telling you yet).
So, to the dismay of football purists everywhere, it was in fact the current darlings of the Premier League that were given the footballing masterclass, with Mourinho teaching Klopp a simple yet effective lesson in “how to win football matches and alienate people”. Listening to Robbie Savage after the game, someone so often critical of United and the boss’ disciplined style, it seems that some people at least are starting to see that this approach works better than “winning nothing (except a few extra column inches) and playing pretty football”. Who would have thought.
Looking ahead to Sevilla then, while wearing my super confident bright red snap-back, if we’re able to nullify the threat posed by the likes of Salah and Chelsea’s Hazard in recent games, I see know chance for this unpredictable Sevilla side at Old Trafford this evening.
Looking back at the first leg, to their credit, they did everything to get the win they probably deserved…everything except score. And unfortunately for them I expect that they will be punished for not making any of their 25 shots count.
Also current form appears to be an issue for them at the minute. Where United have enjoyed three fantastic wins on the trot since the two teams met in the first leg Sevilla have lost two of their four games, including a 5-2 defeat at home to Atletico. The one away game played in that period was a win…however 1-0 against bottom-placed Malaga shouldn’t really give United too many concerns as we face a team that typically travels poorly (losing eight times in La Liga this season out of 14, with a goal difference of -12). Old Trafford on the other-hand has re-established itself as the fortress we all know it can be. With the second-best home record in the league (after ‘you know who’) and having conceded the fewest goals we go into Tuesday’s must-win game knowing we should prove too much for the team currently struggling to hold down their place in Spain’s top six.
Tonight won’t be a Champions League classic by any means. The football, as we’ve come to expect, won’t be pretty but we’ll certainly deal with their strengths in front of goal while capitalising on their apparent weaknesses at the back. Another unfashionable, pragmatic masterclass from Mourinho is virtually guaranteed. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mourinho’s United in 2018 might appear to be different to Fergie’s United, but the ethos is exactly the same: win at all costs. And if we piss a lot of people off along the way, all the better.