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Jose Mourinho’s pragmatism results in a missed opportunity for Manchester United at Anfield

Martyn Cooke

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On Saturday, for the second consecutive season, Jose Mourinho arrived at Anfield and firmly parked the Manchester United team bus across the face of David de Gea’s goal.

For those watching the contest on television and, even more so, those that journeyed to Liverpool for the early kick off, this was a game that had to be endured rather than enjoyed. It was a poor spectacle with little attacking ambition shown by either team with only two definitive clear-cut chances throughout the entire ninety minutes.

For both sets of supporters this game will not live long in the memory.

Mourinho admitted that, from his perspective, coming away from Anfield with a point was “ok” and explained his side’s pragmatic approach by highlighting injuries to key personnel, especially in central midfield, which limited his tactical flexibility.

Whilst there is undoubtedly truth in his statements, there were only two first team central midfielders available for selection with Paul Pogba still absent through injury, United’s approach to the game has still left many scratching their heads.

This was undoubtedly a missed opportunity for United.

Mourinho and his team arrived at Anfield as joint leaders at the summit of the Premier League table, full of confidence and in fine form having won nine out of their last ten fixtures in all competitions. They had made a dominant start to the season, having scored three or more goals in seven of those contests, and certainly went into the game against Liverpool as favourites.

In contrast, Jurgen Klopp’s side had won just one of their previous seven fixtures across all competitions since the start of September and had failed to keep a clean sheet during that period. At their free-flowing best Liverpool are undoubtedly a joy to watch, yet recent weeks have demonstrated that they have a soft defensive underbelly.

So, while a point at Anfield may look good on paper for Mourinho, in reality Saturday’s fixture was the perfect opportunity to play on the front foot and expose Liverpool’s defensive frailties. A more positive approach would surely have resulted in a greater chance of victory.

It would have been highly unlikely that Liverpool’s back-four would have been able to contain the attacking threat and creativity provided by Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, had Mourinho opted to unshackle them.

United supporters will undoubtedly suggest that if Lukaku had converted his one, and only, goal scoring opportunity late in the second half, as he probably should have done, that Mourinho’s approach would have been justified.

However, the imposing Belgian forward failed to convert his strike and had it not been for de Gea’s outstretched leg which turned away Joel Matip’s header in the opening period then United would have come away from Anfield empty handed and the pragmatic approach would have come back to haunt them.

Whilst Mourinho will certainly receive much of the criticism from the media for the contest turning into a dour affair it is also worth noting that Liverpool should accept a portion of the blame.

Klopp deployed a trio of solid, defensive-minded central midfielders throughout the contest, refusing to introduce any attacking flair into that area, and the lack of creativity in that middle third of the pitch certainly limited the amount of ammunition provided to the forwards. As the home team the onus should have been on Liverpool to take a more positive approach themselves.

Both managers will have come away from Anfield relatively content with a point, and yet, for Mourinho and United this was a missed opportunity. Victory against Liverpool would have been a definitive statement of intent aimed towards their title rivals – you doubt that Manchester City will utilise the same pragmatic approach when roll into town later in the season – but instead this contest turned into a damp squib.

Mourinho is correct, a point at Anfield is ok, but for United this was a missed opportunity to play on the front foot and claim all three.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Liverpool

Liverpool should use Alberto Moreno in Jamaal Lascelles pursuit

The Spaniard is struggling for first-team football at Liverpool.

Mathew Coull

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Liverpool have had an excellent season, making it to the Champions League final and finishing in the Premier League top four. But the building for next season is also set to get underway soon and Liverpool still want to further improve their backline. A new centre-back is set to be targeted and The Independent believe that Jamaal Lascelles could be the man Liverpool turn to, with James Tarkowski of Burnley also mentioned.

Lascelles would obviously be a top option. The Newcastle captain has been an inspiration for the club this campaign and many were surprised he did not make it into Gareth Southgate’s plans for the World Cup.

(during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St. James Park on April 15, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

But he will not come cheap and after Liverpool spent big on Virgil Van Dijk in January the Tyneside club will be pushing the price up.

However, could Liverpool have a secret weapon in the form of Alberto Moreno?

Back in 2015 Rafa Benitez very nearly signed Moreno. The deal with Liverpool was done but, with Alvaro Arbeloa sticking around, Benitez decided Moreno was no longer needed and the deal was pulled off the table.

That was whilst manager at Real Madrid. Moreno would be an excellent option to further improve Newcastle and provide some competition to Paul Dummett in the left-back position.

(during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Liverpool and FC Porto at Anfield on March 6, 2018 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Liverpool paid Sevilla around £12 million, as reported by The Telegraph, to sign Moreno back in 2014 but he has struggled for consistency since his arrival at Anfield. This season he has been replaced by Andrew Robertson, after spending most of last season behind James Milner in the pecking order.

Throwing Moreno into any deal would have to see Newcastle decrease the fee they might ask for to let their captain go this summer. Newcastle would be getting their hands on a 25-year-old Spanish international and a handsome sum of money, whilst Liverpool would get their defensive target.

It would be a fine piece of business for both clubs.

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Liverpool

Virgil van Dijk proving to be worth his price-tag, but must keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet

Liverpool’s January recruit has been in fine form since his arrival at the club.

Mathew Coull

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Liverpool take on Real Madrid this weekend in the Champions League final in a highly anticipated game in Kiev. The fixture will see Jurgen Klopp’s side hope to capture an impressive title after an enthralling run to the final in which they have played some expansive attacking football.

But to beat Real Madrid they will also have to keep Los Merengues at bay. With one of the greatest to ever play the game in Cristiano Ronaldo among their attacking options, that is no easy feat.

For Liverpool, the key man could, therefore, be the one who has proven to be a massive improvement for the side since his January arrival.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The Reds paid Southampton a whopping fee of £75 million, as reported by the BBC. It was a price-tag called into question by many pundits and fans alike. However, the Dutchman has been in fine form since his arrival and added a genuine aura to the Liverpool back-line.

His aerial presence, speed and intelligence have all been demonstrated on a number of occasions as Liverpool’s defensive fragilities have been transformed since his arrival.

The impact he has had on Dejan Lovren cannot be understated. The Croatian looks to be back to something near his best since pairing with Van Dijk. His cool style on the ball and brilliant reading of the game has allowed Lovren to relax into his role and the pair make a good partnership.

(Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Against Ronaldo, all of Van Dijk’s best attributes will be tested.

The Portuguese attacker is still lightning quick, a monster in the air and his footballing brain is often unrivalled.

If Liverpool are to keep him quiet, it will rest largely on the shoulders of their £75 million winter investment.

It is these challenges that forced Van Dijk into pushing for his Southampton departure and he must ensure he is up to it this Saturday.

If he can keep Ronaldo quiet and Liverpool win the Champions League, then that £75 million fee will no longer seem so astronomical.

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Liverpool

Liverpool target Besiktas’ Anderson Talisca would add superb attacking depth

The Brazilian has recorded 28 goal contributions in Turkey this season.

Max Cohen

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Anderson Talisca
Photo: Getty Images

After Besiktas’ 5-1 home win over Sivasspor on Saturday, manager Senol Gunes strongly hinted that star attacker Anderson Talisca would be joining Liverpool this summer.

The possible signing of the Brazilian midfielder would be a superb acquisition for Liverpool, adding depth and quality to the club’s star-studded attack.

According to FourFourTwo, the Besiktas manager confirmed Talisca would be leaving the Turkish club for the Premier League after two years on loan from Benfica.

And Gunes dropped a massive hint that put Liverpool as the possible frontrunners in attaining his signature ahead of Manchester United.

“He might be rivals with Cenk Tosun,” Gunes replied when asked about Talisca’s English destination.

Of course, former Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun plays for Everton– leading many to jump to the conclusion that Talisca is headed to Anfield instead of Old Trafford.

(Photo by Ozan Kose/Getty Images)

The signing would represent a strong statement of intent from the Reds, as Talisca has enjoyed a stunning two seasons at Besiktas and is a burgeoning attacking talent.

In 47 appearances this season, the 24-year-old was involved in an impressive 28 goals, scoring 20 and assisting eight.

And the Brazilian’s past form shows this fantastic season is not a one-off. In 2016/17, Talisca bagged 17 goals and six assists, despite only featuring 33 times in all competitions.

While some might argue that the Turkish Super Lig has a poorer defensive standard than the Premier League, Talisca has proven his worth in European competition as well. In his time at Besiktas, he has notched five Champions League goals, as well as two goals and four assists in the Europa League.

The Brazilian youth international would add impressive offensive depth for Liverpool, as the Reds look to seriously challenge for the Premier League next season.

The purchase of the prolific attacking midfielder would be an ideal first step in assembling a squad that could bring Anfield its first league trophy in over two decades.

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