The perfect execution of a Mourinho plan, or two points dropped for Manchester United?
Many expected Liverpool to dominate proceedings prior to what had been dubbed as the fiercest rivalry in the Premier League so far this season, but a goalless draw at Anfield led to an ere of frustration amongst both sets of fans watching on.
Jose Mourinho followed a number of pundits’ expectations in tactically fielding a physically dominant side; with the statures of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marouane Fellaini tipped to create danger from set-pieces.
Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford were deployed as wingers in a 4-2-3-1 system, meaning there was no doubt that Manchester United would look to match a fast-transitioning Liverpool side on the counter attack.
However, the early stages of the highly anticipated fixture provided supporters a glimpse of the tone that was to be set throughout. As Jose Mourinho has proved before in an away fixture at Anfield, silencing the crowd would be crucial.
Whether being David De Gea delaying his distribution, or a Reds’ full-back looking to spare a second or two on the touchline before conducting a throw in, it became evident that the plan from the Mancunians was to fragment play as much as possible early on.
Ander Herrera would also play a key role in the defensive system of the away side, using his quick acceleration to conjure interceptions across the midfield throughout the first period of the game – rewarding the Spaniard with the eventual Man of the Match award.
Yet for many Manchester United fans, the performance at Anfield lacked the attacking desire that supporters have been used to in previous seasons, exploiting Liverpool to just one corner in ninety minutes.
And similarly with only one goal scoring opportunity coming for the Reds, in an arguably game-winning Zlatan Ibrahimovic header, Klopp’s centre-back pairing performed well to nullify the Swedish striker.
A hyped-up Liverpool side developed to offer a slightly more prominent attacking threat as the game grew on, with David De Gea forced to make two exceptional saves to deny Emre Can and more importantly Phillipe Coutinho from converting another superb outside-of-the-box strike.
However, Liverpool’s German tactician described his team’s performance as extremely hectic, putting significant blame on their lack of calmness in ball possession during large periods of the game – leading to displaced attacking distribution.
The home side looked to miss the influence of both Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana as starters in their midfield trio, although Lallana was soon to inject Liverpool’s high pressing transitional ideology after coming off the substitutes bench.
But the tactical adjustments from the former Borussia Dortmund coach failed to over through Jose Mourinho’s oppressing defensive system, with Manchester United often defending with all eleven players behind the ball – leading to Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford acting as wing-backs.
Ander Herrera continued to occupy a central defensive role, overseeing the movement of Anfield’s creatives in Roberto Firmino and Phillipe Coutinho, although the Brazilian partnership did look to escape United’s grasp before the experienced Antonio Valencia made a crucial sliding tackle in front of the Kop end.
In the end the fixture played out as an anti-climaxing stalemate, with both sides coming away potentially striving for more than just one point to boost their league positions. For Manchester United though, in hindsight they performed their game plan efficiently.
With two hugely significant fixtures, in a must-win home tie against Fenerbache on Thursday and an awaited return to Stamford Bridge for the Special One on Sunday – in hindsight many Manchester United associates would value a hard-earned point away to their biggest Premier League rivals.
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