After the early rounds of the season had gifted Liverpool fans with high-octane, ‘heavy-metal’ matches against the likes of Burnley and Leicester, supporters of the Red Men were relishing their tie against the Red Devils, Manchester United.
Recent games had seen a stagnation in performance for Jurgen Klopp’s side, but a win against their fabled rivals who were also title-contenders, should have been incentive enough to spur the team on.
On the contrary, fans of both sides watched a stalemate pan out, with the wily tactician Mourinho putting all 10 of his men behind the ball. What fans should’ve watched was ‘attack, attack, attack’, yet Mourinho’s tactics ensured that there was very little on show.
The game began with Liverpool’s familiar pressing, pressurising the United defence into making some sloppy mistakes. Had it not been for some outstanding footwork from goalkeeper David De Gea, then Liverpool would’ve been 1-0 up early on, via the foot of Joel Matip.
The first half also saw Liverpool take the lions share of both possession and chances spurned- the Egyptian Salah, fresh from taking his team through to their first ever World Cup. found himself at the centre of the action and was by far Liverpool’s best player on the pitch. On the other hand, Lukaku seemed to have lost his Midas touch.
Despite having seared the hands of Mignolet, the Belgian had only 1 pass to his name, as well as lacking interaction in general play- an unfortunate side-effect of Mourinho’s ‘Park the bus’ ploy. He was lucky to still be on the pitch after a replay of a scuffle with Lovren showed his heel to flick the Croatian in the face.
Come half time, Liverpool had huffed and puffed but United were still standing.
The second half saw the United players invoking the type of techniques that Ferguson would have subbed a player for, in the form of some time-wasting. Despite several Liverpool players complaining to referee Martin Atkinson the likes of Ashley Young and co did not receive any cards for their antics.
With three quarters of the match being played, United brought on Lindelof, who slotted into their ‘back 10’ nullifying any potentiality for entertainment. In contrast, Klopp brought on Sturridge and Chamberlain who had immediate impacts and spurred Liverpool on in the dying moments of the game. Yet it was all a little too late.
Although United could be accused of intentionally killing off their talent, Liverpool’s inability to convert their chances also contributed to the final result. A few more wayward shots at goal and the referee had blown the whistle for the end of the game. A certain Portuguese had a smug smile on his face, a certain German didn’t.
Despite both teams being without their star players, Liverpool being without Mane and Lallana and United without Pogba, it’s clear that the lack of entertainment and the consequential draw was not merely fate.
Liverpool have conceded only one goal in four games at Anfield, but United not fully utilising their attacking prowess supports the ‘death’ of the rivalry in the past few years.
It’s fact now that teams who Mourinho knows could cause him damage are counteracted with a 10-man defence, not only ruling out the potential for an entertaining game, but also marring the history of the tie with his ‘defend, defend, defend’ tactics. The Portuguese was even unable to accept responsibility for the nature of the match, suggesting that different people have different ‘interpretations’ of what an ‘entertaining game’ should be like.
Yet for the majeority of both sets of fans, ‘thrilling’ wouldn’t be the word to describe the match. In that sense, a draw at the end seems a fitting result because Liverpool were unable to convert their chances, and United didn’t make any.