Mourinho wins tactical battle, calls out “defensive” Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL — Jose Mourinho went to Anfield to get at least a point. In true form, he got it.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

Despite most seeing it otherwise, Mourinho thought that Liverpool set themselves up for a draw on Monday night in the 0-0 draw, even though Jurgen Klopp‘s side had 65 percent of the possession and three very good chances in the second half.

[ MORE: Klopp reacts ]

Speaking to the media after the game, Mourinho wasn’t in a mood to mince his words when referring to United’s bitter rivals Liverpool and had a subtle dig at their overly defensive display.

“They are a very good team. You like to say that they are the last wonder of the world in attacking football but they are also a team that defends and thinks defensively,” Mourinho said. “I think the fact that they played Can and Henderson together to control the position where Paul should be more in control. We thought they were going to play with only one player there but they played with two.”

Okay, Jose.

There was no doubt United’s manager and fans would have been the happier with the draw as Klopp and Liverpool (the top scorers in the Premier League in 2016 and this season) were left frustrated. Liverpool’s manager spoke of his disappointment about being drawn into a “hectic” game and not being better when they had the ball.

They payed into United hands and Mourinho thought his side put in a mature display.

“We controlled the game tactically. We controlled the game emotionally. It is not easy to do both things. The result is acceptable,” Mourinho said. “We wanted more. For long periods in the game we thought that could be possible but we didn’t score. You don’t score you don’t win. I think it was a very positive performance. We stopped them to play but they also did very well on the defensive point of view. They played Can and Henderson for some reason and they did that for 90 minutes. They normally present more players in attack. They were very cautious. I think it was their intention to try and control this, which they also did well.”

As for United’s defensive display, which was very good as Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind shut down the flanks and Daniel Sturridge was a virtual spectator up front, we’ve seen this so many times before.

Remember two years ago at Anfield when Mourinho’s Chelsea side sat back and beat Liverpool 2-0 with two counter attacks (aided by that slip from Steven Gerrard)? Yep, we all remember Mourinho pounding his chest in glee at full time as Chelsea dashed Liverpool’s title hopes.

This was another classic Mourinho away day display as his team sat back, harassed opponents into rushing their play and then waited for one or two chances to pounce. A glorious chance arrived early in the second half in this game as Paul Pogba crossed for Zlatan Ibrahimovic but he should’ve done better with a tame header across goal.

Mourinho admitted Zlatan’s header was “a great chance” but also praised Pogba, and his entire team, for their defensive work.

“I think like everybody else the defensive side of the game I think it was perfect, even the goalkeeper who was on holiday for 90 minutes. He had two big saves to do and he did,” Mourinho said. “When we recovered the ball I was expecting the team to be more dangerous in spite of us having a couple of dangerous chances.”

There was no doubt that Ander Herrera was United’s man of the match. He epitomized this stingy defensive display, if not walking a fine line with some of his fouls, especially in the first half. The Spanish midfielder was the key man in midfield, clogging things up and stopping Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino getting on the ball.

ProSoccerTalk asked Mourinho for his thoughts on Herrera.

“Ander played well but he was surrounded by people who played well. Fellaini played well. Ashley Young played well. Marcus Rashford played well. We closed the sides so well,” Mourinho told ProSoccerTalk. “Ander was completely on the job on Coutinho. He played very well, recovered a lot of balls, gave always a way to get out of their pressing and was very calm in possession.”

So, with United only having 35 percent of the play (Mourinho later came back into the press room to argue his side had 42 percent of the ball) and seemingly focused more on restricting Liverpool than attacking, is this a style we will see deployed by United away from home under Mourinho? He didn’t miss a chance to have another subtle dig at Liverpool.

“You have to be critical of Liverpool not us,” Mourinho said, sharply. “65 percent possession and two shots is there problem. Not our problem.”

Same old Mourinho. Then again, what did we expect?