LIVERPOOL — Liverpool and Manchester United battled to a 0-0 draw at Anfield on Monday.
[ MORE: Mourinho calls out Liverpool ]
A battle hyped up for days delivered few goalmouth chances with Jose Mourinho the happier of the two managers as his side set out their stall and Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool put in a lackluster display.
Here’s what we learned from a chilly night on Merseyside.
If there’s a man on this planet who knows how to set up his teams to get a result away from home, it’s Jose Mourinho.
Manchester United’s manager can set up his teams to defend resolutely in his sleep and that’s exactly what he did.
With Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini clogging up midfield, his game plan worked a treat. Herrera was snapping away at the heels of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane whenever he got the chance and Fellaini was his partner in crime.
In truth, United were more adventurous in the opening exchanges. Mourinho’s men managed the match well. Early on they looked for Marcus Rashford out wide and Mourinho was urging Paul Pogba to surge forward in support of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but then midway through the first half they retreated. It was almost like he split the game up into four quarters.
The 0-0 scoreline at half time suited Mourinho and United perfectly and his side had a glorious chance to snatch a 1-0 win as Pogba’s cross found Zlatan at the back post but his tame header back across was horribly off target. United were in the game to create one clear-cut chance and take it. That turned out to be the one chance. Still, Mourinho will be happy to take a point back to Old Trafford as he set up his stall expertly and Liverpool played into his hands.
STURRIDGE REMAINS ODD MAN OUT
One of the reasons Liverpool did that was their lack of fluidity in the final third.
You could forgive Daniel Sturridge for cutting a frustrated figure up front in the first half. Nobody in a red shirt was near him in the first half and that was indicative of both his lackluster display and the frustration the attacking trio behind him suffered from.
If Adam Lallana had been fit, Sturridge wouldn’t have started. Even if Sturridge’s scoring record speaks for itself (he’s scored 43 goals in 75 PL appearances for Liverpool) you just get the sense that as long as Jurgen Klopp is the manager at Anfield, it won’t work out for Sturridge. His trademark runs off the last shoulder of a defender aren’t suited to this team and he is too static up top. He’s an old fashioned No.9 in a team which doesn’t need one.
You couldn’t fault his work rate but with a fluid four frontmen of Firmino, Adam Lallana, Mane and Coutinho, Klopp’s formula works better with them in the team. That was evident after Lallana replaced Sturridge in the 60th minute as Liverpool’s attacking fluidity and rhythm returned. Coutinho tested David De Gea from distance and United’s stopper produced a magnificent save and then Antonio Valencia produced a superb last-ditch tackle to stop Firmino who was clean through following Coutinho’s flick. The last 30 minutes proved there’s simply no room for Sturridge’s strengths in this Liverpool attack.
TOO CLOSE TO CALL
It is still early days but both Liverpool and United showed that a top four finish, their main aim for this season, is very achievable. So early in the season, this game between two bitter rivals saw both teams fail to go for broke. United will be the happier of the two with this result and Liverpool badly missed Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield as they failed to break through the first line of United’s midfield and get attacks going.
On another day and with Wijnaldum and a fully-fit Lallana, you might think Liverpool could’ve taken the game to United more.
United look solid if yet unspectacular but we mustn’t forget that Mourinho has had a few months in charge at United to gel this team and get his ideas across. Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool was a year ago today at Tottenham and yes, there has been huge progress in those 12 months, but the German coach will be left with a nagging feeling that his side could’ve got more if they’d taken more chances.
When this season is over both United and Liverpool will be right in the mix to fight for the top four but on this showing a title push may be just out of reach when you look at the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. It’s early days and it’s too close to call which of these teams will fare better this season.