Manchester United and Liverpool played out a tense, absorbing clash at Old Trafford as Adam Lallana snatched a late point for the Premier League leaders.
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Marcus Rashford‘s first half goal looked to be leading Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s injury-hit squad to a huge victory over their bitter rivals, but Jurgen Klopp‘s men dug deep to find a way to secure a point.
Here’s a look at what we learned from a nervy encounter.
VAR TAKES CENTER STAGE, GETS BIG MOMENT WRONG
After a Saturday which was dominated by big VAR calls, it was only fitting the big game of the weekend also saw VAR take center stage. Two key moments in the first half shaped this game, and one was incorrect. Rashford’s opener should have been chalked off after Divock Origi was fouled by Victor Lindelof in the build-up. VAR was used but didn’t overturn the goal, with Liverpool livid. As for the other big moment involving VAR, Sadio Mane’s goal just before half time was correctly ruled out. Without VAR, that goal would have stood because the replays clearly showed the Senegalese forward handled the ball and then scored.
We saw the best and worst of VAR on Sunday, and United were on the right side of the new technology. VAR is still far too subjective and the fact Premier League referees aren’t willing to head to the TV screen on the side of the pitch to double check their decisions is taking the decision out of their hands and leaving the decisions down to the subjective views of officials sat in front of a TV in Stockley Park. Fans and players won’t mind if a referee has a quick look on the TV screen to double check and the fact no penalty kick decision (which has been awarded) hasn’t been overturned shows that VAR officials aren’t keen to overturn a refs decision and signal for a ‘clear and obvious’ error.
MAN UNITED’S NEW FORMATION SHOULD STAY
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer caused a shock with a 3-5-2 formation and it worked a treat to lock down Liverpool’s wide players. This looked like a specialist formation to make United better defensively against a stunning attacking team, but they should use it more often. When you have full backs like Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw (when he’s back fit) you have to make the best of their strengths, and that is going forward.
Harry Maguire loves to maraud out of the back, and having two center backs alongside him gave him the license to do that. Midfield is still a problem area for United, but the trio of Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Andreas Pereira and their movement made up for that with Rashford and James playing centrally unnerving Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk. The pressure and pace United’s attackers put on Liverpool’s defense meant United could push themselves higher up the pitch and Solskjaer got his tactics spot on, even if his young team tired and hung on for a draw.
Sometimes you stumble on the right system and Solskjaer should probably stick with these tactics going forward. Yes, United couldn’t hang on for the win, but they played much better than they had in recent weeks and with Pogba, Martial and Shaw to come back in, things will get better. It’s okay to tweak your tactical plan while staying in line with the masterplan. Solskjaer’s youngster did him proud.
NERVOUS LIVERPOOL MISSED SALAH
Liverpool’s winning streak came to an end at 17, as they failed to match Man City’s record for most consecutive Premier League wins and their 100 percent start to the season is over. In truth, they never looked like winning this game but they will bee happy with a point. Klopp cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as Liverpool’s attack didn’t fire and they looked nervous in possession and made bizarre decisions in midfield. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane had both been touted as Liverpool’s new leading men in attack, but they missed Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian winger was out injured over the international break after Hamza Choudhury‘s late challenge on him two weeks ago, and although Salah’s form has been up and down this season Liverpool didn’t look the same without him. Adam Lallana got them out of jail late on after Firmino’s dummy and Klopp will be happy enough to grind out a point without playing well. Liverpool are six points clear at the top of the table and they’ve yet to get out of second gear this season. Man City will stay in touching distance and Klopp knows he needs Salah fit and back to his best to help Liverpool kick on in the winter months. Liverpool know they have to play much better than this if they’re going to win the Premier League title this season.