Messi is the best player left in the tournament, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne, and Paul Pogba all bidding adieu over the past 30 hours, and it’s understandable that the oddsmakers have installed Barca as the favorite to win the tournament (Odds have Barca around 13:8).
The runner-up for favorite status is very close, and we’re sure most of you have guessed it’s not young Ajax (about 5:1 on most boards).
Tottenham Hotspur is on the board at 9:2 after defeating Man City on Wednesday, but it’s Liverpool at about 3:1 who is next in line after Barcelona.
By the way, not including managers and coaching staffs, the answers to the trivia question above are both on Liverpool:
Daniel Sturridge, by the way, who did not get off the bench in 2012 when Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in penalty kicks.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who was an unused sub when Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Der Klassiker UCL Final
The point may well give the Reds its Premier League title when all is said and done, but Liverpool was poor in attack against a United side which used all three of its subs inside of 42 minutes.
Luckily, it’s goalkeeper was wonderful. And United showed supreme composure in the face of much consternation.
Stars (Ratings in parentheses)
Alisson Becker (8) — Made a couple of fine interventions, but his best moment came when the otherwise strong Virgil Van Dijk was fooled by a Romelu Lukaku pass. Alisson slid toward Jesse Lingard, patient with his arms to control the Englishman’s bid to dribble around him.
Luke Shaw (10) — Pretty much perfect at left back, putting Mohamed Salah in his proverbial pocket. Also delivered a number of fine crosses and set piece bids.
Romelu Lukaku (8) — United’s big striker needed to play right wing with Marcus Rashford limited and wobbling around up top. He made some big tackles and sent a terrific cross into the mix that could’ve prodded a surprise winner on the edge of stoppage time.
Virgil van Dijk (7) — Even though he was fooled by Lukaku’s pass to Lingard, VVD was quite good in the face of a strong first half from United’s injured attack.
Andreas Pereira (8) — We could put Scott McTominay here, too, but the midfielder got away with at least one likely penalty. Pereira came into the game cold against a brilliant attack and had no problems adjusting to a crucial match against a heated rival.
Paul Pogba (5) — Had enough defensive moments to prod him further up the ratings scale, but days like today are made for extraordinary players to do legendary things with the ball. The Frenchman didn’t have one.
Mohamed Salah (4) — The Egyptian has been poor against top teams this season, and was nearly invisible for large stretches of the match. Take away a 1-goal, 1-assist match against Arsenal, and he has not been on the scoresheet against a Top Six side this season.
Sadio Mane (3) — The first time I noticed Mane was in a 50-50 with Romelu Lukaku deep in Liverpool’s end. It was the 77th minute.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (5) and Jurgen Klopp (5) — Solskjaer whiffed when he brought an unfit Jesse Lingard into the match and had to bring him off before halftime. And Klopp’s decision to put Daniel Sturridge in for Roberto Firmino instead of moving Mohamed Salah up top against United’s center backs was baffling and did nothing.
MANCHESTER — Manchester United and Liverpool played out a tight, tense 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to make three substitutes in the first half through injury, while Liverpool never got going and lost Roberto Firmino through injury. Despite the drew, their third in their last four PL games, Jurgen Klopp‘s men are one point clear atop the Premier League table with 11 games to go.
Here’s a look at what we learned from an absorbing battle at a raucous Old Trafford.
IN-GAME INJURIES HIT UNITED HARD, LIVERPOOL HARDER
Four players going off injured in the first half of a game must be a Premier League record. Manchester United have to use all three of their subs (including subbing a sub due to injury) was quite unbelievable and had a huge impact on the flow and outcome of this game. First Ander Herrera went off, then Juan Mata had to be replaced by Jesse Lingard and 18 minutes later it was Lingard who had to be replaced. That severely altered United’s gameplan as the Red Devils, already without regular starters Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial for this game, had to be more pragmatic and had to rely on Alexis Sanchez, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay to take their chance to shine. They stepped up mildly, as Roberto Firmino’s absence, also through injury, seemed to impact Liverpool more than United’s trio of changes. The injuries disrupted the game and, all things considered, probably helped United out more. Liverpool just didn’t adapt to the formation and personnel changes and Klopp said as much afterwards. Marcus Rashford was caught early on by Jordan Henderson and never fully recovered, but he battled through at 60 percent. The fact Romelu Lukaku was shifted out to the right and Rashford stayed central suggested Rashford just didn’t the have the pace to impact the game. Injuries were the main storyline to come out of this game.
LIVERPOOL SETTLE FOR DRAW
As mentioned above, the loss of Firmino impacted Liverpool’s attacking fluidity as his replacement, Daniel Sturridge, didn’t get into the game at all. This was the first Premier League away game this season that Liverpool had failed to score in. Even before that Liverpool lacked their usual spark going forward and in the end they seemed more than content with a point at the home of their bitter rivals. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a bad result for the new Premier League leaders. Their lead is now just one point with 11 games to go and their toughest games remaining are against Chelsea and Tottenham at home, with a trip to Everton a tricky one to negotiate. Of course, Jurgen Klopp did show some intent to push for the winner late on as he brought on Xherdan Shaqiri for Jordan Henderson, but it was more of an afterthought. Liverpool would have taken a draw before the game kicked off, and aided by United’s injuries they never truly looked like there were going to lose this game. Not the performance Klopp wanted, but a result he can easily be content with.
SOLSKJAER SHOULD GET THE JOB FULL-TIME
Ahead of this game Solskjaer said he wouldn’t play mind games like Sir Alex Ferguson used to. But United’s caretaker boss couldn’t help himself and his words will be ringing in the ears of Liverpool fans across the world: “I have loads of Liverpool fans back home [in Norway] and every year is going to be their year,” Solskjaer said. “It has got to October and it’s: ‘OK, next year.’ Now they are in the race so for them, it is going to be an exciting finish to the league. That is none of our concern. We just have to concentrate on ourselves.”
And United must remove uncertainty about themselves as soon as they can and appoint Solskjaer. This United side are in the top four hunt, they are showing a hunger that has been badly missing. Defensively they were well organized with Luke Shaw locking down Mohamed Salah (he has now failed to score in four PL appearances for Liverpool against United) and Ashley Young doing a job on Sadio Mane, and had Lingard, Matic and Martial been fit, you would have fancied United to win this game. This was United’s second home clean sheet of the season and Solskjaer has now set a new record points total (25) for a manager taking charge of his first 10 games at a Premier League club.
The first line of the new favorite chant at Old Trafford sums it all up: “Ole’s at the wheel! Tell me how good does it feel!?”
Even though United failed to beat Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer set up, and adjusted, his injury-hit team smartly. United are on the longest current unbeaten run in the Premier League with eight wins and two draws from their last 10 games. And this draw will go down as another key hurdle passed in Ole’s quest to become the new full-time boss. The feel-good factor has returned to United and Solskjaer should now be given a long-term contract, and transfer funds to improve this side in midfield and defense. Given the way he has rejuvenated many of United’s stars he won’t need that much cash to kick them on to the next level and become genuine title contenders again. He has shown enough so far to suggest he is the right man at the right time to lead United.
Either way, not ideal for Liverpool as they have a huge week with this game against Bayern followed by a massive Premier League game at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday.
In terms of Bayern’s injury news, Kingsley Coman has recovered from a knock in Friday’s win at Augsburg but Jerome Boateng is out through illness. Arjen Robben is recovering from injury and did not travel with the squad, while Franck Ribery will arrive in Liverpool separate from the team after becoming a father late on Sunday.
1) You can only save one Premier League memory from 2018. What do you choose?
Joe Prince-Wright: I am going with Liverpool’s 4-3 win against Man City at Anfield in January 2018. What a game between two teams going at it and playing very different ways to the highest possible level. It was a precursor for some epic Champions League battles between Liverpool and Man City.
Kyle Bonn: Has to be Manchester City’s dominance and Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut. I absolutely loved watching that team, especially given how much of a mess it was when Pep first got there. He turned around so many players, namely John Stones and Raheem Sterling, and that’s always something special.
Dan Karell: It was from last January but it’s got to be Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City. Man City wrapped up the title early and recorded a record amount of goals and points, but this was arguably the game of the season. Terrific action for all 90 minutes.
2) Remember the World Cup? That was just this summer! What was your favorite part of the tournament? How about the USMNT’s efforts in it?
Joe Prince-Wright: I obviously enjoyed England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals and I honestly believe they would have matched up very well against France and would have had a great chance of winning it all. The way Gareth Southgate’s young side made an entire nation believe again and changed the mood around the Three Lions completely was truly remarkable to see. Also, LOL about the USMNT. What a debacle that should never be repeated. Simple.
Nicholas Mendola: Not the Lionel Messi sub plot, as even his fine performances couldn’t overcome the hype about whether it was enough for his legacy. Also, not Serbia getting the short end of the officiating stick on multiple occasions.
There were some great matches! The final was special, as was France 4-3 Argentina in the Round of 16. But Belgium and Japan turning a 0-0 halftime into a 2-0 Japanese lead en route to a 3-2 Belgium win, with Nacer Chadli scoring in stoppage? Holy smoke what a game.
Kyle Bonn: I think my favorite part of the tournament was appreciating the parity that came along with it. Germany bombed out in the group stages, Argentina looked pedestrian, and Spain looked fallible, all while Croatia built a juggernaut, Peru looked competitive, and Sweden won a group. This was the world’s World Cup and that was fascinating.
Also, the USMNT didn’t lose a single game all tournament, so I’ll give them an A-
Dan Karell: Ugh, stop! I think England’s run to the semifinals was a lot of fun, along with Croatia’s constant wins in penalty kick shootouts and them overcoming the odds again and again. Ultimately, France was too talented to be stopped, and Didier Deschamps did a masterful job keeping them tight defensively and letting his side’s speed and counter-attacking ability steal the show.
3) Which player do you hold in higher esteem than you did entering 2018? Who’s much lower?
Joe Prince-Wright: David Silva. I always knew he was good. But I didn’t quite appreciate how good. He is essential to Pep Guardiola’s style and will probably go down as one of City’s best-ever players, if not the best.
Lower… I am going with Daniel Sturridge. Perhaps a little harsh, but I thought he would be able to work his way into this Liverpool attack as the first back-up. He hasn’t achieved that at all.
Nicholas Mendola: I knew Christian Pulisic was good before Jan. 1, 2018, but how much of a factor he’s become in every match is beyond compare on an American level. There’s Clint Dempsey in 2011-12 at Fulham for the gold standard of Americans Abroad, and the question of whether he matches it, improves on it, or does it again and again.
As for lower, and I know this is heavy territory, but pretty much the way everyone associated with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus dealt with the rape accusations against him. Allegations are allegations until proven true, but showing a modicum of class to the victim (and all victims) would’ve been nice.
Kyle Bonn: If this is possible…Mohamed Salah. I always love seeing players go from one-hit wonder to actually good player, and while only the ultimate of cynics believe the Liverpool star would ultimately fade as just a flash in the pan, I enjoyed seeing it proven on the field.
Less, I have to go with Alvaro Morata. I thought he would be a slam dunk at Chelsea, and his disastrous tenure has led to rumors of a quick exit. I am quite disappointed in his performances there and his inability to find the scoresheet despite a wealth of talent around him. It’s a shame, because he showed so much promise at Real Madrid, and I hope he finds success either with a second chance at Chelsea or someone else who gives him an opportunity after Stamford Bridge.
Dan Karell: Anthony Martial. His second half of 2018 has been tremendous compared to his previous 18 months in Manchester, which all led to him missing out on the World Cup. A player who’s stock has dropped for me is his teammate, Alexis Sanchez. After joining Man United in January. Sanchez has been invisible this season and it’s unclear if Man United will ever recoup its investment in Sanchez.
4) Who is the soccer world’s person of 2018?
Joe Prince-Wright: Luka Modric. What he managed to achieve with both Real Madrid and Croatia, plus win multiple top awards as the best player on the planet, was exceptional. The Croatian midfielder was a total team player and made his teammates better due to his hard work, vision and delivering in clutch moments. His role to lead Croatia to the World Cup final was reminiscent of Diego Maradona and Pele leading their respective nations to glory in the past. Modric was Croatia’s talisman as they just came up short by losing to France in the final.
Nicholas Mendola: Kylian Mbappe. At the age of 20, with club turmoil caused by Neymar and Edinson Cavani and the pressure of an entire country, Mbappe led France to a World Cup title and Paris Saint-Germain to plenty of wins. But even better than that is the example he sets at such a young age, donating his World Cup winnings to charity and admitting that footballers are paid an “indecent” wage.
Kyle Bonn: Great – and tough – question. So many good options. Jurgen Klopp has to be my choice though, as he’s finally seeing his Liverpool project come to fruition. The Reds made the 2018 Champions League final and have shaken their inability to perform against bottom sides in Premier League play. It’s always fun to see a years-long project not only committed to, but completed. The Reds are a scary team to play for anyone in the world, and that’s down to the revolutionary tactics and recruitment of Jurgen Klopp.
Dan Karell: If it’s a manager, it’s got to be a tie between Didier Deschamps and Pep Guardiola for everything they succeeded. Perhaps it’s even Zinedine Zidane, who took the bold move to resign as Real Madrid manager after a third-successive Champions League title.
5) What topic are you extremely happy to leave in 2018: the USMNT coaching search, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, or a third option?
Joe Prince-Wright: USMNT coaching search definitely. Quite why that took so long was outrageous. Berhalter could have been appointed months sooner than he was to start building the identity of the team. That would have been a smarter move. Southampton’s 2018 was also woeful, so I am happy to leave that there as the squad they have should be pushing for a top 10 finish, not battling against relegation for a second-straight season. I actually think that history will be kind to Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United, but it just became so boring and predictable towards the end and we have already seen the gloom has lifted at Old Trafford. It worked out well for everyone, even Mourinho.
Nicholas Mendola: The USMNT coaching search. At some point we were speculating on David Moyes taking the job because he was on the train to a friendly. Cool. Real cool.
Kyle Bonn: I was happy to see the USMNT coaching search finally come to an end, but disappointed in the result. I was glad to see Jose Mourinho leave Manchester United for the health of the club, but not for those of us covering the team (what a ride!). Honestly, I’m happiest to see the World Cup cycle leave, because the USMNT gets to start from scratch looking forward to 2022. While many have predictions and reservations about the US National Team at this juncture, it will be for the team to prove on the field, and Gregg Berhalter has a chance to lead an emotional redemption for the group.
Dan Karell: Jose Mourinho for sure. The constant moaning to the media, throwing players under the bus, and holding his players back got really old, really fast. Yes, the opposition in the last couple of games isn’t as good, but you can see that the Man United players have the shackles removed and are starting to look as if they enjoy their profession again.
6) Free skate: Any other thoughts about 2018?
Joe Prince-Wright: Watching Man City’s record breaking season up close was amazing. They made history and have set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the Premier League.
It was a reflective year for many Premier League teams who took steps towards long-term progression. Liverpool finally bought world-class defensive players, Man United sacked their manager, Arsene Wenger left Arsenal and Chelsea moved on with an exciting tactical project. Man City have leveled off a little but are still incredible to watch, while Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham are still defying the odds and will actually move into their new stadium soon. The top six have been fascinating to watch in 2018, and given four of them are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, it seems like English soccer has had a real resurgence on the European stage too.
Nicholas Mendola: I don’t want to be a downer and I know Leicester City happened just a few years ago, but it seems like it’s the end of non-giants making charges toward the Top Four. It’s not Liverpool’s fault for joining Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and Man City in spending ungodly amounts of dough. It’s not just about the money, because those arguments are also annoying and look at Everton and West Ham, but it is frustrating.
Kyle Bonn: 2018 was a great year of soccer, but the failures of the USMNT certainly bring it down from our perspective. There needs to be growth there moving forward, or it will be tough to build on the growing fanbase in this country.
Dan Karell: Regarding the U.S. men’s national team, it was an empty year that should have had a World Cup appearance to go with it. We saw a lot of new players make their debuts and other youngsters receive more minutes, but the team felt like the Israelites wandering for 40 years searching for the Land of Israel, with no direction. Hopefully now, with Gregg Berhalter (Moses?) in charge, the USMNT can find the promised land.
Another note: Atlanta United’s incredible success can’t go unnoted. To create a title-winning team in two years is incredible difficult, and the organization has raised the bar for MLS even higher. 2018 was a huge step for the league. Let’s see what 2019 brings.