THE worst part about the point is that it feels like Jose Mourinho’s point.
I like him. I know you don’t and I know I am not supposed to, but I loved the substitution of Ashley Young at the end of the game. It was needle pure and simple and if caps can’t be doffed for that in this fixture then we are dead from the neck up.
I like him, the old warhorse. I know he is awful. I know he poked Villanova in the eye and was a disgrace about St John’s Ambulance and Anders Frisk but I have grown to like him and it is in part because of how he has become that bit vaudeville, that bit vulnerable, that bit human. He is no longer an unbeatable end of level monster, he’s Brian Clough in The Damned United, he’s a little bit tragic, a little bit Bridget, a little bit Sex And The City.
And tonight he shows that vulnerability by being the manager who cannot afford to lose under any circumstances and setting very expensive and very well paid footballers up to have no interest in the final third, even when they are on top. Make no mistake, for 25 minutes United were the better side. United were good. Until they hit the invisible wall of no interest. And then they weren’t very good at all. They gave everything in two-thirds and it was just about enough.
That’s a compliment to the Tricky Reds but not one they should dwell upon. Only once did they truly undo United; Antonio Valencia’s saving tackle on Roberto Firmino one of the best of the season, when Liverpool’s patience finally looked likely to be rewarded. It was an epic challenge, all limbs and desire and anticipation. The old warhorse can get lads to buy in but it doesn’t take much to love to play for Manchester United, to embrace that sense of common endeavour. When your back is against the wall…
It doesn’t take much to love to play for Liverpool either. There weren’t many lads who were doing the impossible for Liverpool but no one likely to let their teammates, manager or supporters down. James Milner played till his leg was likely to drop off. Sadio Mane showed and showed. In midfield, Jordan Henderson shirked nothing and while Emre Can toiled it wasn’t for the want of trying.
It was a reminder of the Liverpool/United games at Anfield from 2004 till about 2011. What was pleasing was that there was no Diego Forlan, John O’Shea or Carlos Tevez to stick the knife in. What was disappointing was there was no Dirk Kuyt or Fernando Torres to force the issue. Those games were part of a piece, part of games against Chelsea decided by one error and while Loris Karius and Dejan Lovren nearly produced that error it never truly came. In short, it was a contest which lurched into the dire while simultaneously being big boys football which Liverpool responded to by being big boys. The point was alright. Not quite good enough but not quite worth gambling over.
Liverpool’s prospects this season aren’t defined by whether or not they draw against United but instead by whether or not they draw against West Brom, Crystal Palace and Watford. What Liverpool do next starts tomorrow and ends when we go to Goodison when Advent is truly on the high street. Until then they have brought on their famous Manchester United, they’ve brought on their Cockneys by the score and while we haven’t quite taken them two by two nor have we allowed ourselves to be undone. As today’s set of lads know better than anyone, league titles are rarely won before Christmas but often lost.
We can let them have this one, our Mancunian friends and their old warhorse. He and they will come again. You know it and I know it. Until then go to bed knowing they needed to give everything they had in the back two-thirds of the pitch to live with the Reds. These excellent footballers, two dropped with cramp. One in the act of giving everything to help Liverpool score, the other in the same penalty area having given everything to stop Liverpool from scoring. As ever, footballers tell the story. Two down in agony, everything on the line. Think where they were and know this isn’t the last time this season that will happen against Liverpool, collapsing trying to stop them.
Because Liverpool are good and Liverpool will get better and they are that hard to live with even when they don’t play well.
Up the Reds. See you Saturday.