IT was inevitable really, wasn’t it? How many times have Sky Sports built up to a big game by labelling it the most important human occurrence since the Renaissance, or Anthony Joshua’s last fight, only for it to peter out into a damp squib?
‘Red Monday’ was dull. It was at times tedious, in fact it was about as pleasant to experience as performing colonic irrigation with a Soda Stream (remember them kids?) All thanks in the main to the speciality of the ‘Special One’.
Liverpool were poor on Monday night. It was an off night where passes weren’t sharp enough, decisions were rushed and generally nothing much clicked for the Reds. Manchester United came with a gameplan to disrupt Jürgen Klopp’s team, to not allow them to get into their rhythm and stop the game from ever flowing.
Words of admiration were abound on Sky Sports from commentators and pundits alike that United had executed their plan ‘perfectly’ and that it was an ‘excellent’ performance from Mourinho’s charges. I think that was going a tad overboard but regardless, let’s just back up a second.
This was Manchester United. A great club, one of the greatest. They win titles, trophies, sign big names, sell shirts all over the world and no-one is better at signing official dental floss partners.
One of the most successful managers of all time at the helm, superstars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, David De Gea, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and the greatest thing since sliced Warburtons Marcus Rashford in their ranks, and they came to Anfield for a draw.
For all the talk of Liverpool not showing up (and they didn’t), all of the pre-match hype appeared to affect United more than it did the hosts. All the talk of Klopp’s Reds being genuine title contenders who could smash anything in their path under the right circumstances had gotten in the heads of the Red Devils, psyched them out, to the point where they came to Anfield, played like that, got a point and left happy.
Sky showed at half-time and full-time what United did to ‘nullify’ Liverpool. Effectively defending with eight outfield players for most of the time, with a back six whenever Liverpool had the ball, and two holding midfielders stood in front, while Pogba and Ibra pressed the ball.
It was effective organisation from Mourinho, something he’s always been very good at. However, does organised play like that require a £90million midfielder (who was one of their poorer players)? Does it require Zlatan? Does it require £30m Eric Bailly? Mourinho played with a gameplan that would have made Burnley proud. Only when Burnley did it, they actually won.
Mourinho’s post-match comments about the way the media have made Liverpool the ‘last wonder of the world’ in attack were bizarre, given that he set up his side as if they were indeed playing the ‘last wonder of the world’.
He also accused Liverpool of being the ones who were negative and ‘only having two shots’ (they had nine), while questioning the assertion that his own team had in fact had 42% possession and not 35% (claps slowly).
In fairness he also reserved praise for Klopp’s side, admitting that they are a ‘very good team’ and he seemed genuinely delighted with how his team had quietened the crowd and escaped with a point.
While United did play well in terms of executing their gameplan, there’s no getting away from the likelihood that if they’d had any other goalkeeper in the world, they’d have lost. Not enough credit has been given to De Gea for the save from Emre Can but the reactions and ability to get down that quickly doesn’t happen with 99% of other goalkeepers. The same with the Philippe Coutinho effort. De Gea is always a world class keeper, and still manages to save his very best performances for Anfield.
A notable mention for Antonio Valencia’s top class tackle on Firmino, saving another certain goal, but another example of Liverpool actually getting through United’s so-called brick wall.
However, what particularly cheered me up after the game was listening to the post-match comments from Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs.
These are two of the staunchest United fans on the planet who really know their football and really know United’s history, and they were happy with how their team had played. Not giddy, they are both natural born winners after all, but they were genuinely happy. The words ‘perfect’ and ‘excellent’ came up with regularity.
The Manchester United I remember used to come to Anfield and blow us away. Win 3-1 and think nothing of it. Even the United of recent times had a knack of coming to soak up pressure and nick a win. That could have happened on Monday night if Ibra’s 50p head had been more accurate, but that aside United showed no intention whatsoever of winning the game. Ashley Young’s antics during the injury time substitution were remarkably small time considering United weren’t even winning.
There are two things now that I await with keen interest. First of all how United set up against Chelsea on Sunday. Will they be as fearful of them and set up with only two attacking players? Is this how Mourinho intends on grinding out points in big games from now on, or was it a tactic that he only felt compelled to use against Liverpool?
Secondly, how will United fans react to Monday night’s performance, or more to the point, that type of performance if it continues in big games? The fume that came from their place when the pudding-faced Louis Van Gaal found some success by utilising the dullest football known to man was probably just, but that wasn’t with the likes of Pogba and Ibrahimovic in his team.
Anyway, this is a Liverpool website so enough about them lot from up the East Lancs. Not to tempt fate (he says before tempting fate) but Monday night reinforced my opinion that we don’t have too much to worry about from them this season. Next season maybe, but not yet. They’re not ready.
The point of this article was not to concentrate on how Liverpool failed to get the win that most thought they would against the old enemy, but to emphasise that the way they were thwarted should be seen as the massive compliment it is.
The fear and respect shown by United and Mourinho Monday night was akin to the kind shown by teams like Apoel Nicosia or BATE Borisov when they’re forced to play Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champions League. Granted we weren’t good enough to dispatch them in the way Barca would have, but the point is that United thought we might have if they didn’t ignore everything that made them great in order to purely focus on what makes us great. They feared going toe-to-toe would lead to a hammering.
The next big test for Liverpool, arguably bigger than United, will be to go and smash West Brom on Saturday. Comparisons have rightly been made between Mourinho’s tactics Monday night and those of Tony Pulis, so Klopp will have to expect more of the same from the Baggies at Anfield. If the bespectacled German can figure out how to get his men to huff and puff and blow their bus down, it could send a message to anyone who tries to take inspiration from Jose’s double-decker hovercraft parking.
Klopp and his lads managed to send a message with the 5-1 beating of Hull that setting up to frustrate could cause severe trauma to the back of your net, while Mourinho needed around £200m of talent (and arguably the best ‘keeper in the world) to stop Liverpool. Against West Brom, the Reds need to emphasise once again that any bus parking will be met with swift and concise destruction.
Jose Mourinho tried his best to disrespect Liverpool, and ended up giving them one of the biggest compliments an opposition manager ever could.
Up the bus smashing Reds. Up the United worrying Reds.
Who’s that coming up the hill?