Liverpool: Old Trafford Reality Check Could Be Just What The Reds Need

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 10, 2018: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

IT’S the worst feeling.

I know for some it willl be losing to Everton, but many younger Reds won’t even remember that as a thing. They were strange days of inept managers from Croydon and Paul Konchesky (don’t have nightmares, kids).

Losing to Manchester United hurts. Losing to Jose Mourinho hurts. Knowing that somewhere Mick Hucknall is having a better weekend than me possibly hurts the most.

Despite my family being from the city, I didn’t grow up in Liverpool, so although there was an implied dislike for Everton, my ire was always turned more towards Man United. For one thing, they won the league practically every season. Then I’d have to listen to school friends who had never been further north than South London crowing about their victories.

In 1996, Eric Cantona’s late winner in the FA Cup final caused me to fall off the back of the sofa. Man United physically and emotionally caused me endless pain.

Frankly, I couldn’t understand why anyone cheered for them. In the days when cartoons were the only thing as important to me as football, there were heroes and villains. The heroes were virtuous, like He-Man, Lion-o and Robbie Fowler. The baddies were scheming, like Skeletor, Mumm-Ra and Alex Ferguson. Man United’s mascot was a red devil for crying out loud, they couldn’t have been any clearer about their role in the story of football.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 31, 2009: Manchester United's manager Alex Ferguson with mascot Fred the Red during the Premiership match against Everton at Old Trafford. (Mandatory credit: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It reminds me of the David Mitchell and Robert Webb sketch about the Nazis (“Controversy as Anfield Wrap columnist compares Manchester United to Nazis”). Mitchell’s Nazi character raises concerns about their uniform.

“Have you looked at our caps recently? They’ve got skulls on them. Hans… are we the baddies? I mean, what do skulls make you think of? Death, cannibals, beheading, pirates…”

“Hans: Pirates are fun!”

“I didn’t say we weren’t fun, but fun or not pirates are still the baddies.”

Fast forward to present day and The Red Devils now have Jose Mourinho as their manager. A man who is so dedicated to being seen as a bad guy that there are people from the WWE who watch his press conferences and go “he’s laying it on a bit thick, isn’t he?”.

To be honest, I’m astonished we’ve not yet seen him sat in the stands with a cat on his lap and a big red button that opens a tank filled with sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 10, 2018: Manchester United's manager Jose Mourinho during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’ll say this though, for all of Man United’s devil worshipping, their eye-poking manager and selling poisoned milk to schoolchildren (probably), I do quite like Marcus Rashford.

Yes, he was the one who plunged the dagger in on Saturday — twice — but he’s such an impressive talent that I can’t bring myself to dislike him. I actually saw him last summer in Malaga Airport. A friend of mine was getting married and happens to be a Man United fan, so we asked Rashford if he could sign his wedding card, and he kindly obliged. I almost felt bad for instinctively flicking the Vs at him as we walked away.

I did think there was a certain underestimation of Man United going on before the game. Liverpool have largely been sensational this season, yet went into the game behind their fierce rivals. They have had more, shall we say, fortunate wins than Jürgen Klopp’s men, but then creating your own fortune is a skill in itself. Their football isn’t pretty, and their best player by a distance is their goalkeeper, but Man United more often than not get the job done.

That said, I was still confident. Liverpool were overdue a league win over Man United, and The Reds’ recent attacking verve versus a Man United side fresh off conceding twice to a blunt Crystal Palace side led to me foolishly getting my hopes up.

However, some sloppy defending and fantastic/jammy finishing from Rashford was the worst possible thing to happen for the visitors. It gave Mourinho something to cling on to, and few managers are better at shutting a game down once they have their nose in front.

The Reds did push in the second half and got a goal back, admittedly just as fortunately as Man United had scored their second, but then couldn’t find the equaliser. A lack of creativity and width from the attack, and superb organisation of the defence, meant that Man United saw the game out, much to the relief of Old Trafford.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 10, 2018: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino retrieves the ball as his side score their first goal to make it 2-1 during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Dejan Lovren had a day to forget. However, it has been surprising to see people suggesting that it was obvious he would get “outmuscled” by Romelu Lukaku. The Croat has dominated the former Everton man more or less every other time he’s played against him in the past.

Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled more than he had done in the same fixture 14 months ago, but it will be a valuable learning curve for him. He could have done with a bit more help from Lovren on occasion, but will be stronger for the experience.

The ultimate frustration came right at the death when, just days after Man United sealed their win at Palace thanks to a once-in-a-season strike from Nemanja Matic, Liverpool had a chance via goal-net-hitting enthusiast Mohamed Salah, but his snatched effort flew over the bar.

It’s hard to talk about the game without mentioning the penalties, or lack thereof. Even Chris Kamara, that famous voice of absolute reason, felt that The Reds should have had three spot kicks during the game, reportedly telling Jeff Stelling that it was “Unbelievable!”, though it might have just been another bang-on Alberto Moreno impersonation.

All three could have been given, but accepting that it realistically has to be stonewall for an official to have the guts to give an away penalty at Old Trafford, the only one I have a particular gripe with is the Marouane Fellaini trip on Sadio Mane. I can only presume the Belgian’s hair blocked Craig Pawson’s view.

The result puts Mourinho’s men in a strong position to finish second. However, it could also prove to be the kick up the arse that Liverpool need to ensure they have a strong end to what has still been a very good campaign.

The spirited fightback in the second half was heartening, even if the sloppy first half and ultimate result was not. Sometimes, though, a team that has been on a roll needs a bit of a reality check. The Champions League will throw up much bigger tests than Porto, and Klopp’s side will need to be ready for that. A game like Saturday might just be the slap in the face that they need before those hurdles.

There are also eight games to go in the Premier League, and after Chelsea’s victory over Crystal Palace the gap to fifth is back to just four points, with Liverpool still to travel to Stamford Bridge. Very few mistakes can be afforded in the remaining fixtures.

The noises coming out from the players after the game are positive. They hate losing, they hate being nullified and they would love to put it right against Watford next week.

Perhaps the Champions League draw on Friday will give Liverpool another chance to vanquish Man United this season. After Saturday, I’m very much hoping so.

You might say that I’d “love the thought” of Mick Hucknall having a shit Wednesday.

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  1. Regarding Mourinho liking to be seen as the bad guy, I said the week he signed his new contract, and nothing since has given me reason yet to think differently, but I think he was warned to stop embarrassing the club. All that with Conte and moaning and blaming everyone for everything was bad for the brand. It’s all stopped. He’s trying to be more philosophical in his answers than bitter. Even how he approached Conte before the Chelsea game I thought was quite mature. I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong soon. Anyway, no reason to add this comment except It’s on my mind when I see his interviews now. Thought I’d share it.

    • I think so too. No doubt he’s been told he needs to behave differently but of course a leopard never changes its spots!
      But also I think he has to play a longer game this time around, the team needed a much bigger rebuild to suit him than he’s had to do before – ever. So he was going to need more time.

      He’s going to be pissed if he doesn’t win the FA cup now.

  2. Reds defence as bad as the Rodgers era. Klopp said he would win the title in three years. Good luck. 95 points needed to win the title. Utd won’t concede five V seville.

    • Titus_Red

      Compare the stats before you post such drivel, fella.
      And if you prefer to watch Utd’s boring destroyer football to Klopp’s brilliant attacking style, then you you which highway route to take.
      Maybe they wont concede 5, but they also wont score 5. I know what I’ll want to watch any day of the year.

    • UNITED LOST TO SEVILLA! LOL! Fucking useless Mugs the lot of them and Jose to boot.

      And yes the Ref made some excellent decisions against the Mancs this time.

      So ffs please let’s keep our heads on and enough with all our criticisms, analysis and predictions, BS of the last game until the season ends. Our team and JK don’t deserve this.

      TAW if you don’t mind, please do a postmortem of the United-Sevilla game, just to give everyone something laugh about even more. :)

      Go Go Man United and fuck yourself!

  3. While I would have preferred to be loving the feeling of having beaten them and glorying in the illusion that we were unstoppable etc etc it is legit to take stock of what happened and learn. We didn’t really ever impose ourselves to the point is discommoding Utd. Jose won well on the sidelines. Utd played a very simple effective game when they went forward, a version of what they always do and it worked. They played a spoiling, sticky defensive game and it worked too. We were given the ball and the park to play in as long as we didn’t threaten them. I think there is a lot there for JK and the team. We could do principally with thinking on our feet a bit better. It was pedestrian and predictable.
    Now for the positive bit. In relity, as long as we finish in the top 4, this game matters not a whit. Assuming we take care of business in the league, which I believe we will, then the value here is in preparation for 2 legged European battles with teams and managers of a similar standard (if not necessarily style) to Jose and Utd. Spurs just came a cropper against a wily team and a clever manager. It’s good we have taken a beating on and park and the sidelines now. We cannot afford to do it in Europe. Who knows, maybe, when we have big ears in Kiev, Jurgan will thank Jose for the re-think opportunity we were given in March. Wouldn’t that be a laugh.

  4. I think this match was a one-off, but and important match for us to win since the result has buoyed Chelsea and Spurs hopes, with Arsenal somewhere out there banging on the doors.

    United got the better of us and I was hoping to have beaten them to cause them more pressure into their CL game against Sevilla. The opposite has happened and I think they are going to make a Spanish Paella out of Sevilla tonight.

    The problems I see with LFC are nothing new, that most everyone on here and elsewhere have pointed out.

    JK most likely has even identified the problems, but has to suck it up to try and progress with this team, since he came out and publicly supported the players he has, but more importantly has invested his time and efforts and the clubs money in some of them.

    While Lovren and TAA seem like they were the usual suspects, I was wondering about our midfield and WTF they were doing.

    Ref decisions aside, our midfield I thought was flat both going forward and defensively, and might have been the main problem for our loss. Our subs do not really frighten anyone but that is JK’s concern, as he chose to work with these players.

    To me, it seems like we have lots of average squad players in our midfield (and team) in general. I think sometimes they solve our problems, other times they become our problems.

    However I do remain optimistic and I think we can achieve top 4. I don’t know about the Chelsea game, as the next game for all teams will decide on the momentum and mentality.

    The CL is a distant fantasy, but I hope we get United in the quarters just to see if we really have what it takes to beat them on the big stage.

  5. My thoughts exactly. This defeat to a good, efficient side sits perfectly into the story of Liverpool ending up winning the CL – a competition with many similarly efficient sides left in it i.e. Juventus, Real, Bayern, ManU. Learn from it and use it when you face one of them.

  6. There has been fair amount of lauding the Portugese tactical maestro in the comments on this site since Saturday. Speak too soon??

  7. David Spare

    Written before last night’s glee fest!! Won’t have another chance to beat them this season!

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