Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 0 Manchester United 0 in the 2023-2024 Premier League season…
AND Manchester United walk away delighted.
Yesterday, an email went out where I listed their 1980s results at Anfield and made the point they walked out of Anfield nine times delighted. Not because of nine wins, but because of nine non-losses.
Today, they walk away delighted. And full credit to them. Their players got what they came for and what happened to them last season and what happened to them last week created the context for it. They defended for their lives, covered the passing lanes, smothered everything and fell on every grenade.
Genuinely, full credit to them. They were excellent out of possession and didn’t really care about being in possession. They made it not their business.
This is no way home for them in the long run, or even the medium run, or even the short term, but these had to be able to look themselves in the mirror tomorrow morning and they can do that.
The negativity was palpable but, frankly, understandable. If you don’t understand it, you’ve never played any game or any sport, you’ve never dug deep knowing you are outgunned and outclassed.
Manchester United have come to Anfield with a very straightforward game. Defend as if their lives depend on it. Try to grab one. But above all, go 15 at the back and just defend. Block passing. Block shots. Stop the cross. Stop the goals. Onana in goal makes several credible and one very good save. But above all, the blockers block. It is not going to block itself.
Liverpool don’t do what they should, which is put them to the sword. Liverpool don’t stay calm around the penalty area, Liverpool don’t find their moment or their spark. Liverpool don’t ask them the question — that’s all well and good boys, but what are you doing at 1-0?
At the end of this game, where Liverpool have had some 34 shots and eight on target it is hard to know what would happen if the game was to continue for infinite minutes. It is as though we would be both certain (at some point) to score, and certain (to infinity) never to score.
Liverpool players walk off with a collective wail of frustration.
Though certain things did go right. Alisson Becker, thank god for you. Crucial saves and constant pressure forward. The captain, likewise, is everywhere.
You worry about Antony v Tsimikas from the word go. But the Greek does well. We long for Andy Robbo but he is good today. He handles the speed well. He makes good passes.
Though what goes wrong is mainly in the zone of those we long for. I would have given my thumbs and one kidney for Diogo Jota to come on as sub on the 60th minute. No one really truly looked like scoring in the manner he would have.
We miss a stable shape. This is the downside of twisting. You twist to go bust. We miss certainty of personnel. We miss certainty of pass and clarity of purpose. We miss the extra magic of creativity that comes from players knowing each other’s whereabouts at every moment.
These are not fatal flaws, but they are small weaknesses.
These are the bits that need ironing out. I have small concerns around the starting three, but those concerns pale into comparison around the midfield three and those pale again around the general lack of partnerships.
But even the strongest concerns need to acknowledge the reality — they had to send a team of grocks to draw with us and they had to get lucky over and over.
The end of this, though, is what is the point? What is it all for? It is to win and it always has to be to win now. Especially when now opens itself up. You can say “we are ahead of schedule” but the truth is:
a) I don’t give a shit about your schedule.
b) Neither does Virgil van Dijk or Mo Salah.
The chance is there and this week a very specific chance was there and the reality is we have spurned it.
But nothing has been lost in the grand scheme. We just need to do the decent thing next weekend.
It was a slog. It was always going to be a slog. I told you it would be a slog.
And the whole thing, the whole 38-game thing, it is a slog. But it is the best slog and it is our slog and you know what? We can do it together. In it for the long haul. Brought sandwiches and everything.
Want to win the league? Bring your fucking dinner.