Liverpool vs Manchester United: A Game of Anti-Football

We should have foreseen the North-West’s biggest and baddest rivalry failing to live up to the prematch hype; after all, this is now the fourth draw between the two sides in as many matches.

It was the same old story: Klopp’s positive brand of football yielded large spells of possession and the better of the chances, while Mourinho employed the same safe tactics which have frustrated Liverpool in previous encounters. If nothing else, Liverpool should probably take this as a compliment, for Mourinho clearly knew that his team would not be able to dismantle the Merseysiders in the same manner they steamrolled both Swansea and West Ham. José’s team had averaged three goals a game from their previous seven Premier League fixtures, but this was the first time they had faced a side in the top-12 places, and it showed.

United’s lack of ambition was palpable. The side’s only shot on target came when a surprisingly lackadaisical Lukaku fluffed a chance in front of goal, thumping the ball down the throat of Mignolet. Just as Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to win the game for United with his tame header in this fixture last season, Lukaku never looked like testing Liverpool’s keeper. But in fairness to the Belgium striker, Mourinho’s defensive tactics meant that he was often left isolated and forced to live off scraps.

Injuries to Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini didn’t help United’s cause: the league leaders (at the time of playing) looked bereft of creativity in midfield and failed to make the most of set pieces. A knock to Marcus Rashford during the international break meant that he had to watch Martial from the sidelines for the majority of the match, however, the talented Frenchman failed to muster up the same kind of magic we have so readily been accustomed to in recent weeks. When Rashford took to the pitch shortly after the hour mark, he lacked the confidence and authority to run at Liverpool’s defence; most probably a result of his manager’s dogged tactics.

Klopp was asked after the game if he would ever set up a team in the way that Mourinho had.

“You could not play this way at Liverpool,” he replied, “but it’s OK for Manchester United.”

Later he clarified that point in his press conference. “I said it was obvious they made a more defensive approach. That was obvious but that is completely fine so it looked to me that they wanted a point and if they can get three they will take it.”

Mourinho rejected the notion that his team had killed the entertainment factor. “It depends what for you is an entertaining game. One thing is an entertaining game for fans, another thing is entertaining game for the people who read football in a different way. That’s different.” He added: “For me the second half was a bit of chess but my opponent didn’t open the door for me to win the game.

In contrast to United, Liverpool were happy to commit men forward. The Anfield faithful were all but jumping for joy under the autumnal sun when Roberto Firmino deceived Nemanja Matic inside the penalty area and pinged a sumptuous cross into Joël Matip. The Cameroon international would have found the net if it weren’t for an exceptional piece of improvisational goalkeeping from De Gea – the Spaniard jutting out his left foot to block a shot from eight yards out. Other than that, United luckily didn’t have to rely too much on Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to keep Liverpool out.

It goes without saying that United will have to seriously up their game if they are to deny their noisy neighbours from winning the league this season – City’s 7-2 demolition job over Stoke was like watching the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. A 0-0 draw with Liverpool isn’t any cause for concern, but should they play with the same sort of negativity against other top half sides over the forthcoming weeks – namely Spurs and Chelsea – they will do serious damage to their title chances.

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