Liverpool versus Manchester United again failed to live up to the hype as Jose Mourinho’s safety-first policy saw him once more frustrate the hosts at Anfield.
United goalkeeper David de Gea made one brilliant reaction save from Joel Matip in the first half, but Jurgen Klopp’s side failed to break down well-organised opponents.
It is a criticism which has been regularly levelled at the Reds this season but was perhaps excusable on this occasion considering the rivalry and the quality – United began the day joint top – they faced.
Here we analyse the performance of both Klopp and Mourinho.
Shots – 18
Shots on target – 5
Passes – 578
Pass success – 86%
Aerial duel success – 10
Dribbles – 21
Tackles – 16
Possession – 62.3%
Shots – 6
Shots on target – 1
Passes – 354
Pass success – 76%
Aerial duel success – 11
Dribbles – 9
Tackles – 20
Possession – 37.7%
There was little surprise to Jurgen Klopp’s selection with the German settled on his trusted 4-3-3 with the only notable tweak in approach being to station Coutinho further forward in the absence of the injured Sadio Mane.
But given the potential overload in midfield, with United fielding a withdrawn five, the Brazilian often dropped deep as an option as Liverpool experienced large portions of possession throughout the match.
Given how tightly packed United had their defence and midfield, the Reds switched between quick passes into feet with minimal touches and then trying to spin the ball out wide to making more definite, direct passes into space. It was from the latter approach that Liverpool manufactured their best chance of the half as Firmino caught Antonio Valencia slightly napping as a set-piece was only half cleared, darted in behind and then pulled the ball back for Joel Matip, only for David De Gea to make an excellent save.
The rhythm of the second half mirrored the first, although there was a notable desire from Liverpool to try and force the issue with more pass attempts into the final third, be it crosses or cross-field deliveries from deep to the far post. With the exception of when Emre Can stole into the six-yard box and poked one over, United’s defence largely dealt with the threat.
It was notable to see Salah making continual darts to the far post, pulling away from his marker but unfortunately either the passing player didn’t notice the Egyptian’s movement or the physical mismatch with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling neutered the threat.
The late introductions of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Daniel Sturridge were an attempt to freshen things up and give United’s settled defence a new problem, but neither made a significant impact.
On the one hand, Jose Mourinho sprung a mild surprise by selecting Anthony Martial over Marcus Rashford. The implication was that Martial is a more attacking wide forward, less diligent defensively as Rashford. However, the decision was also one of circumstance given Rashford had played 162 minutes for England and Martial wasn’t even called up by France.
The additional caveat was the decision to station Ashley Young on the right-hand side. Always a dervish on derby days, the versatile 32-year-old was a more defensively sound option than Juan Mata, despite the Spaniard’s own impressive record against the Reds. Indeed, seven of Young’s 24 touches in the first half were made in his own half.
As expected, United were content with surrendering large amount of possession to Liverpool, while maintaining their shape and looking to strike on the counter. It was telling Romelu Lukaku had just 13 touches in the first 45 minutes with the most telling one being the chance he spurned in the 44th minute. True to form, Martial robbed possession from Mohamed Salah, fed Henrikh Mkhitaryan and moving quickly in transition Martial and Lukaku combined for Simon Mignolet to make a decent save.
Ander Herrera’s role was also notable as the Basque was snapping into tackles – 12 attempts in the first half – not giving Liverpool’s midfielders any time to settle or dwell on the ball.
Mourinho had clearly seen enough in the first half not to alter his tactics one iota as United stood firm on the 18-yard box, headed and intercepted and showed little willingness to provide any attacking adventure after the break.
Spending equal time between the bench and his technical area, the German offered a mixture of encouragement and exasperation at what unfolded. He was an energetic presence but, then again, there was little in the game for him to get truly animated about.
His body language mirrored the organisation of his team on the field. Lots of notes were made and with the exception of some trademark waves of the hand regarding a few refereeing decisions, the Portuguese had a steely gaze for much of the match.
There have been only 3 goalless draws in the 51 PL matches between Liverpool & Man Utd - 2 have been in the Klopp v Mourinho era pic.twitter.com/Lyr5gDgb0X— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) October 14, 2017
Liverpool played how they were expected to but Klopp’s gameplan largely relied on some individual magic or United opening up, and therefore creating space. Neither occurred, hence the stalemate
A draw suited United more so than Liverpool and this was a match Mourinho just didn’t want to lose. His players followed his strategy to the letter and Liverpool didn’t have the ingenuity to break his side down.