No Paul Pogba, no problem and other Man United things learned from 2-1 win over Liverpool

Matt Jones - Editor 20:19 10/03/2018
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A first-half Marcus Rashford brace earned Manchester United a 2-1 win over fierce rivals Liverpool as the hosts gained the upper hand in the race for Premier League runners-up.

Rashford, 20, tucked away his two chances superbly to put the hosts 2-0 up at Old Trafford and even though the visitors pressed hard and got back in it via Eric Bailly’s own goal, the hosts defended stoutly and held on for a precious three points.

Here’s a look at three things we learned about United from this performance:


United fans may not be totally enamoured by Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic style of play – even though his defensively-focused approach is still more entertaining to watch than David Moyes or Louis van Gaal’s football – but it’s hard not to be impressed by the Portuguese’s approach here.

This is how Mourinho would want his team to perform defensively every week – disciplined, rigid, determined and nearly impenetrable.

United’s defence has been solid under Mourinho during nearly two years in charge, but much of that has been down to the heroics and brilliance of David de Gea. Rarely has his back four bossed games and earned respect.

Yet, against a free-flowing team that usually score for fun, United nullified Liverpool, with the returning Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling commanding at the back.

Mourinho’s ploy was to let Liverpool have possession up until the final third and then swarm the 18-yard box, suffocating the spaces for the likes of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah – who was shut out completely, making fewer passes (20) than any other colleague in the starting 11 while his only shot came in the 96th minute.

Mohamed Salah was suffocated by United's defence.

Mohamed Salah was suffocated by United’s defence.


United’s man for the big occasion delivered once again, and stuck it to his critics in the process. Rashford’s two goals were his first Premier League strikes since his equaliser in the Manchester derby against City on December 12 and just his second and third United goals of 2018. He likes the big stage, having scored against Arsenal, City, Chelsea and now Liverpool during his fledgling United career.

There’s a banner hanging at Old Trafford that reads ‘Just like Manchester, Rashford is Red’, yet one of the club’s own has been attracting most of the fans’ ire this season, particularly from those in his home city.

Rashford only left his teens behind in October and is still very much a work in progress, learning his craft. Yet some Red Devils fans unfairly expect him to deliver week in, week out.

Goals have dried up somewhat this season, while visible frustration has become commonplace on his face. But with his frightening pace, composure beyond his 20 years and ferocious work rate, the future is still dazzlingly bright for the Wythenshawe wonder boy.

Marcus Rashford opens the scoring for the Red Devils.

Marcus Rashford opens the scoring for the Red Devils.


Paul Pogba’s absence was the big talking point before kick-off, although Mourinho explained it was due to an unidentified injury sustained in training on Friday, which had been reported at the time.

It was perhaps a blessing in disguise as the Frenchman has struggled badly for form in the last month. Should it slightly alarm United fans that they were able to function – even thrive – without their best player? Yes and no. If the worst scenario possible unfolds and Pogba leaves Old Trafford for a second time this summer, it shows United can function without him.

With Pogba in the side and when Mourinho deploys a 4-3-3, both player and team play well – the 2-0 win over Everton in December proof of that.

But in Mourinho’s favoured 4-2-3-1, Pogba clearly struggles, while Scott McTominay has excelled in the two in front of the defence alongside Nemanja Matic.

If the manager continues to struggle to get the best out of his most talented player, that’s a worry. But as television pictures showed after the game, with Pogba and the Portuguese sharing an embrace as Mourinho was conducting an interview, all at least appears well between master and magician.

Paul Pogba missed the game after getting injured in training on Friday.

Paul Pogba missed the game after getting injured in training on Friday.

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