Manchester United hampered bitter rivals Liverpool’s Premier League title bid with a damaging goalless draw, despite losing three players to injury before the break.
In a bitty contest low on quality and entertainment, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and substitute Jesse Lingard all suffered apparent hamstring issues by 43 minutes. Striker Marcus Rashford also played on, even though he picked up a knock early doors.
All these factors went against them, but Brazil goalkeeper Alisson clawing the ball away from Lingard’s feet represented the brightest moment of a limp match.
Here are the United player ratings:
MAN UNITED (4-3-1-2)
David De Gea 6: Faced just one shot on target. Should have needed to work harder for 100th PL clean sheet.
Ashley Young 6: Right-back survived wretched beginning to dig in, while his team-mates fell like flies.
Chris Smalling 7: Slow game suited centre-back. Everything was in front of him. Should have gambled on late chance.
Victor Lindelof 7: A growing presence. Doubled up on Salah when the Egypt superstar drifted inside.
Luke Shaw 7: Had the Premier League’s joint-top scorer to deal with. Instructed to neglect attacking duties.
Ander Herrera 5: Blink and you missed him. Made one rash foul on rampaging Matip – then was gone.
Scott McTominay 7: Shock starter, because of Matic injury. Did well, apart from some suspect grappling in box.
Paul Pogba 6: Second-worst pass accuracy from United’s starting XI. But did more than his fair share of defensive duties. This made up for it.
Juan Mata 5: Another one to say an early ‘goodbye’. Wasted one promising counter-attack by dallying on ball.
Marcus Rashford 6: Stayed out after early knock, but at what cost? Hard to see him starting at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Romelu Lukaku 6: The Belgian had several poor touches, yet he set-up Lingard and Smalling for game’s best chances.
Andreas Pereira 7: Redemption after horror show against Burnley when he was last seen in top flight. Performed valuable job.
Jesse Lingard 5: Simply, he should never have played. Especially as a rushed substitution. Almost scored when he tried to round Alisson, though.
Alexis Sanchez 6: Better, but still not at his Arsenal best. Buzzed around park.
As far as back-up goalkeepers go, Sergio Romero is a luxury. He would be a starter for most sides in Europe, maybe all but the absolute elite. But Manchester United have David de Gea, so Romero, Argentina’s No. 1, has become a squad player, trotted out for cup games.
Romero and FA Cup clean sheets go hand in hand, however. The Argentine was at it again on Monday night, refusing to be breached by Chelsea’s admittedly toothless attack in a 2-0 win that took United into the quarter-finals of the competition.
Despite being the away goalkeeper, Romero only faced two shots on target, with both of those coming in quick succession in the first half, as the keeper beat away David Luiz’s free-kick and then Gonzalo Higuain’s follow-up on the rebound.
The performance kept up the 31-year-old’s remarkable record in the competition. In 11 FA Cup appearances, Romero has conceded to only two players – Danny Graham and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Graham’s goal came in the 2016-17 fifth round, which meant that Romero went nearly two years without conceding an FA Cup goal, before Aubameyang scored this January for Arsenal in United’s 3-1 win.
It is to Romero’s credit that he often puts in these displays in cup competitions, not only are Premier League appearances scarce but he’s often dropped for De Gea whenever United go far in a cup. He didn’t appear in the FA Cup semi-final or final last season, nor in the quarter-final loss to Chelsea the season before. When United won the FA Cup in 2015-16, Romero made only one appearance, the same number he made when the team won the League Cup the following season.
Romero did start in nine out of 12 games in United’s triumphant 2016-17 Europa League run, including the entirety of the knockout stages – he kept a clean sheet in the final, of course.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s policy of keeping him as the cup keeper no matter who United play – earlier managers often drafted De Gea in even in the earlier rounds if the team were drawn against tough opposition – may see him form the backbone of another triumph for the club, if the Red Devils can keep going strong in this season’s FA Cup.
Meanwhile, Romero can be content himself with his standing in United’s history. Statistically speaking, he could claim to be the club’s best-ever keeper – no one has kept clean sheets for United at the rate he has.
Not bad for a No 2 goalkeeper.
Martial was among those omitted from France’s 23-man squad that went on to seal 2018 World Cup glory after finding his opportunities in the second half of last season limited by the arrival of Alexis Sanchez to United.
He seemed to be on the verge of exiting Old Trafford last summer but he remained and has flourished under Mourinho’s successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the last couple of months.
Deschamps suggested part of the reason for Martial’s malaise could be blamed on a number of factors, one of which could be the bond he had with former United manager Mourinho.
Speaking after France were honoured with the Team of the Year gong at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco, Deschamps said: “It’s always difficult to know what can happen but all players can have a period when they are less successful on the pitch.
“It’s certainly related to confidence, it can be related to the relationship they have with their coach. It happens every season, for all players.
“Anthony Martial is back at a very, very good level.
“He’s often decisive. He had some physical problems too. He is a player who was with us at Euro 2016, he was not there for the World Cup but he is one of the players we regularly follow.
“He is a young player who is gaining maturity also because he started very early in Manchester United and with the French national team too.
“There are always difficult moments but in terms of potential, he has everything you need to be at the highest level.”
Deschamps is unconcerned by N’Golo Kante being shifted away from his favoured holding role in midfield to a position higher up the field by Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri in an attempt to accommodate Jorginho.
Deschamps added: “No, it happens with other players (to play in different positions with the club and the national team).
“I saw that his coach preferred to see him in a more offensive position because he has a player, Jorginho, who plays in this position a little lower.
“N’Golo Kante is able to play in several positions. He is a modern player, a modern midfielder.
“When he is with me in the French national team, he has a great importance in this lower position. He is very important defensively and in the organisation of the game.
“Each coach has his formation, a different vision but I’m not worried about that. It’s rather a good thing that players are versatile and can play in different formations or positions.”
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