Manchester United vs Liverpool ended as a stalemate but how well did United’s stars play?
The faceoff between two of the most historically successful clubs in England was always going to attract attention. This time, however, both Manchester United and Liverpool are just a few steps away from getting back to their ‘historic’ best. Going into the fixture, United boasted a nine match winning streak in all competitions while Liverpool, despite faltering recently, looked daunting up in third place. Although, with this rivalry, form really does mean nothing. In the 80’s, the Red side from Manchester often stole points off the Scousers, while they repaid that favour in the 90’s, despite not being as strong.
Jose Mourinho, after rotating his side for Reading and Hull City, reverted back to his strongest starting eleven from the past two months. From a tactical point of view, however, Jürgen Klopp had done his homework. The German knew that if he targeted his ‘gegenpressing’ on Michael Carrick’s distribution then he could cut off United’s counter attacks before they began. This worked effectively for Liverpool, and they subsequently dictated the tempo for much of the first half.
When Paul Pogba was pressured into handling the ball inside the area, the ever reliable James Milner dispatched his
penalty confidently and gave Liverpool the advantage heading into the break. Mourinho sent on Wayne Rooney, chasing a record-breaking 250th goal, for Carrick in the second half to ‘reverse the pyramid’ of United’s midfield and counter Liverpool’s high press. The Portuguese’s in-game management switched the momentum of the game back into the Red Devil’s favour, and Mourinho’s men managed to dominate the chances and territory for the rest of the game.
United managed to scrape one goal back, courtesy of a smartly cushioned Zlatan Ibrahimović header, but could not break through Liverpool’s deep defensive line for a second time. A 1-1 result was a fair reflection on both teams and will probably be accepted by both teams’ fans at this stage in the season. United still have a long way to go if they want to disrupt the current teams in Champions League positions, while Liverpool slipped further behind the rampant Chelsea in their bid for the title.
GK: David De Gea: 8
Was called upon too many times for comfort, commanded his penalty area with real authority, and made some very good saves in both halves. His distribution, in particular, was fantastic as his kicks and throws were often at the beginning of promising United counter attacks.
RB: Antonio Valencia: 8
One of only a few United players who could walk away with full confidence that they had put in a shift. Very solid defensively against the rotating forwards that he faced. Valencia made the joint most tackles of any defender on the pitch (3) and was one of United’s most dangerous attacking outlets. His cross to Ibrahimović for the equaliser exhibited his smart offensive positioning and composure. The Ecuadorian has deserved his contract extensive for his sublime consistency this season.
RCB: Phil Jones: 7
A very decent game from the player who was so close to leaving the club last summer. Jones has showed consistency this season, however, the ex-Blackburn Rovers defender showed that he is not completely dependable yet. His loss of concentration in the 25th minute led to Liverpool’s corner which soon after became a penalty. Other than that, Jones won the second most aerial duels of any player on the pitch (7) whilst putting in two tackles and three interceptions along the way.
LCB: Marcos Rojo: 7
It feels slightly uncomfortable to type this but Rojo was a much needed addition to the first team against Liverpool. His no-nonsense style helped United out of a few sticky situations, making a gigantic twelve clearances in the process. The Argentine looks more composed on the ball than he ever has before, which helped United play out of Liverpool’s aggressive pressing.
LB: Matteo Darmian: 7
Looked reasonably comfortable defensively but struggled to support Antony Martial effectively at the opposite end of the pitch. His reluctance to overlap with penetrative runs often means that United switch the play to Valencia, who can make those direct runs. With Luke Shaw set for another chance at the left back position, it looks unlikely that Darmian will be as depended upon as he has been for the previous two months.
CDM: Michael Carrick: 5
Really struggled in his regista role against Liverpool’s ‘gegenpressing’. His pace and inability to shift the ball quickly saw him dispossessed a dangerous amount of times, which led to his subsequent substitution for Wayne Rooney at half time. The Geordie excels when he has more time on the ball, something Mourinho will have to remember the next time United face a high pressure opposition.
RCM: Ander Herrera: 8
Like Valencia, Herrera has become one of Mourinho’s dependable men, along with Zlatan and Pogba. His dynamism and industry in the middle helped paper over the horror show performances of Pogba and Carrick. Made the joint most tackles of anyone on the pitch (5) and the joint most interceptions (4). At the opposite end of the pitch the Spaniard played a good ball into Henrikh Mkhitaryan just before half time which should have led to a United equaliser.
LCM: Paul Pogba: 4
A shadow of the figure who strutted over Old Trafford so confidently over the last two months. Had the worst pass accuracy of any United player at 71%, was dispossessed a further three times on top of that and gave away the penalty with a needless handball. Completed zero dribbles and zero key passes, which is very unlike the Frenchman. Pogba, and his fans, will be hoping this was a one-off with his haircut now being paraded around the Old Trafford advertisement boards like a new global sponsor.
RM: Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 6
A very ‘meh’ game from the Armenian who tore Tottenham Hotspurs apart just over a month ago. While his direct running and subtle movement created plenty of attacking opportunities, his sloppiness often let him down. Should have scored at the end of the first half and was moved to an auxiliary left back role during the second half, where, surprisingly, he looked his most effective. Was dispossessed the joint most of anyone on the pitch (6).
LM: Antony Martial: 6
Like Mkhitaryan, Martial had an up and down game. Started very brightly with his weaving runs but ran out of ideas very quickly when his dribbles were not coming off. Made a hospital pass in the 25th minute which very nearly put United in a deep hole. Was hauled off by Mourinho at the hour mark for the more insightful Juan Mata.
ST: Zlatan Ibrahimović: 7
While Ibra’s lack of movement can be infuriating at times, his genius is subtle, as shown again against Liverpool. Almost scored from a bullet free kick in the 32nd minute and managed to grasp United’s equaliser with a stooping header of underrated difficultly.
Wayne Rooney: 6
Added more steel to United’s attacking link-up play and got involved from the get-go. Missed a few half chances but put in a very good cross for Fellaini to head against the post. Still looks unlikely to be a regular starter for the Red Devils.
Juan Mata: 6
Came on a drifted around seamlessly, picking good forward passes to Ibrahimović and Rooney. Was unable to add the touch of quality which United needed to steal all three points.
Marouane Fellaini: N/A
Sent on as Mourinho’s favourite ‘hoofball’ option, and actually worked wonders. His header which came back off the upright led to Ibrahimović tucking away the equaliser. His physicality and presence gave United the edge in the final 15 minutes.