WHY WAS THE MAN UNITED-LIVERPOOL MATCH SO DISAPPOINTING?
By: Danny Shin
There was certainly a lot of hype coming into Monday’s match between Liverpool and Manchester United. After all, one would assume that a fixture between England’s two most successful clubs would make for an entertaining sporting event. Not to mention, Liverpool-Manchester United is arguably the best rivalry in the entire English Premier League.
This historic matchup was upgraded in the offseason when United brought in high-profile manager José Mourinho to combat Liverpool’s signing of Jürgen Klopp late last season. On Monday, two of world football’s biggest managerial characters would square off for the first time in the Premier League.
The contrasting styles of these two teams were another big storyline coming into this match. How would Liverpool’s high-press attacking flare collide with United’s brute strength and Mourinho’s tactics?
This match had the makings to be one of the best Premier League matches of the season to this point.
Boy, were we wrong.
The 0-0 result marked just the third time in the last 49 matchups that Liverpool-United ended in a goalless draw. Based on the published predictions before this match on a multitude of sports websites, this match was expected to produce goals.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3843380/Liverpool-vs-Manchester-United-predictions-Sportsmail-reporters-say.html (Only one writer out of 12 correctly predicted a goalless draw.)
It’s safe to say that not many people expected both sides to cancel each other out completely. So why was this historic rivalry match unable to live up to the hype on this occassion?
Well, let’s start out with Mourinho’s record against Klopp. The Portuguese manager had only one win to his name in five total matches against Klopp-managed sides. However, Klopp had his own problems to deal with, as key players Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana were dealing with injuries.
As a result, one can’t blame Liverpool for taking a more cautious approach to this match, especially after their first half performance. Manchester United were physically stronger than their opponents and forced Liverpool to play side-to-side as opposed to forward, which led to numerous bad passes and turnovers.
It stressed the importance of Wijnaldum and Lallana to Liverpool. Wijnaldum is fantastic at holding the ball in the midfield, while Lallana can ignite Liverpool’s attack any time he has the ball at his feet. Without those two players, Liverpool could not get into a rhythm offensively.
But perhaps the most fascinating topic regarding this match was Mourinho’s fantastic plan of making head referee Anthony Taylor a subject of media speculation. In the lead-up to this match, Mourinho made this statement:
“I think Mr. Taylor is a very good referee but I think somebody with intention is putting such a pressure on him that I feel that it will be difficult for him to have a very good performance.”
This is a classic play from Mourinho’s playbook. Before big matches, he makes officiating decisions the big storyline and then his teams go and play a very physical style of soccer. Take Ander Herrera, for example, who broke up everything Liverpool tried on his way to 18 combined tackles and interceptions, a Premier League-best this season.
While United did end the match with four yellow cards, two of them did come in stoppage time of the second half. So for much of the 90 minutes, Taylor was unable to hand out many yellow cards, likely due to the fact that he was already under such scrutiny. In other words, Mourinho’s cynical but brilliant plan worked to perfection.
United completely shut down striker Daniel Sturridge, who took only one touch inside the box in 60 minutes of action. His poor play was brought to light even more when Lallana came charging onto the pitch and immediately starting making things happen for Liverpool.
Luckily for Sturridge, his play was cancelled out by the surprising disappearance of United’s big-money signings such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is now goalless in five straight Premier League matches, and Paul Pogba, who had a season-low 63 touches. Both superstars failed to penetrate Liverpool’s backline and had it not been for some fantastic saves from United keeper David De Gea, a good portion of the blame would be pointed at those two players.
For both sides, a draw and one point is a decent result. But for the many spectators who were hyped up to watch one of the most historic rivalries in the world, the match was simply disappointing.