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It was billed as the biggest game in British football and there can be little disputing that; but Liverpool’s bore draw with Manchester United last night displayed much about both side’s shortcomings.
For periods in the first half the frenetic energy of the occasion lived up to the build-up but it quickly became apparent that energy was at the cost of the quality of either side on the evening. Jose Mourinho snapped afterwards that Jurgen Klopp’s decision to play Jordan Henderson and Emre Can spoiled the game but this event was one where both sides seemed as if discipline was the last word they heard before taking to the pitch.
Both sides could claim a moral victory in so much as being the more impressive team on the evening; Liverpool had more possession and forced David De Gea into two tremendous saves, while United bossed the first half, had arguably the best chance of the game and rarely looked like they would fold under the second half pressure their hosts put on.
Klopp referred to the energy of the game. “When you have the ball you have to calm down, immediately,” he said. “We wasted a lot of energy, for nothing really.” That was the case for both sides in the first half.
Liverpool seemed to have an anxiety with their responsibility as the home side to seize the impetus; United had them pegged back into their own half for long periods of the first forty five minutes.
Their territorial domination didn’t manifest itself in chances worth describing in detail; United’s star men, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, set the tone for how it would go with rash long range efforts which went wildly away from the target. Ander Herrera, comfortably the best player on the pitch, performed with a composure which looked completely out of place; this wasn’t aided by a defence who seemed only interested in pumping the ball away at every opportunity.
One would assume Daley Blind was selected to project a calming authority along the back, and while United mostly defended with assurance, their distribution was wayward and never settled - it was only a matter of time until Liverpool stopped wasting the gift of possession they were constantly receiving.
Mourinho had a point about Klopp’s decision to play two holding midfielders but the game then turned into that sort of cagey affair where any change would prove crucial. Was it worth risking the point to win all three? For United, less so - the minimum objective from this game was to ensure their rivals did not pull away from them, and so in that respect, Mourinho got it spot on.
If one was to evaluate the title credentials of either side based on this game then their weaknesses seemed evident. Liverpool lacked a presence up front and were heavily reliant on Coutinho and Firmino for the magic which would have provided a breakthrough. Defensively, they looked as if they had a soft belly - it’s almost a certainty that with the current goalkeeper and defensive line-up, Liverpool do not have a title winning side, and it is with this in mind that United’s forwards might be kicking themselves this morning.
One would have expected so much more from Pogba and Ibrahimovic, two players brought in to influence these kind of games. It seemed especially so last night - the base of the team was solid and safe, and the two star names were given the responsibility of winning it. It was their disappointing displays which made United look so average but this wasn’t helped by the propensity of Chris Smalling to keep giving the ball away from his clearances; the neutral may say that the defender did his job, but when every one of those clearances fell to a red shirt, it was only a matter of time before that turned into pressure on their own goal. You have to think that for the manager, a cooler head in the backline who is better with his distribution may be the key to dominating and winning these kind of games.
For a match with such hype, it will be instantly forgotten by almost all who witnessed it; save for the two managers, who were surely given plenty to procrastinate over moving forward.
Follow Wayne Barton on Twitter @WayneSBarton
Wayne Barton is the football columnist for eirSport. He has been described by the Independent as ‘the leading writer on Manchester United’ after numerous books on the club and autobiographies.
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