Jose Mourinho’s ‘anti-football’ tactics prove their worth on Merseyside, writes Chris Hatherall.
Liverpool may be a quality striker short of ending their title drought
It has been 26 years since Liverpool won the league title but after a superb start to the campaign there have been whispers recently that maybe, just maybe, they are good enough this season to end the drought. The hope on the Kop was that this match would be the moment when even those outside of Anfield began to think the same way; but Jurgen Klopp’s men didn’t quite do enough. On the positive side the home side grew into the game, recovering from a first half in which they were certainly second best, to produce the better moments after the break and show they have the stomach for a battle. On the negative side they struggled to break down United’s combative midfield and massed defence, tactics which other clubs will no doubt follow as the season goes on. Philippe Coutinho’s magic is undoubted but in matches like these you wonder if Liverpool have the outstanding striker who could be the difference between finishing third and first.
Jose Mourinho’s tactics work — but are they United?
Mourinho’s team selection was slated on Twitter for being ‘negative’, having chosen Fellaini and Herrera in midfield ahead of Carrick and Mata, but there was method in his madness. For long periods United were in full control with Fellaini and Herrera (who was outstanding) dominating the middle of the park. United’s forward players closed down Liverpool quickly to prevent them playing out from the back – and at the other end the defensive line was often six or seven players long. They simply squeezed the life out of their opponents. These are tactics Mourinho has used many times before – in Spain they described it as ‘anti-football’. But at Anfield, against a team that has been one of the most exciting and vibrant in the Premier League this season, it was certainly effective. The question, though, when you consider that Louis van Gaal lost his job for boring the Stretford End to death, is does Mourinho’s style fit the United model? Many fans, used to greater ambition, may think not.
It really doesn’t matter where the referee comes from
There was all kinds of hoopla in the build up to this match about the appointment of referee Anthony Taylor, not because of the quality of his decision-making but because of where he lives. The theory was that he might feel under undue pressure, and even be worried about the abuse his family could face, just because he comes from Cheshire. What nonsense. The idea that a professional referee could be biased towards a team and make poor decision because of where he lives is ludicrous; and Taylor proved it here. Fans may not have agreed with every decision he made – a yellow card for Eric Bailly in particular was harsh – but he handled the game superbly, showing authority and clear communication. Of course, Jose Mourinho saw an opportunity before kick-off to gain some traction from the row – saying it would be “difficult” for Taylor to perform well. “Somebody with intention is putting such a pressure on him,” the United manager said. That person of course was Mourinho himself. The FA are investigating the Special One’s comments and he deserves to be sanctioned.
Daniel Sturridge is a problem for Jurgen Klopp
The Liverpool striker was substituted after 60 minutes here having failed to make an impact on the match and having spent most of the evening dropping deeper and deeper in a bid to touch the ball. The issue for Klopp is that although Sturridge is clearly talented he hasn’t scored in the Premier League for 616 minutes and he isn’t always in tune with his teammates. When he is on form Sturridge is a menace, capable of scoring from anywhere and producing outrageous moments of skill; but when he is low on confidence he contributes little and appears selfish in his decision-making. Liverpool looked better without him when Adam Lallana’s energy and clever link-up play helped the home side raise their game in the final 30 minutes. Food for thought over the next few weeks.
Liverpool haven’t solved their goalkeeping problem yet — but United have the best in the league
Anfield is split over whether young German goalkeeper Loris Karius should still be in the team ahead of Simon Mignolet, and you can see why. Karius, who was once a youth team player at Manchester City, clearly has talent – but he hardly instils confidence in those in front of him with his constant indecision on crosses. United’s problem was they didn’t test the 23-year-old enough, and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front that was a real waste. At least United have no problems between the sticks; David De Gea’s smart save from Emre Can, having had nothing to do for the first hour, underlined his class - and then he produced an even better one to deny Coutinho in what was the best moment of the match.
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