Liverpool versus United is the game we all love to watch. Every year it comes around and as a fan, the butterflies always start earlier than any other team. I sit waiting for the kick off with the thoughts of a glorious win, goals flying in from all angles. The problem is that this premonition hardly ever comes true. Games against your fiercest rivals are more tactically astute than the ‘flying in with studs up’ games we secretly wish for. This was no different.
All in all 1-1 is a fair result. Both teams had chances that could have been converted, and both could have played so much better. Resolutely LFC dug in deep and fought in a hard game, but objectively I have to say that both teams were terrible. The reds pass completion was recorded at only 72%, which is far below our average of 83%, and this continued through the whole game. There was never a moment when I saw the crisp attacks we came to see in 2016. I say 2016 because since the year change we have not recorded a win in any competition.
A couple of issues started before the kick off with both Matip and Clyne unable to play. Matip embroiled in another FIFA regulatory confab, and Nathaniel missing through injury. Our defence therefore started as usual with Lovren and Klavan in the centre, but now with a youngster in Trent Alexander-Arnold (TAA) wide right. Trent was a surprise for me as I didn’t hear about Clyne until after the match. TAA played with the composure and trepidation any player would in a game this big. I applaud Klopp’s squad decisions to be able to put someone like Trent in, and it not be some second rate foreigner. However, I have to say Trent was not as strong as I would have liked. His passing accuracy dropped to the 60% mark, and this just isn’t good enough. Along side this, every time Martial received the ball and burst down the wing, Trent struggled to keep up. On one occasion, Martial was only stopped by the end of the pitch which allowed Arnold to regain his position. I believe Mourinho missed a trick not bringing on Rashford in Martial’s place, even though Jose changed his tactics to go more direct. With Gomez on the bench and having played a full 90 minutes against Plymouth, my thought would have been to go with him rather than TAA.
Behind the back line Mignolet started as expected in front of Karius who still needs time on the sidelines. Simon played well and made some good saves. However, his positioning for Fellaini’s header was awful, and on the rebound, to be lobbed on your line, is not very good. Yes, it was a nice, well timed header from Ibrahimovic, but I still think there’s more he could have done. I also saw the shockingly bad finish from Pogba, and for me, the wrong decision made from Mkhitaryan where he should have slotted the ball under Mignolet’s advancing presence. There always seems to be a cloud of missed opportunities from our opponents that shadows our GK/defensive performances.
Further forward, Emre Can played a lot better than his previous games. Emre created 5 of our 9 chances. Pivoting with Henderson and Gini, Emre sat with a far greater influence. When you have these three in the centre there will always be a strong core. Alongside Can, Gini had a couple of chances where he could have done so much better. At least he is getting in the spaces he constantly frequented at St. James Park. And it’s always a better game when we have our captain playing, although not at 100% it seemed.
Our forward line performed admirably, against an in from defence. I always say Firmino should be our starter in the centre, no matter who is up there with him, and this was no different. However, I can now see a role where Origi can start on the left and cut inside to his right, like he did against Stoke and Villa, supporting the decision to always keep Firmino in the middle. Maybe a training plan for the switch would work wonders for Divock’s abilities and further extend his playing time. I also believe that slight changes in personnel positioning, like this, could help with a point from a previous article, that when we make changes it doesn’t look like the team we are used to.
In this game though, our pressing shone through again, and the disruption of Carrick from Lallana was immense. It not only forced United into a different style of play in the second half when they went more direct, but it also helped young Trent have a breather from the exhausting running which he endured. On top of this, United becoming more direct bypassed the returning tiring Henderson when the game progressed into the latter stages, reducing the pressure from our captain.
In light of how we played, and who we were playing against, I still feel as though something was missing. Maybe it’s a big game syndrome, where you want the crowds to be on their best form, and it to be a spectacle of incidents and not just a tactical battle. Or maybe it is the lack of honest, loyal, one club players that are no longer around. The game is changing and not always for the better. Football clubs are businesses, and ones that can be profitable at that. I think my issue is that the amount of journalists and pundits that are in a position to apply pressure against this shift are either in denial, or are too ingrained in how the game used to be, they can no longer see the proverbial wood for the trees. But this deserves another post (coming soon).