Manchester United prevailed over their most bitter rivals, Liverpool, in what was billed as the most highly anticipated game of the season. This game always delivers in terms of hype and the amount of passion which is generated from both sets of supporters who have seen their respective clubs dominate Europe and so this fixture becomes so important on a domestic scale, who is still the bigger club?
Most neutrals this season would argue that the table doesn’t lie and therefore by looking at it you could easily say ‘Manu’ but if you look in terms of overall performances by both clubs, you could argue Liverpool still have a strong case as their performances this season have been sensational with emphatic wins in Europe over Porto and also domestically, destroying the likes of Arsenal at the beginning of the season and beating the league leaders Man City at Anfield. Whereas Manu under Mourinho have lacked that ability to show ‘flare’ and a ‘flamboyancy’ that most neutrals including myself expect Manu to showcase.
Mourinho’s tactics have been criticised by many fans as being too negative and cautious especially when they have the firepower at their disposal they should be attacking teams at will but maybe Mourinho is trying to protect a back four he feels could be susceptible to leaking goals. Liverpool also share this vulnerability with Manu and probably have come under more scrutiny as a result of letting teams come back. However, in January Liverpool have strengthened their defence with the signing of Virgil Van Dijk and have looked more compact at the back.
Van Dijk may look the part at the back but whoever he shares his defence with at the back, it remains to be seen whether they are up to the task of standing up alongside him with the same mettle. Time and time again it was easy to see that Lukaku had the better of Lovren but Klopp did little to switch things round and you would’ve thought Klopp would’ve realised after a couple of Lovren’s failings to retrieve the ball that a switch in defence was inevitable to cope with the bullying figure of Lukaku. This missed opportunity allowed Lukaku the space to offload the ball and set Manu on the move, time and time again. There were very little errors from Man Utd at the back, however when a ball was played up into the Man Utd box which Smalling thought keeper David De Gea would collect but after realising he wasn’t it created panic in Smalling to clear and giving Liverpool a corner.
Marcus Rashford, back in the Man Utd squad for the first time this year delivered a sensational performance and offered himself as that outlet who was willing to run at defenders and take chances. Rashford hasn’t started a league game since December 26th so it was his chance to stake a claim in the side and he impressed Old Trafford with a brace and overall dazzling performance. Rashford is what Manu should represent in a team, the flare and flamboyancy which was prevalent in Saturday’s game. Liverpool on the other hand found it hard to break a resilient Man Utd side down and by the second half they were chasing a game which meant more energy was used trying to find a spell of possession but unable to do anything with the ball once they had it.
Image courtesy of dailystar.co.uk
This win now places Man Utd 13 points behind their local rivals Man City but ensures they now have a 5 point gap in second place from the rest of the pack. Although second place is not what Man Utd fans expect from their sides to only strive for, this at least offers an automatic place in next season’s Champions League. This win for Man Utd at least demonstrated if the firepower they possess perform on the day then they are able to defeat formidable teams like Liverpool who also possess the same ability up front. By attacking teams it means they spend more time defending the ball and I think the tactics Mourinho displayed on Saturday were spot on for this tie as he knew Liverpool would display the same attacking grace they have staged all season long against teams.
Liverpool were contained so well in this game that the likes of Firmino, Salah and Mane had limited chances resulting in them creating very little. This performance from Utd can only strengthen the claim they need to be able to showcase their attacking style more often as their attack is the best form of defence. When teams are trying to chase the ball and are already 1-0 or 2-0 down it can have an impact on players desires to chase the game and that’s exactly what Manu did. Liverpool did well to nick a goal and create some tension late on but it was a matter of too late and too little. The latter words have rarely been used to describe Liverpool performances this season but Mourinho proved to have deployed a tactical mastermind over Klopp.
Manchester United now have their next game to focus on which comes in the Champions League against Sevilla and by beating Liverpool this will come as a welcome confidence boost for the team who I would say have been struggling to provide dominant displays in games which they should have won or at least taken points from.