To be brutally honest, Jose Mourinho can retire this evening with the knowledge that in terms of the bigger picture, it was mission accomplished. His players did all that was asked of them and more. As for Jurgen Klopp and his band of artists, there will be better days where they will find space ahead of them and teammates with their passes. If the gameplan was to press Manchester United into submission, then the much vaunted Gegenpress needs to develop a variation or two.
This was a day for tactics, midfield battles, committed challenges and not giving any quarters. In a match where all the pre-kickoff hyperbole was about the sense of the occasion, the final product was dull, dour and occasionally (only occasionally) feisty affair. Both sets of players left the pitch knackered and bruised as ‘damage containment’ was the mantra of the day.
Nevertheless, all matches must as a rule have 5 Talking Points. Here they are in all their glory.
1. Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, and Marouane Fellaini: Horses for courses
There are United fans who still wonder what Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini are doing in the same squad as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba. Today Jose Mourinho showed those fans the true worth of an English International has-been and a much maligned Belgian whose only real fault is that David Moyes overpaid Everton to get him. In a game where United recorded just 35% possession (their lowest since Opta started keeping record), the two players, ever on the fringes of this star(?) studded squad, were two of the best players in a Manchester United jersey not named De Gea or Herrera.
Often times Young looked like the only creative United player on the pitch. He spun and wove and ran and then spun and wove some more, before sending in hopeful balls into the box for Ibrahimovic, who was so starved of service, he must’ve been waiting on some United Nations Relief service. Fellaini tackled everything that moved, often breaking a Liverpool move before it began. He also had the most touches of any United player in the Liverpool penalty box. The Reds depend on pressing high up the pitch, winning the ball in dangerous areas and attacking at the speed of a Quentin Tarantino action set piece, before the opposition midfield has a chance to recover. Fellaini ensured to an extent, that most of these moves never materialized. He also contributed heavily to the smattering of attacking play United engaged in.
But real praise must be reserved for Ander Herrera. The combative Central Midfielder totaled 5 take-ons (completing 100 % of all take ons), made 50 passes, most of any player in the match, 11 interceptions, most in the game and the highest total in a single Premier League game this season, made 5 successful tackles and won 4 aerial duels. For a player who was being kept out by Wayne Rooney early on the season, this was the match where the Spaniard vindicated his Manager’s faith in his abilities. Fair play.
On a day, where Jose had probably briefed every player individually about which Liverpool player they would be marking (having left the folder marked ‘attack’ at home), these two players set the benchmark when it came to effort and energy. That, United fans are what squad players are for. They chomp at the bit for some playing time.