Not too long ago, Liverpool played host to Manchester United in what was expected to be a free-scoring tie, full of defensive blunders, attacking masterclasses and ultimately a fitting scoreline for one of the Premier League’s fiercest fixtures.
Instead, we were treated to a one-sided affair and a largely unexpected scoreline with Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic nature prompting him to play for a draw rather than give in to the lottery of a battle with the Reds. The approach ruined the game for most, while most importantly, maintaining his side’s form amid injury problems.
Let’s face it; United went into the game severely disadvantaged due to the absence of Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba. The duo’s power and energy were missed against Klopp’s high-pressing side, and without the much-needed physicality in midfield, an open tie would’ve probably resulted in a win for Liverpool.
With all that in mind, Mourinho did what he does best; he fielded his United side with the team’s sole aim being to avoid defeat. A loss could’ve easily hurt fans’ morale and in turn, the players, given they’d been in high spirits since the commencement of the season.
As expected, Manchester United’s performance didn’t go down well with some of the club’s fans as it gave the impression that anti-football tactics are required against teams of a similar stature. Considering the fact that Liverpool were supposed to be the Red Devils’ first real threat of the season, a goalless draw, coupled with a defensive performance seems like a backwards step for a supposedly resurgent outfit.
Whilst that is a very real concern when a Jose Mourinho managed side is involved, it’s worth noting that playing boring and defensive football in certain games has helped the Portuguese tactician to a decent number of titles in his managerial career.
You don’t win a Premier League title by playing free-flowing attacking football for 38 games straight, at least not in the modern era. With more and more teams utilising intricate tactical approaches, there has to be a delicate balance between playing the right way and the smart way in a bid to be victorious after a long run of fixtures against sides of all statures and Mourinho knows when to switch styles to suit a particular scenario and opponent.
Looking at the Huddersfield game – United were undoubtedly expected to grab all three points, but they ended up losing 2-1. Unlike the Liverpool tie, their loss against David Wagner’s men should be classified as nothing more than an odd game, but it should also be counted towards their upcoming fixtures in a bid to ascertain if it was truly a fluke.
The problem, though, is the result and performance against Liverpool, coupled with the loss against Huddersfield hints at a dilemma, thus putting some pressure on Mourinho and his men.
One point against Liverpool may not seem like much – given Manchester United would’ve still been second on the table regardless of whether they had suffered a defeat at Anfield. However, the fact is that a weakened Manchester United side not only managed to bag a point away at Liverpool but they also quite obviously denied the Reds – who also harbour title winning ambitions – all three points on the day.
In a month or two, or even come the end of the season, Liverpool may be two points from a certain position and one of the reasons, along with their porous defence, will be because Jose parked the Bus at Anfield on the 14th of October.
The Red Devils currently sit in second place, five points behind local rivals Manchester City. Despite the Citizens being seemingly unbeatable, an injury-free Manchester United, as they’ve shown this season are capable of playing with flair and dominance, thus affirming their status as a definite title contender especially with the remainder of the top six being so inconsistent this term.
Just because they suffered an odd defeat against Huddersfield, and played for a draw against Liverpool doesn’t mean their title credentials should come under doubt. Manchester City may be in unbelievable form, but as we know all too well, all good runs eventually come to an end, what matters is how teams recover from the stumbling blocks that come with the end of a winning streak.
United’s upcoming clash with high-flying Spurs on Saturday will shed more light on the team’s standing; hence all talk of a dysfunctional state should be put on hold until then.