The day finally arrived, after two weeks of boring internationals. We all felt the impatience building as kick off drew closer and when Jürgen Klopp announced his team.
It showed a few changes from the Swansea win due to injuries picked up by Georginio Winjaldum and Adam Lallana on International duty.
Emre Can came into the middle of the park for his first start since the injury he picked up in August and with Adam Lallana being out Phil Couthino dropped back in to midfield which allowed Daniel Sturridge to start up front. With Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge up front the midfield were expected to supply the ammunition. This game was a litmus test as to how far the team have come and how far the tactics employed by Jürgen Klopp will take them this season even though it’s clear it was not his first choice eleven.
Manchester United manager, Jose Mourhino team had no Wayne Rooney or Juan Mata who were both left on the bench. Ashley Young was drafted in to Uniteds starting eleven for the first time since last January, possibly to track Nathaniel Clyne better and when he could get forward to provide the crosses for Zlatan Ibrahamovic and Maronne Fellani in the box.
As the fist half ended there was not a lot to say about the game in fairness, it was a fairly sour affair. Jose Mourhino had a plan. Play it long to the front try to win the second ball and try to create set pieces and crosses especially from Ashley Young who had a few in the half. Paul Pogba, Zlatan among others trying long range pot shots really leading to nothing.
Liverpool on the other had were being pressed quickly high up the pitch, not being allowed any sort of possession of the ball in the middle of the field hence no ability to move into the final third with any sort of menace. The final ball from the home team was either poor or just not the right choice at that moment.
On twenty eight minutes Zlatan fouled Mané and the resultant free kick saw Henderson chip a ball to the back post where Roberto Firmino had the best chance of the half but his header was tame and straight into the body of David De Gea.
Poor free kicks from Liverpool were wasted chances to apply pressure and it wasn’t until about the half hour mark that Liverpool started to gain more of the ball around that final third of the pitch. Unitedworked very hard in the first half closing down the space and time forLiverpool’s midfield and maybe expended alot of energy in doing so.
Eric Billy and Ashley Young both got booked in the closing stages of the half, Young basically talking himself into the book.
Phil Coutinho was Liverpool’s best player in the first half which wasn’t a hard choice to be honest but as the half closed he was getting in to more forward positions and starting to pick tight neat passes which United were finding hard to follow but as the half came to an end neither goalkeeper really had much to with a lot of the play being played in the middle of the park. The first half was a broken up, slowed down game, just as Jose usually likes it when he comes to Anfield.
With the start of the second half it looked pretty much the same from Liverpool with no momentum to talk about. With Loris Karius still looking very nervous at the back trying to distribute to his defenders almost gifting a goal to United on fourty eight minutes only for the linesman to flag for offside. On fifty three Pogba produced a fine cross from the right side of the pitch to Zlatan at the back post who raised and his header went back across goal. An usually exceptional header of the ball would have considered it a big chance too.
On fifty eight minutes Joël Matip moved forward with the ball more slipped a pass through to Emre Can in the box who jinks past a couple of tackles and got a leftfoot shot away which produced a fine save from De Gea down to his right side.
The introduction of Adam Lallana on fifty nine minutes for Daniel Sturridge provided an immediate spark to the team as a whole. Mané, Couthino and Firmino all started to link up better and quicker. Turning and running at the now entrenched United defence. By now Phil Couthino was in his more normal position out wide on the left and was seeing a lot more of the ball between the lines feeding off Lallana and Jordan Henderson.
On the seventh one minutes he jinks his way in from the left to produce his now trade mark shot heading in to the top corner only to be thwarted again by the excellent De Gea with a full stretch finger tip push over the bar.
Liverpool were now controlling the game on the edge of the United box looking for the slick passes that break down their defence something that they had been able to do of late. Adam Lallana brought energy and desire to the final third which was missing all game and seemingly bringing it out of the players around him too. On eighty three minutes Couthino received a deep fizzed pass to his feet on the edge of the box where upon he simply flicks it around the corner for Firmino to run onto with a great chance to score but is again thwarted by a brilliant tackle from Antonio Valencia just as he was about to pull the trigger.
It was the last real action of a game that seemed to drag the negative out of Liverpool having to deal yet again with a Jose Mourhino team that came to Anfield simply not to get beaten. Long balls to Zlatan and crosses and set pieces being the away teams only real efforts spoiled what could have been a good game.
Indeed in my game notes I recorded Liverpool had only three shots on target which did produce twi fine save but United had just the one shot and that was in the eighty first minute of the game.
Liverpool paid too much respect to United early on allowing them to gain a foothold in the first half which sounded out the tune for their game to follow. The home team did improve in the second half but what was hugely visible is how important Adam Lallana is to this team now and indeed if Emre Can will be able to force his way into a regular spot when fully fit again. Tonight he looked slow a foot and of mind at times although he did grow into the game in the later stages possibly as other players around him tired out too.
Winjaldum and Lallana in the midfield looks like the way forward and yet again the game just passed Daniel Sturridge by but mostly not of his own making. The game doesn’t suit him now the way Jürgen Klopp wants to play. He tried again tonight but in the first half he along with Firmino were trying to live off scraps.
So it wasnt the win we all hoped and indeed some of us were pretty sure of, myself included, we didn’t get beaten and it’s another tough test out of the way early on. Injuries hopefully will clear up before the next outing and the video of tonight’s game will be played atMelwood tomorrow where it will be pulled apart no doubt in detail hopefully to our future benefit.
Written by @StephenKing75