There will always be huge hype in games between Liverpool and Manchester United—two storied and fierce rivals. Now that Jürgen Klopp and José Mourinho are in charge of these two football giants in the North West, there is extra spice with two charismatic characters in the dugout. Liverpool entered the game with a chance to draw level with Arsenal and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. Reaching 19 points, however, could only be achieved with victory at Anfield.
After an opening 10 minutes of much hustle and bustle as both sides tried to show their muscle, Manchester United started to look more comfortable as the game was spent more in the middle third than anywhere else. That's to be expected, but Liverpool’s penchant for attacking down the left didn't trouble the away side at all. Manchester United looked comfortable, showed some potential danger down the left, and were controlling space effectively.
Shots from Manchester United were speculative ones from distance and not necessarily threatening for Loris Karius to deal with, but Anfield was quiet. Jürgen Klopp’s players struggled for tempo, fluidity, and basic accuracy in passing. Composure, often a noted weakness for Liverpool under Klopp, was lacking. Mourinho’s players were organised and disciplined with a compact set up. Zlatan Ibrahimović provided the muscle and experience on the counter, Marcus Rashford was the speedy support act on the right, and Ashley Young was the set piece threat. An interesting game plan for such an expensive side.
The first real chance came on 29 minutes after a sustained spell of possession lasting under a minute ended in a signature Jordan Henderson chipped pass onto the head of Roberto Firmino. The ball plumped softly into the arms of David de Gea, but it was was the culmination of a few minutes where the home side started to play with greater confidence and use the whole width of the pitch.
Liverpool spent rest of the first half trying to push forward without any particular verve or threat with Manchester United happy to counter in spaces left by Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner. Liverpool’s possession wasn't being translated into meaningful chances by the time the interval arrived in a game short on quality in the final third from both teams. Even the two managers seemed muted on the sidelines.
The second half was marked by more nervousness from Karius, some probing, some passing, and nothing else to match the pre-match build up. There was a chance for Mourinho’s side on 54 minutes as a ball from Paul Pogba was placed onto the head of Ibrahimović that was went across the area. Swedish star’s header looked more like a pass than an attempt on goal. That would be the last slither of a sniff for a team that ended the game with only two shots on target and 35% possession. That last statistic was the lowest recorded for Manchester United since Opta data records began in 2003/04. A Mourinho masterclass indeed.
Liverpool started to press more ten minutes into the second half and show some of the qualities that have served the club well so far this season. A sharp forward pass from the imperious Joël Matip released Emre Can in the area that drew a fine save from David de Gea. Can looked in need of more matches as he looked off the pace but danced in the area to fashion a shooting chance. Klopp revealed after the game that the midfielder was struggling to train for the past couple of days, but Can showed a flash of his attacking abilities.
Daniel Sturridge was rightly substituted for Adam Lallana as the striker was marshalled well and gave the ball away too easily at times. Lallana changed the game as Liverpool found more composure and energy. Adam Lallana’s importance in setting the tone for Liverpool’s press is only matched by Roberto Firmino, and although there was already an improvement from Anfield’s representatives, Lallana was the catalyst in helping Liverpool really get going.
There were two big chances in the last twenty minutes as Man United offered little in attack. Philippe Coutinho nearly raised the roof on 71 minutes, but his long-range shot was thwarted by de Gea. The ball looked like it was heading in until that man, who should have just moved to Real Madrid when he had the chance, saved it with style. Coutinho was involved again around ten minutes later as he put his compatriot through on goal before a superb recovery tackle from Antonio Valencia snuffed a chance out. Valencia’s tackle had to be perfect and it was. Roberto Firmino, running from left to centre in the area, was in an ideal position for a right-footed player with his level of finishing to put a mark on the scoreboard with just seven minutes left.
That was it. Liverpool could have played better. Manchester United got what they came for. This wasn't a game that either manager should be praised for as some display of tactical prowess. Klopp’s players needed to have more answers against a side that boasted a similar mentality to Liverpool’s next opponents: Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion.
Liverpool are undefeated against Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Manchester United with two wins and two draws. Home wins against the likes of West Brom, though, make disappointing draws against fierce rivals far easier to digest.