Manchester United’s opening goal on the weekend had three main culprits in the buildup. There was Emre Can going missing as holding midfielder, Dejan Lovren being beaten too easily to the ball in the air by Romelu Lukaku, and Trent Alexander-Arnold overcommitting and showing Marcus Rashford inside onto his stronger foot.
Which was most to blame seemed largely to depend on the narrative being pushed by the person casting blame. All, though, had a part to play, and the second goal saw variations on the same themes. Following the match, though, Jürgen Klopp has thrown his support fully behind the youngest member of the at-fault defensive trio.
“If somebody said it was only Trent’s mistake then the guy who said it has no idea about football and I wouldn’t listen,” said Klopp when told pundits had pointed to Alexander-Arnold. “Dejan in the challenge could be different but it’s difficult. Around, everything is wrong because we were not there for the second ball and then it’s Trent.”
Alexander-Arnold is young, talented, and has had an outstanding season. But there was a reason United targeted his side of the pitch—targeted not just him but Lovren on the right side of the defence and the gap Can left in the middle, sending deep balls over the top, shaded to the right and redirected out onto the right wing.
United manager Jose Mourinho perfectly identified the weakest point in the Liverpool side, the point that allowed Klopp’s gegenpress to be negated, bypassed quickly and effectively. Long balls to Lukaku who dropped off Lovren into the space Can had vacated, the ball dropping short where Lukaku would be favourite.
Lukaku would then send it out to Rashford as he charged into space on the right, now one-on-one with Alexander-Arnold with Lovren out of position and Can still high up the pitch. It was simple, it was effective, and it gave United a 2-0 lead in a match Liverpool started out looking the clearly better side in.
Clearly, then, it wasn’t all Alexander-Arnold’s fault, then, even if he made the final mistake and showed youth and naïvety defending Rashford. It was Lovren’s fault, too. And Can’s. And more than that, it was structural—it was Mourinho tactically besting Klopp, absorbing pressure and targeting Liverpool’s weak point for the counter.
“When I saw the goal, for me Rashford did brilliant,” Klopp added. “Exactly in the moment where Trent is ready for the challenge, he made a cut back. He stepped too late and in the next moment he shoots. It’s the perfect striker movement, we cannot defend everything. It’s easy afterwards to talk about it.”