Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool clash wasn't pretty, but Mourinho tactics helped Manchester United clear tricky hurdle

By Ian Herbert

Jose Mourinho was lost for words on Friday when he tried to say that he did not care if people found him less animated than Jurgen Klopp. "I'm not on the touchline to…" he said, waving his arms around as he left the room to indicate what he meant.

Klopp did, indeed, take the eye as the minutes ticked down last night - staring at the opposition warm-up as he always does, lingering on the pitch long after Manchester United had left to hear their final instructions.

Something new was building here by then; a suspense about how the new Anfield would feel under lights with 18,000 more packed into the new top tier. A black cat stalked the turf. A beautiful Harvest Moon dominated the sky.

What Mourinho had imbued his team with was considerably less poetic but very effective, though. He scowled, sniffed, stuffed hands in pockets and it was clear from the second minute that he had sent his team out to win this game physically.

That was the moment Marcus Rashford went through James Milner.

United were tougher, stronger, uglier. The presence of Marouane Fellaini in the deep midfield never fulfils that sense of what their supporters feel the spirit of Old Trafford should bring but few would not have taken the bubble of Liverpool speed and intensity being burst. It was a necessity.

Mourinho was facing the side which had scored more goals than any other in the Premier League (73) since Klopp's tenure began a year ago. He also began with three points fewer than Louis van Gaal at the same point last season.

The pressers became the oppressed and individuals at the heart of Liverpool were bullied. Emre Can, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino struggled to retain the ball. A re-organisation Mourinho had effected pushed Paul Pogba up behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic (6ft 3in behind 6ft 5in) and Jordan Henderson felt it.

It didn't help Liverpool that the Daniel Sturridge enigma was far from being solved. A ball Can put across for him dribbled off his foot. He didn't anticipate a ball from Milner.

Klopp's displeasure was explosive at times. To say that Can received both barrels would be an understatement. The new expanded cauldron was supposed to have burnt United alive but Anfield seemed to lack the thumping intensity of old.

Klopp arrived for the second half several minutes before his players. It seemed to be him saying: 'I've said my piece, now sort it out' and his players tried: David de Gea required a save of outstanding quality to palm away from Can.

Even finer was his leap to make the fingertip touch which sent Coutinho's 30-yard shot clear. The quality of Antonio Valencia's tackle on Firmino should not be forgotten.

It was what Wayne Rooney can bring that United had missed when he arrived with 15 minutes to play. The missing factor was skill and touch, something only Ander Herrera had brought to any degree.

Such sophistication didn't arrive. Rooney was scrambling around in the right-back berth, trying to seize back possession, by the end. Not pretty and not memorable, but necessary.

There was no animation from Mourinho for Klopp; just a handshake before he marched away down the tunnel, obstacle cleared amid these difficult early months in the foothills of his biggest football mission yet.

Belfast Telegraph


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