TEAMtalk picks out the talking points from the big game at Anfield, where Liverpool and Man Utd both failed to impress, with Paul Pogba particularly poor.
Quality fails to justify the hype
Neither side finished in the top four last season, but given the progress Liverpool have made and the strengthening that has taken place at United, we were entitled to expect far greater quality than what was served up at Anfield.
‘Red Monday’ has been hyped up all week but Jurgen Klopp’s mood was black after an opening 45 minutes during which his side failed to show any of the penetration or poise that has seen them win their last four Premier League matches.
Georginio Wijnaldum and especially Adam Lallana were badly missed and it is no coincidence that Liverpool sharpened up when the England midfielder replaced the wholly ineffective Daniel Sturridge before the hour mark, allowing Roberto Firmino to play further forward. This was an opportunity for Sturridge to answer a few critics but an anonymous hour served only to fill Klopp’s mind with further doubts over whether the forward can function as the German requires. When Sturridge exited the stage, Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Firmino immediately looked liberated and they rediscovered some of the rhythm they so badly lacked in the first half.
Few people expected United to come to Anfield and dazzle, and the majority were not surprised. But the most impressive aspect of the game, especially in the first hour, was the way in which the Red Devils carried out their game plan. Whatever the purists might think of Mourinho’s methods, his logic in setting out to avoid defeat was sound and his players carried out his instructions almost to the letter.
Indeed, United’s plan worked so well that they had the better of the first half but they wasted what opportunities they had in attacking areas. Their final decision or killer pass was poorly executed and they failed to take what opportunities they earned.
Neither side deserved to lose, but nor did either deserve to win.
2 – Liverpool have managed just two shots so far, their joint-lowest total in the first half of a PL home game (since 2003-04). Subdued.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 17, 2016
Poor Pogba wastes his chance
Pogba hinted last week of his frustration at his role under Mourinho, who had used his record-signing at the base of his midfield.
“I try to adapt,” he said.
“I am a player who would rather go forward. The coach gave me instructions, I try to follow them.
“I have to retrieve balls and make defensive efforts. It cost me a bit to play differently, much like Pirlo. I have to play, be there to recover and play more for the team.”
Mourinho granted Pogba his wish at Anfield, with Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini employed to do the dirty work that Pogba apparently isn’t too keen on. With Ashley Young and Rashford also given strict defensive duties, Pogba played almost as a second striker, but the Frenchman failed to seize his opportunity.
His work rate to deny Liverpool space cannot be criticised but more is expected of the £89million man. ‘Here to create’, according to his sponsors, Pogba was told to do exactly that by Mourinho, but his cross onto the head of Ibrahimovic 10 minutes into the second half stood alone as his only moment of quality.
Touches in opposition penalty area this weekend:
Man City 64
Nathan Redmond 12
Man Utd 6
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) October 17, 2016
Herrera finally shining
In contrast to Pogba, Herrera is enjoying a break-out season at Old Trafford as he continues to win the trust of Mourinho.
Buoyant after his first Spain call-up during the international break, Herrera had more touches, won more tackles, made more interceptions and completed more passes and more dribbles than any of his team-mates.
Herrera has been a popular figure at Old Trafford since joining the club two years but even up to the summer, few people could say with any authority what he actually offered United. Louis van Gaal never really trusted him but Mourinho is coming to rely upon the 27-year-old, who is showing the discipline, tenacity and quality in possession required of a top-class holding midfielder.
Keeper concern for Klopp
It would be foolish and unfair to write-off Loris Karius after only four appearances, especially when you consider what his opposite number tonight has become despite the shakiest of starts at Man Utd. But with what little he had to do, the new Liverpool goalkeeper offered little encouragement that he is a safer pair of hands or feet than the much-maligned Simon Mignolet.
United missed a trick at Anfield, given their aerial authority, and Karius was tested by only one quality delivery from Ashley Young in the first half. The German stopper flapped hopelessly and had to be thankful than Ibrahimoivc was fouling Dejan Lovren behind him.
Karius is supposedly more comfortable with his feet but the manner in which he presented a sloppy pass to Pogba in the second period suggests not.
Of course, any new goalkeeper coming into the Premier League deserves patience, but Klopp had an opportunity in the summer to upgrade his goalkeeping options, which he appears not to have taken.