Reaction from United’s win over Liverpool.
A win for Jose
Six minutes of stoppage time was an extraordinary amount to add and only in this period did it seem like Liverpool would get anything from the game; through nothing other than anxiety. For all of the hype about the visitors – and maybe Jose Mourinho listened to it a little too much – they offered very little.
Once United went 2-0 up they had this game in the bag. Liverpool’s only way back into the game was through an extremely fortuitous own goal, which was possibly a consequence of the hosts playing so deep.
There was enough evidence here to show that United, who are not at their best, and missing their most talented midfielder, are a stronger and better team than Liverpool. It was a huge result in the ‘race for second’, however underwhelming that is.
Jurgen Klopp was keen to blast United for playing ‘long ball’ in this fixture last season as Jose Mourinho had to try and find a way past Liverpool’s ten-man defence in the second half. There was a delicious irony in the goals in the first half being relatively simple in execution, and both of them through the route of De Gea > Lukaku > Rashford.
It would be childish for Klopp to dismiss United’s first half performance as simply ‘long ball’, even if that’s how the goals came. Mourinho effectively played a 4-4-2, somewhat forced by the Paul Pogba injury, but nonetheless another big game where he has picked a positive team. Klopp picked a conservative team himself, hoping to exploit the counter attack through speed and not quality.
United played a little deeper to nullify the threat and stretched the game using Rashford’s pace. It was an idea that seemed straightforward and a team of Liverpool’s calibre, with £100m worth of centre-halves, should be embarrassed to have been undone so routinely.
A Young masterclass
All that talk about Mo Salah would have had United supporters nervous as anything when Ashley Young was selected to play against him. But it was a great performance from the left back and also a smart selection from the manager, who knew Young’s ambidexterity would counter Salah’s propensity to cut inside. Liverpool’s top scorer was anonymous.
Playing a two-man midfield from the start was a risk, as was picking Smalling and Bailly. By and large, that unit of four players were exceptional, the best area on the pitch in terms of United’s performers. As critical as we have been of Smalling, we don’t deny his ability to play like he did today and against Chelsea.
But we have to single out Scott McTominay for praise; the young midfielder had an incredibly influential game and alongside Matic, was dominant in a game where the expectations – particularly against a three – were not to put in a display like that. We know he is capable of this, considering his display against Chelsea, but coming as it did after the game against Crystal Palace was a remarkable show of confidence and character.