Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United: Five things we learned

The most highly anticipated match of the weekend, rather predictably ended in a tight and tense 0-0 draw.

Manchester United’s visit to Anfield was hotly anticipated by fans of the Premier League, many of whom saw it as a litmus test for United’s title-winning credentials. On the day, though, Liverpool were the ones who dominated the ball and pushed for the win. Nevertheless, despite enjoying the majority of the possession, they couldn’t break down an extremely well-organised  Manchester United back line.

With Manchester City winning, Manchester United now find themselves two points behind their rivals in second place. Liverpool, however, remain in seventh on 13 points with much to do if they are to challenge for Champions League qualifying places.

RealSport have picked out five things that we learned from the game.

  1. 1 Mourinho will set up defensively against the big sides

    Having not come up against a club in a higher position than 12th before Manchester United's visit to Anfield at the weekend, there was a level of uncertainty about how Mourinho would set up against the bigger Premier League sides. Saturday's fixtures answered those questions conclusively: away from home at any rate, expect United to sit deep, soak up pressure and hit teams on the break.

    However, on this showing, don't expect this tactic to be too successful. Football analyst Michael Caley had the expected goals values for the game to be 1.8 xG to 0.3 xG in Liverpool's favour. Despite the chance which fell to Romelu Lukaku in the first half, the Manchester club had very little in the line of quality chances and, at the other end, relied heavily on David de Gea to prevent Liverpool from scoring.

  2. 2 A midfield of Can, Wijnaldum and Henderson doesn't work

    Liverpool may have a front three who will terrorise defenders around the world. However, when transitioning the ball into the final third, the team can often be found wanting. Neither Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum or Emre Can are consistently moving the ball through the lines or offering a creative fulcrum for their attack. With Wijnaldum averaging only 29.5 passes per game this season and Henderson only achieving 80% pass accuracy this season, questions must be raised about how effective a midfield three they can be. 

    As always, Liverpool find themselves to be too reliant on the creative talents of Philippe Coutinho who Manchester United marshalled out of the game. Mo Salah was Liverpool's most dangerous player on the day, proving to be a constant thorn in the side of the United defence but even he couldn't find the net despite finding himself in some good positions. While most teams would have struggled to break United down, this is becoming an all-too-familiar problem for Liverpool who must find other avenues to get the ball into the final third and provide good goal-scoring opportunities.

  3. 3 David de Gea is still the best goalkeeper in the league

    One of the signs of a good keeper is their capacity to stay alert even during a relatively uneventual game. Whilst de Gea was not exactly busy during Saturday's game, he was called into action on a couple of occasions and, had he not been focussed, United could easily have given away goals. The save he pulled off with his legs to deny Joel Matip in the first half was extraordinary: using his legs to prevent the ball from squeezing into the net. 

    When it comes to saving with the feet there is no one better than David de Gea and, given his success with it, it is perhaps surprising more keepers don't use their legs to keep the ball out. Once again, though, de Gea has proven to be the best keeper in the Premier League and, with Manuel Neuer out long term, a case could certainly be made that United's goalkeeper is now the best in the world. 

  4. 4 Anthony Martial: wing back?

    An extremely talented young French forward whose attitude and commitment is often called into question, Anthony Martial showed how tactically disciplined and hard working he can be against Liverpool. At Anfield, Jose Mourinho entrusted the former Monaco wonderkid to play almost as a wing back on the left hand side, dropping when Liverpool had the ball in the final third but pushing up to support the United attack with his pace, energy and dribbling ability when the chance arose. Martial was rightly given a standing ovation from the United faithful when he was replaced by Marcus Rashford in the second half having run himself into the ground.

  5. 5 Lukaku's big game woes continue

    A lot has been made of Lukaku being something of a flat track bully. That tag is somewhat unfair especially considering the fact that he has played for sides who are unexpected to be able to match the big boys. However, on this showing, his poor goal ratio against the top six is likely to continue at United, although it may not be his fault. 

    Jose Mourinho is a master at setting his side up to be well-organised and deny space against the big sides. However, this can leave the striker extremely isolated. The big Belgian cut a lonely figure at the top of the pitch for United with Henrikh Mkhitaryan the only player offering anything like support. After firing United's only real chance straight at Simon Mignolet, Lukaku was often left picking at scraps. The result was an increasing frustration from the striker who will have to remain patient if Mourinho continues to play defensively against the big sides.

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Harry Brooks

Harry graduated from UAL in Elephant and Castle with a 2:1 BA Hons degree in sports journalism.

He has an NCTJ diploma and also coaches football and teaches PE in schools.

Harry loves to talk football tactics!