After what was laughably termed in some quarters as a ‘Mourinho masterclass’, honours ended even yet again for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds against old rivals Manchester United, in the third consecutive draw between the two sides; the first time this has happened since 1921.
The points might have been shared but only Klopp really had anything to enjoy about his team’s performance as he sipped his post-match glass of Merlot; Liverpool were unlucky not to emerge with all three points as a distinctly unambitious Mourinho side had their efforts summed up in three stats; one solitary shot on target, a lowly 38% possession and 13 fouls (compared to Liverpool’s seven).
It should also be remembered that most of Klopp’s squad were away on international duty until late last week and had endured lengthy flights (possibly a factor in the early withdrawal of Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah, two of Liverpool’s top performers), but despite this, his team toiled away gamely all match and would have run out comfortable victors, save for two of the men on the field who had a major influence on the lack of goals.
Apart from keeper David de Gea, who made an outstanding stop to deny Joel Matip what looked a certain goal, Mourinho had referee Martin Atkinson to thank for the point he left Anfield with. An abject officiating display saw him wave away a stonewall penalty claim by Philippe Coutinho, in addition to an unusual reticence to use his cards when both Romelu Lukaku and Ander Herrera committed numerous booking-worthy fouls yet bafflingly escaped without even one yellow card between them.
Aside from the referee’s failings, the game also removed some of the mystique from United’s start to the season and suggests that their place beforehand at the top of the league was somewhat misleading, with their first clash with a side in the top half of the table resulting in their first blank, when previously they had averaged three goals per game.
Mourinho predictably failed to take any responsibility for his side’s limp effort and even blamed Klopp, saying post-match:
One thing is an entertaining game for fans, another thing is entertaining game for the people who read football in a different way. That’s different. For me, the second half was a game of chess but my opponent didn’t open the door for me to win the game.
1-0 to Jurgen then for not doing as Mourinho was hoping and ‘opening the door’ for him.
The German himself was upbeat after the game, and matched the view that United were fortunate to escape with a point:
It was a good performance, I thought worthy of three points. We were unlucky in at least two, maybe three situations – of course the big chance when De Gea made the save. I felt the referee should have given us a penalty. Then, maybe, it was a red card with the Lukaku and Lovren situation.
Nobody could dispute the logic behind Klopp’s lineup decisions (although the continued absence of left-back Andrew Robertson remains odd), however, one area he needs to address is the lack of cohesion amongst his front three – namely the loss of form of Roberto Firmino.
To his credit, the Brazilian never hides and his work rate is always excellent, but he looks short of touch and confidence of late and his unselfish willingness to drop deep or out wide often leaves a frustrating void up front where a true number nine would be.
With Daniel Sturridge looking a shadow of his former self, many fans wonder if it may be worth giving youngster Dominic Solanke more of an opportunity in a central role. Solanke has looked a threat and made an impact whenever he has been introduced from the bench and as more of a ‘traditional’ number nine, he is a more likely candidate to get on the end of crosses and higher balls from the likes of Salah, Coutinho and the full-backs.
Perhaps a couple of games on the bench will do Firmino good, but his return so far this season of two goals and two assists (all coming in two games) is simply not good enough for someone playing his role in a ‘top’ team and looks even worse compared with the records of Lukaku, Harry Kane, Alvaro Morata and Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus at Liverpool’s main rivals.
Liverpool return to Champions League duty as they face Maribor on Tuesday, a game they go into needing a win and hopefully riding on an improved defensive performance and the feeling that when a bit of luck goes their way the goals will flow again.
In regards to the manager himself, Klopp is strangely ‘under pressure’ from a small contingent of the Liverpool fan base, who would do well to consider the situation in context with the Reds matching Chelsea and Arsenal on points to date, despite a tricky start featuring clashes with 3 top six rivals in their first 8 games.
Before Saturday’s game Liverpool were also rated as underdogs against the ‘rampant’ United and most would have said a point would have been a decent result; as it turned out Klopp’s side did so well that most Liverpool supporters would have felt somewhat disappointed they didn’t get the three points they deserved.
There is also this, final, closing stat to remember:
Jurgen is doing nowhere near as badly as some would have you believe.