First Team Match Reaction

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United: Five things we learned

Manchester United need Paul Pogba back soon

This was a performance eerily similar to what we saw this time last year, but for different reasons: while confidence was the issue back in 2016, Jose Mourinho simply didn’t have the diversity and ingenuity in midfield needed to break through the lines and get the ball to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s feet this time around.

Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic battled valiantly against a ferocious Liverpool midfield quartet comprising of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Georginio Wijnaldum and Philipe Coutinho, matching them all the way in terms of resilience and grit, but there was no creative spark. No impetus to spring forward and open up gaps.

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Needless to say, this is what Pogba offers in abundance. This was the first time his presence was notably missed and supporters will just pray he returns in time for the visit to Stamford Bridge in early November.

The best in the world

David de Gea was finally handed a place on the Ballon d’Or shortlist alongside Gianluigi Buffon and Jan Oblak this week and he reminded the watching world of exactly why against Liverpool.

Roberto Firmino managed to wriggle free on the left hand side and zipped a pass back to Joel Matip, who looked destined to make the net bulge. But the Spaniard was having none of it, somehow stretching out a leg to push a fizzing point-blank shot to safety.

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And that was the closest Liverpool came to scoring. De Gea now has eight clean sheets to his name from ten games – a truly superb record. But what truly impresses is how he’s been doing this for years.

Romelu Lukaku fails Liverpool test

Plenty of talk before this game revolved around whether Romelu Lukaku, who never scored at Anfield for Everton, could replicate the form that has seen him claim 11 goals so far this season in the seething cauldron of a truly massive game.

And, put simply, the 24-year-old failed the test. While a lack of midfield momentum and touches for Mkhitaryan left the Belgian isolated, he likewise continually failed to serve as a reliable outboard up the pitch, meaning the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford could never really have an impact higher up the pitch. Spurned a superb chance in the first half following some good work from Martial, firing a tame shot straight at Simon Mignolet.

Jose Mourinho needs to sign a left back

Ashley Young has provided a promising answer to Mourinho’s left-back conundrum in recent weeks but the 32-year-old, deployed on the right wing at Anfield, is not a permanent solution.

And neither is Matteo Darmian, who notably lacked the conviction and speed to cope with the lively Mohamed Salah for large parts of the afternoon.

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If anything, the nature of the performance isn’t the issue here, but rather the perpetual uncertainty surrounding that position in general. A January bid for, say, Tottenham Hotspur’s Danny Rose or Barcelona’s Jordi Alba ought to be high on the manager’s priority list.

Big games aren’t all that 

The Premier League, with all its various television network agreements, can invoke a compelling level of enthusiasm surrounding these games. A blockbuster clash, they say. An unmissable event, they insist. THIS GAME WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE, they call from the rooftops.

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But what today’s clash between England’s two biggest clubs revealed above anything was that, actually, these high-octane ordeals rarely culminate in an entertaining affair, but more a battle between two headless chickens attached to rockets.

At the height of its frenzy, English football can almost outpace itself somehow, and such was the case at Anfield, where nobody looked likely to provide a finishing touch.

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By Leo Nieboer

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