(written by Callum Owen)
After a close and cagey encounter- a game very much of two halves- a toothless Liverpool were unable to breakdown a disciplined and solid Manchester United side.
Going into the game, United sat top of the Premier League, with third-place Liverpool knowing a victory would take them back to the top.
However, despite a strong start for Liverpool, United were able to hold firm and grow into the game, setting up a tense final thirty minutes.
The fluidity of Liverpool’s attack
When the line-ups were announced the surprise inclusion of Xherdan Shaqiri for the hosts caught many eyes. However, was it much of a surprise?
In their past three outings, games versus West Brom, Newcastle and Southampton, Liverpool have collected just two points. It would be easy to look at Liverpool and point fingers at their defensive injuries, but this hasn’t been the problem as of late for the champions.
The main issue with Liverpool has been in their attack. One of the most feared attacking trio’s in Europe of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have been quiet as of late. In the three previously mentioned Premier League games only one goal has been scored- by Mane against West Brom.
This has led to calls for some variety in the attack, to freshen things up, and the inclusion of Shaqiri was to provide just that. Shaqiri has looked strong in his previous substitute outings for the Reds, thus his starting berth today wasn’t necessarily a shock.
What the Swiss international provided Liverpool with against United was a different option in the attack. He offered them fluidity.
At times, often in the first half, Liverpool attacked in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Mane on the left, Firmino as an attacking midfielder, Shaqiri on the right and with Salah through the middle. Whilst they defended in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with Shaqiri dropping back into midfield to assist Thiago and Gini Wijnaldum.
To his credit, Shaqiri had a very good game before his 75th minute withdrawal. He offered Liverpool another option in their already strong attack and his creativity, along with Thiago, gave Liverpool’s attack the shot in the arm he required.
The fluidity the Shaqiri provided kept the United defence guessing, not allowing them to settle into a comfortable defence system.
It will be interesting to see if he retains his place with Diogo Jota out injured. Promising signs for Liverpool and ‘Shaq’ nonetheless.
Two different Manchester United’s
It may be an odd way of describing it, but what we saw from United today was almost like seeing two different teams.
The first was a side that sat back and absorbed Liverpool’s pressure, especially in the first 30 minutes, where Liverpool was at their strongest. The key battle’s were in the midfield, with Thiago, Wijnaldum and Shaqiri largely getting the best of Scott McTominay and Fred. Despite this, United’s midfield duo were able to assist the Red Devils backline, helping them to hold strong and repel wave after wave of Liverpool attacks.
Liverpool, unsurprisingly, utilised Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the flanks, with a high volume of balls into the box from the dynamic duo. However, Maguire and Lindelof at the heart of Manchester United’s defence were strong, throwing their bodies in front of every ball, leaving David De Gea very little to do in goal.
The second Manchester United side we saw was one that forced the issue upon Liverpool, they pushed forward with surging runs in the midfield, troubling Liverpool and drawing fouls. Bruno Fernandes came very close with a first-half free-kick, which was a sign of things to come in the second half.
In a game where chances were few and far between, for both sides, United continued to show their attack impetus in the second 45 minutes. Fernandes came close once again in the 75th minute, with a shot from six-yards, saved by Allison with his feet. Furthermore, the biggest chance was yet to come.
In the 82nd minute, Paul Pogba found himself just outside the six-yard box, with a half volley smashed towards Alisson, with the Brazilian producing a fantastic, split-second save, the best chance of the game.
This second United side showed a lot of promise for the rest of the season, in recent years United have been considered a defensive side, content to sit back and grind results out. While this is a good quality to have, and one of they had to lean on at Anfield, they also showed they could attack – especially on the counter-attack, as they’ve shown consistently this season.
Fantastic individual performances
Individual performances were key for both sides today, predominantly in the defence of both sides.
For Liverpool, holding midfielder, turned makeshift centre-back, Fabinho, had another excellent game as Liverpool’s lead centre-half. He was solid throughout, as usual and predictably composed and calm in possession, whilst also being more than happy to do the defensive work that is necessary for these sort of games.
Also for the hosts, Allison – who had a quiet first half – was called into action in key moments of the second half, and was superb when required.
Additionally, Thiago, in his Anfield debut, was one of the creative sparks that Liverpool have been crying out for in the middle of the park. He dictated the pace of the play well, setting up chances throughout whilst also having the best of Liverpool’s chances, stinging the palms of De Gea from distance in the latter stages.
For Manchester United, Luke Shaw had a stand-out game. He won his personal battle against Salah down Liverpool’s right flank, even up against Mane, Shaqiri and Trent at times he came out on top more often than not, as well as consistently charging up and down the line at pace, driving United forward.
Both Lindelof and Harry Maguire too had strong defensive games. Many United fans were disappointed to see Eric Bailly miss out, after his previous strong form; but against Liverpool’s press, the duo at the heart of the defence coped brilliantly under pressure, leading from the back by example, taking United to a valuable point at the home of the Champions.