Sport Premier League

Sunday 18 February 2018

Liverpool frustrated as De Gea rises to challenge

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester Utd

Ander Herrera of Manchester United wins a header with Roberto Firmino of Liverpool Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Ander Herrera of Manchester United wins a header with Roberto Firmino of Liverpool Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Jason Burt

Jose Mourinho curled his lip and did a number. He made his point to get a point. Two years ago he arrived at Anfield and later declared, after he had derailed an apparent Premier League title parade, that he was not going to be "clowns in the circus".

Then he was Chelsea manager. Here he was Manchester United's as he turned a toxic rivalry into a comparatively sterile goalless draw and refused to come to the party again. There was little hoopla. No bells, whistles or custard pies. No clown craze here, in fact.

Jose Mourinho sent Wayne Rooney on as a second-half substitute Photo: Reuters / Carl Recine
Jose Mourinho sent Wayne Rooney on as a second-half substitute Photo: Reuters / Carl Recine

This was pragmatic United and Liverpool could not find a way through, even if Mourinho was twice indebted to David De Gea.

A fixture that usually delivers goals had none and Mourinho will have been the more satisfied given the questions he has faced of late, questions as to whether against such forceful managers as Jurgen Klopp he can still cut it. There is life in the old spoiler yet.

Still, it leaves United in seventh with no win in four.

Mourinho took to the dugout early, well before the teams arrived, in a familiar tactic in such matches, matches that resonate, to show his level of control; his level of insouciance, even.

David De Gea put in a fantastic performance for Manchester United Photo: Reuters / Carl Recine
David De Gea put in a fantastic performance for Manchester United Photo: Reuters / Carl Recine


"He is world-class, he is a winner and he is someone who relishes big moments and big occasions," Klopp had said of his opponent in his programme notes. And this was a big occasion.

But then Klopp is not undone in these stakes and he adopted a customary role of staring at the opposition from the centre-circle, back turned to his own players, as they warmed up. If anyone was in any doubt - and, let's face it, no-one was - as to the importance of the managers in this, and the importance of their force of personality, then here was evidence writ large.

What bearing would it have? United attempted to meet fire with fire. They pressed high. Very high. Paul Pogba was pushed in as the No 10 - Wayne Rooney again benched, where there was not even a place for Henrikh Mkhitaryan - and Ander Herrera had been ordered to get forward in support.

Liverpool also tried to press, of course. The first roar came when Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino hunted down and dispossessed Antonio Valencia.

The first outcry had come before then when Marcus Rashford had upended James Milner. Wisely, referee Anthony Taylor, who had been under so much scrutiny over his Manchester postcode, and with referees' chief Mike Riley in the stands, did not reach for a card. A warning, instead, was delivered.

But United had the bite. And the ball. It was being turned over quickly - strangely it was Liverpool going long in search of Daniel Sturridge - while the visitors, with Ashley Young earning a surprise recall, preyed on the pressure they were exerting.

There were sighters from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba and still United continued to win the ball back.

Could they sustain it? Klopp's frustration grew and erupted when Ibrahimovic outmuscled Jordan Henderson in the centre-circle again to take the ball.

It was the most aggressively - and Mourinho had questioned whether his team were aggressive - United had played this season. There was zip and purpose, and Liverpool were knocked out of their stride.

In mitigation, they had had to chop and change personnel - the injured Georginio Wijnaldum was a particular loss; his replacement Emre Can looked off the pace - with goalkeeper Loris Karius then reacting sharply to shovel away Rashford's dangerous low cross as Ibrahimovic waited to pounce.

Finally, for Liverpool, there was some relief and a half-chance fashioned for Firmino, whose header was easily held by De Gea. Finally, also, given the number of frenetic challenges, Taylor called both captains over to try and order some calm. Fat chance.

But the momentum switched. Suddenly it was Liverpool retrieving the ball quickly inside the United half. Maybe Mourinho's side had blown out a little such was the intensity and effort they had put into the first half an hour with cautions quickly collected by Eric Bailly and Young.


Chances were at a premium; just two on target in the first half and neither threatening. Mourinho would have been the more satisfied although he may have felt his team should have gained the advantage.

This time it was Klopp taking his seat in the dugout early and long before the players returned in perhaps a sign of his displeasure. The look on his face showed that anyway, while he will have been incredulous as Karius inexplicably played the ball straight to Pogba as he tried to find Dejan Lovren.

Foolishly the United midfielder passed to Ibrahimovic, who was in an offside position, rather than bearing down on goal himself. What a let-off.

Then there was another. This time Ibrahimovic should have scored after Pogba delivered a far smarter pass, a beautiful deep cross to the far post. A goal beckoned, surely, but the Swede headed back across and wide after getting his angles wrong.

Finally Liverpool threatened, with Can digging the ball out from under his feet, after he was picked out by Joel Matip, to force a fine one-handed save by De Gea down to the goalkeeper's right.

Klopp had, nevertheless, seen enough. On came Adam Lallana, who had been suffering from a tight hamstring, for the ineffective Daniel Sturridge. It meant Sturridge has now gone 615 minutes without a league goal. Lallana brought fresh impetus with Firmino, moved centrally, appearing far happier and more threatening.

United began to dig in, partly as they had been forced back with De Gea again producing a brilliant save as he dived full length to push away Coutinho's fierce, dipping shot from 25 yards before Valencia halted Firmino with an immaculate tackle. But it would end without a goal.

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