Mourinho's conservative tactics vs. Liverpool killed United's momentum
The scoreless draw at Anfield was predictable.
No one actually thought Manchester United would indulge in adventurous football against Liverpool Saturday, and yet it was utterly disappointing Jose Mourinho didn't do more with a side flying high in the Premier League.
Despite gripes about the quick turnaround from the international break and resultant injuries to Eric Bailly and Marcus Rashford, the Portuguese plotter had sufficient reason to attack a defensively frail Liverpool. United's enjoying its best-ever start to a Premier League season, averaging more than three goals per match, and all Mourinho wanted was a point.
Last year in the same fixture, United's conservative approach made sense. Liverpool was the team on the ascendency, while Mourinho was still trying to figure out his best starting XI.
It's the opposite this time around. The Red Devils have not only been more clinical in front of goal, but also more dynamic in their overall play. They should've had the confidence to capitalise on Liverpool's long-standing issues at the back.
And it's not as if United defended particularly well anyway. Had the likes of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Georginio Wijnaldum been more ruthless with their finishing, the match could've ended two- or three-nil to the host. Liverpool moved the ball quickly and accepted United's invitation to raid open spaces.
Mourinho bemoaned that his options on the bench affected his management of the game, but the blame is only his to take. His tactics completely isolated the otherwise in-form Romelu Lukaku, whose 22 touches ranked the lowest among all of Saturday's starters. The long ball couldn't reach him on a regular basis. And the dagger in the heart is that goalkeeper Simon Mignolet completed more passes.
United could've taken encouragement from the way it finished the opening stanza. The visitor had ridden out Liverpool's early storm, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial finally found opportunities to take defenders on. Lukaku pulled free of his man marker, and crosses flew into the penalty area.
But after the interval, Mourinho's men resisted any temptation they may have had to push forward. It seemed to confirm that, no matter how the match went, the Portuguese would remain steadfast in his pursuit of a point. For a big-name manager in his second full season in charge, that's not acceptable. United has a history of chasing results - whether at home or away - and it's not enough to allow an historic rival with clear deficiencies to have its way.
Mourinho's counterpart, Pep Guardiola, showed that - even with injuries to key players - attacking football in hostile environments can yield results. Manchester City's 1-0 win at Chelsea two weeks ago was a statement to the rest of the league. The same cannot be said about the latest performance from its crosstown rival.
It's not always bad to play for a draw - there's a time and place when considering form, the quality of the opposition, and the personnel available - but Saturday was no such occasion.
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