Jose Mourinho pulled off something of a tactical masterclass on a night of frustration for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp as Manchester United escaped Anfield with a 0-0 draw.
Despite boasting the world’s most expensive player – Paul Pogba – along with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David de Gea, the Portuguese seemingly recognised that his side would struggle to beat the Reds from Merseyside.
Klopp’s side has implemented his high pressure style in superb fashion this season and came into the game on 16 points from their opening seven games – just three points behind early leaders Manchester City and Arsenal, who had played a game more.
It was the largest Anfield attendance for a Liverpool-United clash since 1977 thanks to the recently unveiled extension to the Main Stand, but the game hyped up as ‘Red Monday’ failed to live up to its billing, thanks largely to Mourinho’s defensive tactics.
He persisted without captain Wayne Rooney in the side and also started with Juan Mata on the bench, in spite of the duo’s recent success in the fixture. Instead, former Everton man Marouane Fellaini started alongside Ander Herrera with Ashley Young given his first league start since the game between the sides at Anfield in January.
It was an opportunity for the ex-Aston Villa man to impress his new manager and he grabbed the chance with both hands, providing a disciplined performance in defence and being one of United’s main threats at the other end.
Pogba was kept relatively quiet, as was youngster Marcus Rashford, although he provided a few moments of real quality as he looked to be the hero for his side.
Liverpool, on the other hand, were missing the influence of midfield men Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum, with the former only fit enough for the bench and the latter ruled out completely. The two had provided a platform for much of Liverpool’s impressive play this season and without them in the side, United were often afforded too much room in the middle of the park.
However, it didn’t seem like they wanted to take advantage of the Kop side’s slow start and the hosts grew into the game.
United fans may have hoped for an attacking display with the hope of leapfrogging their great rivals into the top four but there never looked to be any danger of that happening, even with a nervy performance from Liverpool ‘keeper Loris Karius in only his third Premier League appearance.
At the other end, De Gea was a rock when called upon and was forced into a very good save to deny Emre Can an opening goal in front of the famous Kop End. Meanwhile, the back line of Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind performed superbly and restricted their in-form opponents to a limited number of chances.
Mourinho had done it again. He looked solemn and somewhat emotionless but anyone that has ever observed the former Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager will know he was proud of frustrating Klopp.
It has been a superb year for Klopp, leading Liverpool to two Cup finals and implementing a completely new style of play, but in a game that was so hugely anticipated due to the striking talent in both squads, we should probably have expected a dull 0-0.
In the long term, this could prove to be a huge point for both Mourinho and Klopp. Liverpool have proven to be early season title chasers and every point will help in their battle, whilst it was the first time that United had played Mourinho’s way since he joined. They put the shutters up and killed the game, knowing that their game plan would leave them undefeated if not victorious.
There is a long way to go but both managers will have learned a lot about their respective sides following this clash.