MATCH CENTRE

Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool: A Cautiously Emphatic USA Exit

It’s always nice to see Liverpool beat Manchester United, isn’t it?

Let’s not get too carried away, though. Both teams were missing a large number of key players and however satisfying the result is, it’s hardly likely to represent a proper insight into what the clash will look like in a competitive game.

United were without David De Gea, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Nemanja Matić, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial (who might leave yet) and Romelu Lukaku. On the other hand, there was no Alisson Becker, Loris Karius, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold or Nathaniel Clyne, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Naby Keita, or Roberto Firmino. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may as well stay out of this as he isn’t likely to play the competitive games either.

The First Half

So here’s what the teams looked like.

For the first half Jose Mourinho sent out Lee Grant, Eric Bailly, Matteo Darmian, Demetri Mitchell, Axel Tuanzebe, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Ander Herrera, Andreas Pereira, Scott McTominay, Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez.

Jurgen Klopp picked Kamil Grabara in goal, the centre-back duo of Virgil van Dijk and Ragnar Klavan, Rafa Camacho and Alberto Moreno as the fullbacks, Fabinho at the base of midfield with James Milner and Adam Lallana around him, and Dominic Solanke flanked by Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in attack.

As for the balance of the game, the final score is a very good reflection of what was going on on the pitch. Liverpool dominated throughout, while United played deep as expected, and mostly resorted to launching long passed from the back to look for runs of Sanchez and Mata – nothing the Reds back line couldn’t handle.

Not one proper chance did Mourinho’s men create. Even the goal they scored was a set-piece, albeit a free-kick brilliantly taken by Pereira which hit the very top corner from around 20 yards. On the other hand, Mane and Salah were constantly a handful for United’s defence, even though Bailly and young Tuanzebe had a very good game both. Solanke worked hard as ever but it just wasn’t happening for him. Fabinho was excellent, as was Milner. Meanwhile, Lallana was as industrious as ever, covering a lot of ground back and forth, but he distinctly lacked sharpness.

Klavan had a bit of trouble with Sanchez and was forced to commit a foul on him every now and again, but he and van Dijk had things properly under control throughout.

Camacho was a real fire down the right flank, both in attack and defensively. Moreno was rarely challenged at the back but he was involved in a lot of things further up – just the way he likes it.

Liverpool’s swift passing game was often mesmerizing, leaving United players turning on their spots unable to guess which way the ball is going next, but the final pass often lacked an inch of accuracy.

However, the half ended all square as Pereira’s free-kick mentioned above cancelled out a penalty previously won by Salah and excellently taken by Mane.

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The Second Half

After the break, Caoimhin Kelleher replaced Grabara, Xherdan Shaqiri replaced Salah, Sheyi Ojo replaced Mane, Ben Woodburn replaced Lallana and Nathaniel Phillips replaced Klavan.

Mourinho changed only his goalkeeper as Joel Pereira came on for Grant.

It should be said that Kelleher looks more the goalkeeper Klopp’s high defensive line demands. Much more so than Grabara, who basically did nothing wrong, but he mostly stayed in his box and dealt with everything from there. There was nothing he could do to save Pereira’s free-kick. But Kelleher was much more alert, constantly popping out of the box to either make a timely interception, or simply offer himself as an outlet for a centre-back under pressure.

Also, Shaqiri looked determined to fight for a place in the team, even though he’s obviously been signed as a quality backup option. He was full of energy, always involved and constantly giving United players around him something to do. His passes understandably lack sharpness at this point, but it shouldn’t be a problem once he’s been training with the team for a while.

After 65 minutes, Joe Gomez, Andy Robertson, Marko Grujić, Pedro Chirivella, Curtis Jones and Daniel Sturridge came on for van Dijk, Moreno, Fabinho, Milner, Camacho and Solanke.

It didn’t take long after that for Liverpool to re-take the lead. As Sturridge dropping deep created space for Shaqiri to run into, the Swiss international got into a bit of a tussle with Bailly and came out on top, receiving a well-aimed pass from the back and laying it off for Sturridge, whose first touch was a calm, right-footed trickling shot from just inside the box that bounced off the post and hit the back of the net.

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With 20 minutes left on the clock, Mata and Mitchell made way for United’s new signing Fred and young Tahith Chong.

Three minutes later, Herrera tried to be clever by tripping Robertson from behind inside the box and trying to make it look like there was no contact, but the referee was perfectly positioned and saw right through him. This time Ojo stepped up and slotted home from the spot to make it three.

After 80 minutes, Mourinho brought on youngsters Angel Gomes, Ro-Shaun Williams and Joshua Bohui for Sanchez, Tuanzebe and Herrera.

A minute later, a spectacular overhead kick by Shaqiri from seven or eight yards put the final touch on the win.

The Afterthought

As said above, we shouldn’t read too much into this game, apart from the pure satisfaction of beating Manchester United. Soon, the real thing will start and then we’ll see what happens. With a significant number of players involved in the World Cup, it’s hard to expect a smooth start by any of the top six.

But before that, there’s Napoli on Saturday next, and Torino the following Tuesday.

We walk on.

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