Liverpool and United played their first derby against one another this past game week to a disappointing 0-0 draw. Far from being one of the fiery affairs fans have become accustomed to over several decades of rivalry, this match was more of a tactical battle of attrition, likely one that impressed Jose Mourinho more than Jurgen Klopp. Although the game didn’t provide the entertainment value fans are used to in these high profile fixtures, it did reveal a number of details that may tell us a bit more about their respective clubs’ prospects for silverware. We’re going to count down the 5 biggest revelations from this derby.
1 – Klopp’s magic is working
Jurgen Klopp hasn’t even been with the Reds for a calendar year but it would appear he’s managed to make his mark on this Liverpool squad in record time. Despite a lack of massive names, Klopp has turned his Liverpool team into a cohesive and well-oiled tactical unit. A hallmark of his time at Borussia Dortmund was his ability to extract amazing performances out of a team that looked, on paper at least, rather average. He had his talismanic players, but he generally didn’t have access to the world-class players boasted by other teams. This trend has continued at Anfield. Despite not having a squad worth hundreds of millions the Liverpool playing style is a coherent, fast-pressing, and direct attacking machine. As evidenced against a United team filled with massive stars, Liverpool’s starting eleven is more than the sum of its parts, and stacked up just as well against United’s star-studded lineup.
2 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not dominating the Premier League
Although the imposing Swede boasts a goals-to-game ratio matched by few players not named Messi or Ronaldo, he isn’t finding it as easy to convert chances in England as he did in France. His age and the more physical style of the Premier League is taking its toll, despite his solid start to the season with four goals in eight games. In the Liverpool match, however, two very good chances fell to him and he failed to test the keeper both times. In his time at PSG he managed to rack up goals probably because the lesser teams afforded him multiple chances at goal. In England, that’s not the case, and when two highly competitive teams are both trying to get the three points chances will be few and far between. He’s going to need to be a lot more efficient with his opportunities if United are going to depend on him this season.
3 – Mourinho’s tactical set-up is still solid
Jose Mourinho, is infamous in England for a lot of interesting behaviour. Some good, and some bad. When it comes to his teams’ playing style a typical Mourinho characteristic is a meticulous defensive solidity. His teams almost invariably have a defensive shape and work ethic that is painful to break down. This trait was on full display at Anfield this past Monday. Despite Liverpool having a quick and direct build up and technically gifted players, United’s defensive shape held up remarkably well. Apart from a fantastic long range shot by Coutinho, matched by a world class save from David De Gea, Liverpool only really managed one other clear effort on goal, which De Gea always clawed away from his goal. The tracking from the midfield players was consistent over 90 minutes, and the back four kept their positional line with discipline. United may not be playing impressive attacking football yet, but they are proving difficult to beat.
4 – Philipe Coutinho is Liverpool’s most important player
This could be seen as a bold statement, but Coutinho’s impact on Liverpool’s attack may offer enough proof that he’s their team’s lynchpin. Much like Eden Hazard for Chelsea, and Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal, Coutinho’s ability to carry the ball and transition quickly from midfield to attack is crucial for Liverpool’s style. They want to be in the opposition third as quickly as possible, which is complemented by Coutinho’s extraordinary dribbling ability. It isn’t uncommon to see him drift past three or four players with ease, before either taking a shot on goal himself or setting up a team mate. He already has three goals and two assists from seven games in the league, and although his teammates have chipped in admirably, the majority of Liverpool’s most threatening attacks are engineered by Coutinho’s feet.
5 – Neither team quite looks like winning the league, but they aren’t far off
Manchester City and Arsenal are currently looking like the most formidable teams, offering both efficient attacking outlets as well as defensive solidity. United and Liverpool on the other hand have opposing problems, but with minor tweaks could begin to threaten the summit of the league. United’s attack is unfortunately lopsided, featuring aging greats like Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but inexperienced youth like Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford. Their lack of attacking balance is hurting their ability to convert key chances, and could become a headache for Mourinho if they don’t begin to gel soon.
Liverpool on the other hand have attacking guile in abundance, but their quick-press playing style means that teams that circulate possession quickly can often leave the Liverpool defence and midfield chasing shadows. If they can maintain the defensive composure that saw them keep United at bay this week for the rest of the season, they’ll quickly force their way into the top positions on the log.
Although neither team will be completely satisfied with the draw, both managers are likely to take a few positives from the game. Since neither have been in the respective dugouts for very long, they’ll likely feel confident that they can tweak their teams in the coming weeks and offer a very real challenge for the title when the tough December schedule rolls around.
Do you agree with us? Do you think either of these two teams will lift the title in May? Let us know by tweeting us @MenStuffZA!