One of the most anticipated fixtures in English football let us down last season, with boring draws in both games. Mourinho was criticized for setting his team up for a draw in last season’s encounters, and United’s incredible goal-scoring start to the season meant fans a neutrals were hoping for a much more open and exciting game. How disappointed they must be as the game ended finished 0-0 yet again.
Here are five talking points from the encounter:
5. David De Gea – The Man, The Myth, The Legend
I’m not one to usually discard other people’s opinions, but if you don’t think David de Gea is the best goalkeeper in the world right now, you are either deluded or just hate United with an extreme passion that you refuse to accept anything good that comes out of the club.
With every passing save, you begin to think ‘Surely this is his best one yet?’ before he comes up with another outrageous save that makes you sound like a parrot repeating the question to yourself over and over again. Before the game, all eyes were on Romelu Lukaku to see if he how he’d perform against the first real test of his Premier League career at United. By half-time, the Belgian was a forgotten man, and no one could stop talking about THAT save.
Clips from last season’s equally marvelous save from Coutinho’s curling shot showed up on screen and it makes you wonder how six years ago, this same keeper struggled to even catch a cross. Any other keeper would have watched as Joel Matip’s close range strike left them bamboozled in no-man’s land. Not De Gea, who somehow managed to stretch out a foot in the flash of a second and United were reprieved.
His growth as a shot-stopper, both mentally and physically, have been absolutely insane, and the Neuer, Navas and Buffon fans can’t surely help but accept that this man is, at present, the world’s best goalkeeper.
4. Where was the energy?
It’s baffling, but this was one of the most labored performances United have ever put in since the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Louis van Gaal, who was in the crowd, would have been proud of the exciting nature of their play (note the sarcasm), but at least his team managed to hold on to the ball. United could not string two passes together here, and didn’t even look like they cared.
They were solid defensively, but having scored 32 goals in just 10 games this season, you’d expect a lot of exciting play from the attack. Considering how brutal Lukaku has been in front of goal, and how shockingly poor Liverpool are defensively, this looked set to be the perfect goal fest. What it turned out to be was a training session in passing for the Reds, who had all of the ball but couldn’t find a way through United’s defense, and when they did, David de Gea intervened.
So many 4-0 wins against lower opposition, but where was the energy when it really counted? United’s full-backs hardly even attempted to get forward, the midfielder could not string 5 passes together, Mkhitaryan was invisible, it was a shambles. A shameful display.
3. Martin Atkinson, what are you doing?
After Mark Clattenburg left the Premier League for the riches of Saudi Arabia, the onus was left on Martin Atkinson to be an example to up and coming referees and carry on the torch for England producing at least one elite referee. Howard Webb was one of the best at the business and officiated in a World Cup final and countless other massive games, while last year, Clattenburg was the referee for the final of the UEFA Champions League, and then Euro 2016 as well.
Will Atkinson ever hit those heights? Not if he keeps having games like this. He was absolutely shocking today. Romelu Lukaku unfathomably escaped a booking with a wild lunge in the first half, but just a few minutes later, Chris Smalling was shown a yellow card for a regular foul.
Later on in the match, Ander Herrera had a moment of madness, clipping Philippe Coutinho’s heels inside the box. Atkinson had the perfect view of the obvious foul, but did not award the Scousers a penalty or penalize Herrera. It was one of many puzzling decisions during the match, with Ashley Young even being clipped a couple of times but each time, Atkinson ignored his appeals.
Almost all 50/50 challenges went Liverpool’s way, while the ones that went United’s way were the ones that should have gone against them. It was a very puzzling display from a man who is supposed to be the most experienced referee in English football at the moment.
2. Lukaku fails to prove a point
Having scored 11 goals in 10 appearances in the build up to this game, you’d think Lukaku would have nothing left to prove to his doubters. However, the one label that he has never really been able to shake is ‘flat track bully’, referring to the accusation that he only ever plays well against smaller, weaker teams. This was set to be the real test of his ability, and a chance to finally shut his critics up, but he failed to do it.
Lukaku was almost as invisible as Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but actually had some stand-out moments in the game, none of which were good. To put the thought of how invisible he was into perspective, up until the 24th minute, Lukaku had had only ONE TOUCH. Later on in the first half, we was gifted a glorious chance to put United 1-o to the good against the run of play, but hit shot straight at Mignolet.
The Belgian was then lucky to escape a booking after the aforementioned wild lunge which Atkinson deemed sane enough to avoid a booking.
You could hardly blame the 24-year-old – he received no support at all, and it would be harsh to properly judge his ability based on this performance, but this will still go down as another big game where Lukaku went missing.
1. The so called ‘biggest game in the Premier League’ flatters to deceive once more
English football’s biggest game. The pride, the passion, the history, the utter hatred and animosity, everything about this encounter has made it one of the most riveting fixtures in not just the Premier League, but in football in general. Yet, somehow, it has petered out into one of the many snooze fests of the season. This game promised so much in the build up. A solid attack versus a dodgy defense, Lukaku’s and United’s time to prove themselves, Liverpool’s chance to catch up. In the end, it had nothing. No excitement, no goals, no entertainment.
It’s hard to say anything else apart from the fact that Jose Mourinho has put a blanket over one the greatest fixtures the Premier League has ever had. Since he has arrived, his approach to each of the games against Liverpool have been to sit back and defend – park the bus, as some like to call it. Jurgen Klopp admitted that he was massively disappointed that his side didn’t win the three points they deserved, but they also contributed to the drab affair by passing the ball around aimlessly and not finding a breakthrough.
In the crowd, Sir Bobby Charlton, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso sat, and must have wondered where it all went wrong, remembering their playing days and the blood and thunder that generally encompassed this game. This was not what they were used to. Even the beleaguered Louis van Gaal, who was also present in the stands, had more interesting encounters with Liverpool than this. It’s such a shame how this blockbuster box-office event has now turned into one of those movies you just go to see because your four-year-old, who falls asleep anyway, likes the look of the characters. One can only hope things are better when Liverpool go to Old Trafford later on in the season for the reverse fixture.
Manchester United fan, Wayne Rooney is his role model. Passionate writer who has written for several sites in the past. He’s also an aspiring pianist and creates background music for BlameFootball’s Youtube channel.