Liverpool v Manchester United: Jose Mourinho the real winner on Red Monday
An eminently forgettable 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield produced one true winner in Jose Mourinho, a coach whose managerial Midas touch has not deserted him on such hectic nights, writes Desmond Kane.
After all the hype about Red Monday, it was a night to give you the blues.
Yet it would it be wrong to suggest there was not a winner from a fairly lamentable 0-0 draw between bitter foes Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield.
Judging by the sprightly manner in which he shook hands with Jurgen Klopp at the final whistle before bounding up the Anfield tunnel with more spring in his step than much-maligned local lad Wayne Rooney, it was evident Jose Mourinho felt he was the evening's true victor.
The more things change, the more they stay the same in football. The Portuguese manager has added his own personal touch to a United side that attempts to, but does not promise to attack. Sacrificing one’s self-discipline at the football alter of style has never been his trademark.
If Mourinho had been offered the prospect of such an evening being turgid, unspectacular and unsatisfying for the fans as it was before limping tamely to a 0-0 draw, the querulous Portuguese martinet would have grasped the chance with as much relish as a fine bottle of Barca Velha.
Both United players mentioned the importance of “not losing” and defending and fighting to the end. This is a classic Mourinho mantra that has brought Champions League trophies to Porto and Inter Milan. And national titles to Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid.
“We showed we are going to fight for everything, and I am very proud of our effort,” said Herrera.
Hang style when there is a job to be done. United’s mission was to visit Anfield, and leave with something tangible from the night.
United enjoyed only 35 per cent of possession, a record in the modern era, but that was plenty. They were comfortable in letting Liverpool play in front of them. At times, they played with six at the back, three in midfield and only big Zlatan up front. If United finish with the most points at the end of the season, none of this will matter.
The end really justifies the means for Mourinho, who saluted his side for “controlling the emotion of the game”. And managing to "disappoint" a rabid home support keen on more goals.
United opted to go long whenever David de Gea had his paws on the ball with Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic the obvious targets for long balls and second balls. It was up to Liverpool to break down their time-honoured rivals. Which they couldn’t.
Ashley Young and Jose Mourinho at Anfield.AFP
So much for the all-conquering Premier League being the greatest show on earth. This was an evening that would get football closed down. And didn’t Mourinho just love it.
He had worked out his strategy perfectly. Which he tends to do. And he remains a tactician without compare in deducing what needs to be done to extract results from such nights of bitter bedlam.
If Zlatan Ibrahimovic had headed his side's one big chance in the second half into the rigging, you sense there would have been no way back for a Liverpool team who had scored nine in two home games before running into a big obstinate blue bus parked in front of them.
Ryan Giggs, working as a pundit for Sky TV's self-styled Red Monday, described Mourinho’s tactics as acceptable because they are “baby steps” towards a larger goal. After the failed and farcical attempts of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal to run United with any degree of certainty since 2013, Mourinho will attempt to restore a silver sheen to Old Trafford.
United have not lifted the Premier League since Fergie departed three years ago, and points mean prizes.
Liverpool end the night two points behind leaders Manchester City, but United are only five back. Can they challenge for the Premier League? Who knows, but Mourinho will do it like only he knows best.
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic misses a chance to scores as Liverpool's Loris Karius attempts saveReuters
The ‘Special One’ leads his United side to his old haunt of Chelsea on Sunday. He has a team that plays with the same sense of discipline that brought him the English title two years ago before his second coming at Stamford Bridge went badly wrong.
Expect more of the same there. And expect more coaches to be frustrated with what Mourinho can conjure up. Possession is not his main goal, exploiting teams making errors in possession is.
He knows how to annoy purists. “Our performance was not what it should be,” said a frustrated Liverpool coach Klopp.
One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Mourinho will show his players replays of this night before the trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
He will tell them this is how it should be done.