Reaction from United’s draw with Liverpool.

Spoils

Although Manchester United deserved better for their endeavours, they also didn’t quite do enough to put away their opponent, and a draw was probably the fair result.

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It is a bit of a sting after United led for so long but it was also the sort of lesson they have handed out to other teams in years gone by. If you don’t kill them off, a good team will always have a sting in the tail. And so you might well consider Liverpool’s response as one of champions, if only they had performed like a team befitting of the plaudits they had been lavished with in the two weeks prior to kick off.

In the first half United were the most ambitious and adventurous team, and more aggressive, snapping in the tackle, surprising the visitors who presumably expected the game to pan out as billed. Their goal was deserved on the balance of play and came as a consequence of the first time Dan James got himself into United’s right hand side position which was proving to be a bountiful area.

United could have had more, missing a good opportunity with Rashford; but Solskjaer seemed to tighten things up and make his team more compact with the introduction of Martial. It offered Liverpool space to create on the wings and time to pick out a pass. They duly took advantage of this frustrating, generous gift. And still you look at Rojo and Young and think one of them should have been closer.

It was agonising to see after Solskjaer had clearly done so well with his tactics, setting up 3-4-3 and attempting to compensate for the very weak midfield. Perhaps he felt, with ten minutes to go, his players were tired and needed to flood the middle of the park instead of chasing wide.

Klopp (more on this in a second) complained that Solskjaer was negative but the truth was that as soon as Ole did go defensive, Klopp’s team were able to finally get an opening.

After the expectations of a pummelling, though, this result and performance was very welcome indeed. It is already being portrayed in the press as ‘stopping Liverpool’ which is patently unfair as United generally played the more ambitious football. This was not the unapologetic spoiling football played by Jose Mourinho at Anfield.

That said, it was not the sort of performance you would bank on being repeated in terms of intensity, although you would hope that the players would collectively realise that for the opponent, every game is as big as the one they just played.

VAR

So there were some big talking points before half-time. It probably was a foul by Lindelof on Origi. But Atkinson — certainly never a referee to favour United in the past — saw the incident and played on until Rashford scored.

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Liverpool fans were in uproar. One claimed Atkinson’s decision was based on bias and racism.

Is this the purpose of VAR, though? To disallow goals like this?

How far back are we supposed to go? And if the incident is 50/50 (or let’s be fair, 60/40 as it was here) do we just disallow the goal even if the passage of play continues for what, 10, 20, 30 seconds, two minutes? Half of the goals that are scored will be disallowed for marginal and contentious decisions.

Players will get involved in 50/50s in the knowledge that even if they concede they can complain about this minor incident way back when and get a review.

Mane then accidentally controlled the ball with his hand before scoring. The rule on this one is clear, and is different from the defensive interpretation, yet Liverpool fans and players still complained about a defensive handball and a possible foul. It was nonsense.

A bad drawer

Poor old Jurgen Klopp, for whom nothing ever seems to go right. He was not very happy with the press coverage for this game which lauded Liverpool as runaway leaders and United as being at their lowest post-Ferguson point.

Somehow the press over-reaction to all things United negatively impacted Liverpool and you laughably have some scousers indulging Klopp by claiming it was United’s “Cup Final”. Err, lads, come on, you know how this rivalry thing works, right?

(“It’s how we used to play against you when you were the best and we were crap,” one wag said, although haven’t Liverpool been the best ever team for years and United been dreadful, assisting the payroll of the FA/Premier League/refs/beachballs all thanks to the evil work of Sir Alex Ferguscum? Last time I checked, City were still the best on account of their title win, so at least wait until you’ve won the damn thing before acting like you have.)

But Klopp was not happy at all with the events of the first half and showed all the signs of a man who has little confidence in his team to keep up the momentum of their form.

That he was spitting feathers at contentious decisions as if they were massive ones and that he reacted in the disingenuous, sarcastic way that projects him as a bad sportsman, win lose or draw, speaks volumes about how he feels.

Klopp once more went on the attack (he’s good at doing this off the pitch to pretend he did it on the pitch) claiming Solskjaer set up more negatively but if the German hadn’t noticed, United are still in the midst of an injury crisis and are trying to find a working eleven that doesn’t fall foul of the Trade Description Act.

“This year, last year, the year before, they just defend,” he said. ”That’s how it is. It is OK. It is no criticism. It is just a fact. When you think about Manchester United against Liverpool, you think both teams are trying like this. But it is not. We try.”

But it’s not a fact, is it? In United’s 2-1 win here two years ago, they scored both goals early and Liverpool’s goal was an own goal. They had one other shot on target. Last season they didn’t create a chance of note.

Just as in March, United were there for the taking — nobody is coming away from this game thinking Solskjaer’s team are suddenly capable of fighting for the title, and in those last two seasons it’s widely accepted United fielded their weakest ever Premier League defence, so what is the truth?

Maybe it’s that for the umpteenth visit to Old Trafford in succession Liverpool’s own pensive and pragmatic approach deserved no more than it got, just as it did against a similarly injury-hit United team earlier this year.

You can point to the possession all you like but that was the natural effect of United not having a midfield bar one player whose responsibility it was to break up the play rather than keep the ball. Liverpool were allowed two thirds of the ball and did little with it.

If Klopp had been as resourceful as Solskjaer when it came to a tactical plan instead of hoping one of his expensive signings would decide the game, maybe he’d actually win one of these games.

Quality in possession

Andreas Pereira and Fred enjoyed mixed reviews; I will admit that I thought both were very poor, though Pereira recovered after a dismal first half. Others felt these two ranked highly as man of the match candidates.

But it is clear to see where the disadvantages of playing players like these is and it was clear in the first eight minutes as both players tried elaborate flicks when a simple pass was on. Clearly this was contagious as they continued like this, giving the ball back to Liverpool easily; James and Rashford were also guilty of being wasteful with flicks to nobody when they weren’t watching who was around them in the first half.

I’m sure Solskjaer would have stressed the need to do the basics right, an attitude clearly adopted by McTominay; if only others would recognise their limitations and play economically, United might have had even better joy.

Perhaps it is one of United’s bigger issues that their players have loftier perceptions of their ability than the reality. Expression is great and certainly something we want to see, but in order to take a risk and have the crowd remain on your side, you need to be able to do the functional things too. On this occasion they probably got a pass for their work-rate but in terms of quality, United’s need to upgrade remains just as clear as it did before yesterday.

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