Liverpool question Manchester United’s title credentials - FCNaija

EPL By: Imo-owo Mbede | 16/10/2017

True to predictions, Liverpool presented United with the first real test of the season. The Old Trafford outfit escaped with a point in one of those vintage Mourinho-style conservative approaches to away games against top teams; a poor performance against a Liverpool side which obviously wanted – and probably deserved – more than the point they got. Yes, United was somewhat depleted by injuries to some players, but much of Liverpool’s superiority was also due to the increasingly predictable, stereotypical and largely inflexible tactics by Jose Mourinho.

There has been palpable improvement in the Manchester United side from last season and considering the blistering start to the season, many believe United are once again huge favourites for the title. However, the performance against Liverpool questions their title credentials. Kudos to Jose Mourinho for his rich CV which is partly down to being a cautious manager who takes very calculated risks, but with the changing football tide, he needs to be braver, more adventurous and more flexible to get the best from his team.

Lukaku is not indispensible

Mourinho’s teams, by default, play with a target man upfront. But where the said target man’s limited skillset is aggravated by being starved of service or being marked out by the opposing defence, there is a need to resort to alternatives.

Liverpool happens to be the strongest side United has played so far this season and, as predicted, Romelu Lukaku failed to score against a top side. Lukaku’s thrives on finishing off easy chances created by others and consequently, if the rest of the team doesn’t perform, Lukaku is useless. Meanwhile, as pedestrian as he was for most of the game, Mourinho stuck with him for 90 minutes. In contrast, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s individual brilliance won some games singlehandedly for United last season. To win the title, Mourinho needs to be open to exploring alternative routes to goal by allowing other players express themselves rather than limiting his team by playing to Lukaku’s strength.

Martial and Rashford can play together

Jose Mourinho’s ploy to bring out the best in Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford by alternating the two youngsters seems to be working given improved performances by the duo. However, there is no proof that these two cannot play together to even greater effect. In a game where Liverpool seemed to be committing men forward after successfully pocketing Romelu Lukaku, there is no doubt that having the pace, movement and skills of Rashford and Martial together, would have given Liverpool some defensive concern thereby limiting their attacking forays.

It is only one big game just yet, but for certain occasions, playing Martial and Rashford together could just provide a whole new dimension in attack.

Herrera’s under-utilized creative abilities

Perhaps the only unexpected feature of Jose Mourinho’s team this term is that his best player last season, Ander Herrera, is (not) enjoying so little playing time so far. More worrisome is the fact that like last season, when he does play, Herrera’s creative abilities continue to be inhibited to defensive responsibilities, even when the team may be lacking penetration and incision upfront. Against Liverpool, he looked the most productive outlet, even from a deep midfield position which points to the fact that he would do a better job of unlocking opposing defences if given a more advanced role. Unfortunately, the buck stops with Mourinho who will justify his keeping the Spaniard on the bench with the flying start the team has made to the season – more so considering that Herrera started the two draws at Stoke City and Liverpool.

Matic is superb, but…

Much as he stabilizes the midfield, dominates and dictates play in all the team’s matches so far this season, Nemanja Matic was somewhat exposed against Liverpool in the team’s biggest game so far. Whether due to Liverpool’s pressing or due to fatigue from playing almost all of United’s games so far, Matic struggled. He slowed down play and gave away possession too many times from holding too long on to the ball, when a quick pass would have set up his team on the counter-attack.

De Gea to the rescue…again

United’s point away at Anfield came, in part, in the form of goalkeeper David De Gea. Liverpool outshot and outplayed United but while De Gea did not make a lot of saves, he made decisive ones.

Quality in depth?

Does Manchester United really have quality in depth like has been widely postulated this season? There is undoubtedly a larger pool of players to draw from this season, but given the stern test against Liverpool, it remains to be seen whether there is true quality therein. Pogba’s and Bailly’s absence left the team bare and overwhelmed in the middle as well as in defence against Liverpool. Henrickh Mkhitaryan had an off-day as did Anthony Martial. The recuperating Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard too, did not fare any better when they came on.

Injuries are part of the game and teams are expected to manage at times of injury crisis. Does Manchester United truly have the man power to last the distance successfully?

United’s City rivals, Manchester City, despite their own share of injury problems have continued to blow the “smaller” premier league away, while also securing a win at Stamford Bridge. On the basis of the performance at Anfield, Manchester United will probably drop points at the Etihad, at Stamford bridge and even at Wembley. These are the points which may prove decisive in the league race come May 2018, even if United continues the fine form against the “smaller” teams.