Not the result we wanted or deserved. But as things stand, honours even but more promising signs to give us encouragement. In many ways our 0-0 draw with Manchester United was so typical of so many of some of our recent matches. Dominate possession, loads of shots, playing well generally but no end product. It all sounds so familiar doesn’t it.
On the encouraging signs point of view, we managed a clean sheet when all pundits everywhere it seems were predicting an easy afternoon for Romelu Lukaku. His free scoring start to the season has been impressive. But, after his virtual ‘no show’ on Saturday, his performance was reminiscent of his performance at Anfield last season for Everton. And the season before that for that matter.
I read a statistic over the weekend comparing Lukaku’s record against the other sides in the so-called top six with that of Jamie Vardy. At the start of this season, Lukaku has scored 5 in 35 games against the top six since 2014/15. Not so impressive. On the other hand, Jamie Vardy had bagged 15 goals in 33 games. Very impressive. As impressive as Vardy’s record is, it is a fair way off Sergio Aguero’s 19 in 27 games ratio. Now that is top drawer.
Anyway, what of the game itself?
Honours Even But More Promising Signs
A 0-0 draw didn’t really reflect the balance of play. Forget what Jose Mourinho said after the game. Of course, he has to justify and defend his tactics and style of play, but really, blanket defence with all the attacking talent at his disposal? No disrespect to Tony Pulis, but the tactics employed by Manchester United are the type of tactics you would see from a Pulis team. He was well known for it at Stoke, Crystal Palace and now at West Brom. But why not, he isn’t on an even playing field is he? Play to your strengths and survive. Pulis is an expert at it and is rightly a sought after manager for the style of play he adopts.
But Mourinho at Manchester United? For Manchester United, also read Chelsea as he adopted a similar style at Chelsea. Again, like Manchester United, Chelsea can shop in the footballing equivalent of Harrods, while others are strolling the aisles at Aldi.
Parking The Bus
Given the money that they spend, you would think there would be the confidence to at least venture forward now and then. Still, it is effective and as such, much credit should be given for the ‘parking of the bus’ approach. A draw at one of your big rivals is a good result after all. But as a spectacle, he turns games into boring, non events. I asked a United fan in a pub after the game what his thoughts were. Bear in mind, he has been spoilt and has been brought up in the Fergie era of scintillating attacking football and quality football. As it happens, he was happy with the point, but like many of his mates, not particularly happy with the style of football.
Same Old, Same Old For The Reds
Putting aside our opponents tactics, it is still up to us to unlock a defensive team. Irrespective of how much that team cost and the talent they have. Yet again however, we came up short in that department. Great possession, plenty of the ball in the last third areas, many good crossing positions. But still no end product. We should have won. Let’s be clear about that. We should have won and won with something to spare. Our back four looked solid on the few occasions Utd ventured forward. This may be more down to their reluctance to give a go than our back four showing the required improvement. Let’s try and be positive about it and give credit where credit is due. Our back four improved considerably on Saturday.
Joe Gomez in particular was very impressive and seems to be maturing with every game. A big, strong, physical presence and good in the air. Is it only a matter of time before he is moved into the middle of the defence? Having said that, Lovren and Matip looked solid on Saturday. Apart from the occasion when Lukuku walked past Lovren in the first half and got into an easy crossing position in the first half.
Philippe Coutinho again showed he hasn’t got a post ‘failed move to Barcelona’ strop on. He was buzzing around in his normal effervescent, skillful way. Forever prompting and probing. It’s just a shame that (the very poor) referee, Martin Atkinson, didn’t give us some of the free-kicks we earned in and around the Utd penalty area. The number of times we had a player fouled and Atkinson waved ‘play-on’, when quite clearly there was no advantage to be gained by playing on.
When he is good, he is really good. But when he is bad, he is dreadful. All of us around us in the Kop on Saturday, thought that the obvious swap when we saw the number 21 on the board was Oxlaide-Chamberlain for Wijnaldum. Maybe we are all seeing a different game. But it is strange that Wijnaldum not only starts every game, but is very rarely ‘hooked’. A like for like swap between him and The Ox seemed on the cards on Saturday, but no, it was Coutinho who made way. Understandable maybe as Jurgen Klopp explained after the game that Coutinho was tired after all the travelling.
However, we did finally see something from Oxlaide-Chamberlain on Saturday to raise hopes. Although he slotted in on the right hand side instead of his preferred central role, he was involved from the off. On two occasions he showed great strength and skill to get past his man and put crosses in. As an alternative, I would like to see him start instead of Wijnaldum now and then, now he has had his bedding in period.
Onwards and Upwards
Although it wasn’t the result we all wished for on Saturday, it is not doom and gloom. far from it. As the article started by saying, honours even but more promising signs. We could all see the promising signs. As we could also see the regular failings. Some day, somebody is going to get a good hiding. Spurs up next at their temporary Wembley home. Let’s hope for more of the positive points we are seeing and less of our failings.