18 October 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Previous Match Infographics: Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

It seems fitting that this was Liverpool's first league clean sheet in this already strange season. It was Liverpool's first 0-0 in the league since Klopp's first match at Tottenham exactly one year ago. It was Liverpool's first 0-0 at home in the league since Sunderland in December 2014. And it came in a fixture that hadn't finished 0-0 in 11 years.

We all got Mourinho'd. A wet fart in what's usually an ugly but at least closely fought fixture. A fixture that both sides at least usually try to win. A match best defined by a late substitution: Ashley Young finding a way to waste a minute after his number came up in injury time, ambling towards the center circle rather the bench he was yards away from, eventually shoved off by an incredulous Emre Can.

It was all so Jose Mourinho. And it's annoying that Jose Mourinho so thoroughly Mourinho'd. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. But we've all been Mourinho'd much worse in the past.

Jose clearly learned from the Manchester Derby. Sure, United were home in that match, but more important was that United tried to be more adventurous, with Fellaini and Pogba "holding" and a front four of Ibra, Rooney, Mkhitaryan, and Lingard. And United were blown away in the opening 40 minutes, with City scoring twice before Bravo's error got United within touching distance but no closer. He learned that his United couldn't go toe-to-toe with an above average attacking side, not yet and hopefully not ever.

So the way the Manchester Derby went absolutely wasn't happening yesterday. Herrera came into midfield for added control. United's back four sat approximately a mile deeper, with both Bailly and Smalling all but banned from passing in their own half to counteract Liverpool's press. Young and Rashford stayed as wide as possible, with United's "attack" focused on long balls and crosses, and Ibrahimovic did little more than receive long balls and crosses (and commit fouls). They would've liked to go the set play route, still a massive Liverpool liability, but it's hard to win set plays when you don't attack, with just one corner and three attacking free kicks (two crosses, one wild direct shot).

United's front six pressed fairly effectively for the first 30 minutes (all three of their free kicks came during this spell), especially in the middle third. And it unsettled Liverpool, with the home side not helped by the midfield changes. But United also quickly got into deep defensive possession if Liverpool got into United's half, and also clearly tired by the hour mark, sitting in what was basically a 6-3-1 formation for the majority of the second half.

Mourinho came to do what he did when Chelsea murder-death-killed Liverpool's title bid in 2013-14. He got the 0-0, but he didn't get the 0-1 or 0-2.

35% possession is Manchester United's lowest Premier League total since 2002-03. United took all of two shots in the box – both headers – and that accounted for 33% of their total touches in Liverpool's penalty area. 90 minutes. Six touches in the opposition box. Liverpool only took nine shots, half of their average for the season so far, but United took just seven, 44% of their 16-shots-per-game average.

So both sides got Mourinho'd.

Is this what United will be happy with? The most expensively assembled side the world wholly parking the bus against their bitter rivals? Congrats, guys.

This isn't to detract from United's defensive performance, which really was quite good. De Gea and Herrera especially, but also the entire back four. Blocks, tackles, interceptions, clearances. Denying space for passes, denying opportunities to dribble. Mané and Sturridge both rendered irrelevant, both failing to register a shot or create a chance. But it is to ridicule both their ambition and their attack, in a match that usually means the world to both clubs.

So be it. Liverpool still need to improve in cutting through both an early press and packed defenses; as Klopp said (which he also said after Burnley), patience is a virtue. It's gotten better, it's getting better, but Liverpool are still frustrated too easily. But we're still only eight games into the campaign.

Liverpool also clearly missed Lallana and Wijnaldum in midfield, and it's no coincidence that Lallana's entrance on the hour led to increased Liverpool control, although United's inability to match Liverpool's pace and work-rate for 90 minutes certainly helped. Emre Can unsurprisingly struggled early on, but at least got better throughout the match, and nearly won the match with Liverpool's best chance of the game.

The short version is that we're rightfully annoyed, but at least Liverpool didn't make mistakes. Well, Liverpool didn't make any costly mistakes, conceding possession too easily when pressed early on but quickly back into position to ensure nothing came of it. The one clear defensive horror show – Karius' bad pass after Lovren returned the ball to him around the hour mark – went unpunished when Ibrahimovic couldn't get back onside (and missed the chance anyway).

Still, Manchester United also had the only clear-cut chance of the match: Ibrahimovic's header from a deep cross, only able to put the ball across the six-yard box to no one rather than on goal. Which was about as weak a clear-cut chance as you'll see (I'm stunned it survived the Opta update). 

Meanwhile, Liverpool's best two chances weren't high-value chances – Can surrounded by defenders in the 59th, Coutinho from distance in the 71st – but both would have been goals against the majority of keepers in the Premier League.

It's worth mentioning Valencia's impressive last man tackle on Firmino midway through the second half, but once again, and as always against United, there was David De Gea in the way. As in last season's meeting at Anfield, which ended 0-1 because Liverpool couldn't defend a solitary set play. Even in the Europa League at Anfield last season, where De Gea heroically kept the scoreline down to 2-0 as the world burned around him. Just leave for Real Madrid already.

Again, so be it. It's a better result than Liverpool got in the last four league matches against United. It's a point more than they got last season, even if Liverpool played "better" on that day. Through eight matches, Liverpool now have six points more than they took from comparable fixtures last season.

Be annoyed Liverpool didn't attack as well as we know they can, be annoyed Liverpool didn't score, but also be pleased Liverpool didn't bollux anything up either. It could have been Burnley (congratulations United, that's the first side I think to compare to), but it wasn't. Take the point, and as Liverpool did after the Burnley match, learn from proceedings and move on.

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