It wasn’t the most eventful encounter imaginable, but there are still a few conclusions that can be drawn from Manchester United’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool.
Mourinho went full Mourinho
It was an über-cautious display from United for the most part, with José Mourinho setting up his side to deny Liverpool space in wide areas.
It was an astute move from the Portuguese tactician, seeing how, with Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané, Liverpool’s key men like to operate in these zones.
And to ensure the flanks were locked down, Mourinho started Ashley Young on the left wing and Marcus Rashford on the right. The two Englishmen shuttled back alongside the back four when the home side had possession, effectively forming a back six. This crowded out the area in which Liverpool are most dangerous.
It was a tactic that could be perceived as negative, as it meant United’s wingers struggled to get forward and support the attack, but it was a clear sign that Mourinho is still more than capable of stifling and frustrating the opposition.
Herrera belongs in a box-to-box role
Ander Herrera started alongside Marouane Fellaini in central midfield. The Spaniard, who has been playing as the side’s dedicated defensive midfielder in recent weeks, was tasked with winning the ball in midfield and instigating attacks, rather than simply shielding the defence.
And he was United’s best player, tirelessly pressing and suffocating Liverpool’s creative midfielders, while creating pockets of space for himself with his ability to dribble over short distances, before getting his head up and finding a team-mate.
He also demonstrated his leadership at Anfield, constantly communicating with his colleagues to ensure everyone knew their job and stuck to it.
Herrera has been superb as a deep-lying pivot of late, but there is no doubt that he excels in a box-to-box role.
United know how to press
So far this season, United have not pressed their opposition particularly agressively and have often been content to allow the other side to have the ball, instead electing to fall back into a rigid defensive shape.
This has been a point of criticism from some quarters, with a handful of observers suggesting that, with presing becoming a key tenet of many teams’ style, United’s lack of a rigorous press is evidence of Mourinho falling out of touch with the modern game.
But it turns out United do know how to press; they even managed to out-press Jürgen Klopp’s gegenpressers.
The Red Devils were still content to allow Liverpool’s back four to take the ball, but when they looked to play forward into their dangerous attacking midfielders, Mourinho’s men executed a dilligent medium block, denying space and time to the home side.
Ashley Young is still relied upon
Ashley Young has been a largely peripheral figure since Mourinho took the reins at Old Trafford. But his selection against Liverpool shows that the manager still values his work-rate and defensive responsibility, and will not hesitate to throw him in when there is a specific task that suits his skillset.
The 31-year-old will not play many games this season, and United certainly have better offensive options for the wide areas, but he could still play a key role in some of the season’s biggest games.