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Klopp progress at Anfield demonstrated by Mourinho's wall of steel

October 14, 2017 3:46 PM
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James Pearce's verdict as Mourinho's wall of steel pays the ultimate compliment to Liverpool

There were two minutes left on the clock when the Kop burst into song.

The target of their ire was Jose Mourinho, who was told in not so many words to sling his hook.

Liverpool's nemesis had done it again. Frustration reigned at Anfield.

After all the hype, the occasion fell decidedly flat. This turned out to be another instantly forgettable damp squib.

“They will not be as passive this time. They are a different team in a different way,” said Jurgen Klopp on the eve of this contest.

The Reds boss was wrong. Mourinho didn't just park the bus, he built a wall of steel around it.

Despite their flying start to the new campaign, Manchester United showed even less ambition than they did at Anfield a year ago.

Despite the £300million Mourinho has splashed out, their game plan rarely involved venturing past the halfway line.

Once again he was too scared to go toe to toe with Klopp's side. United were set up simply to stifle and contain.

Mourinho's claim that they had “good control” in the first half was nonsensical.

It was one-way traffic. Liverpool were well and truly in the driving seat but chances went begging. David de Gea pulled off a fine save to thwart Joel Matip.

The second half brought more of the same. It was attack against defence but the influence of Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah waned. The Reds ran out of both energy and ideas.

The hosts enjoyed 62% possession and had 19 attempts on goal to United's six but the winner they craved eluded them.

The doom and gloom merchants will tell you that Liverpool only have one more point after eight Premier League matches this season than they did two years ago when Brendan Rodgers got the sack.

Klopp's men fly to Slovenia on Monday for a key Champions League clash with Maribor on the back of just one win in eight games in all competitions.

Yet the warm applause at the final whistle illustrated that Klopp retains the unwavering backing of the Kop. They still believe and rightly so.

A dour stalemate wasn't the anniversary present the German wanted but the signs of progress are undeniable. Just look at how delighted United were with their point.

The problem this season has been that Liverpool simply haven't got the results their dominance has merited because of familiar issues at both ends of the field.

Against United it was the lack of a potent goalscorer which cost them – someone capable of turning a scrappy draw into a priceless win. Imagine this Liverpool side with a Kane, an Aguero or a Morata?

Roberto Firmino couldn't grasp his chance after being recalled in place of Daniel Sturridge. It was the fifth successive game in which the Reds' No 9 has fired blanks.

Fatigue was bound to be an issue after his 12,000-mile round trip to South America but his form had dipped prior to the international break. How Klopp needs him back firing again, especially with Sadio Mane facing six weeks on the sidelines.

Unlike at Newcastle a fortnight ago, no accusing fingers could be pointed at Liverpool's much maligned backline. This was their first clean sheet since August.

Dejan Lovren produced the perfect riposte to his critics as he kept Romelu Lukaku under wraps. United's 11-goal top scorer barely got a kick.

Joe Gomez enhanced his growing reputation with a rock-solid display at right-back and on the opposite flank Alberto Moreno maintained his unlikely revival.

Liverpool bossed the midfield area with the much improved Jordan Henderson leading by example as Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can helped provide drive and invention.

But, ultimately, a lack of punch in the final third denied the Reds the victory which would have ignited their stuttering campaign.

Kenny Dalglish accepted the acclaim of Anfield before kick-off after the Centenary Stand was renamed in his honour.

The outpouring of emotion helped charge the atmosphere and Klopp's men looked energised early on. As United sat back, Liverpool seized the initiative.

Space was at a premium with Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera sitting in front of the defence, while wingers Ashley Young and Anthony Martial tucked in. Mourinho effectively played with a back eight.

Liverpool were lively and creative with Coutinho drifting in off the left and pulling the strings.

Wijnaldum's curler was comfortably kept out by De Gea before Salah was unable to convert Firmino's cross.

Matteo Darmian struggled to contain Salah, whose quick feet caused United plenty of problems.

At the other end Matic went close with a 20-yarder but there was little cause for concern as Lovren, who got a boot in his face at one point, simply refused to be bullied by Lukaku.

Alberto Moreno epitomised the Reds' show of fight, racing back into his own half to dispossess Lukaku after giving it away.

Ten minutes before the break Liverpool should have broken the deadlock.

It was a fine move with Firmino's cut back diverted goalwards by Matip but United were saved by De Gea's out-stretched boot.

Phil Jones' clearance was weak and Coutinho was ideally placed to bury it but Salah, who had his back to goal, turned and fired wide.

When Lukaku did have a rare sight of goal, Simon Mignolet was in the right place to push it to safety. It was United's only shot on target all afternoon.

In the second half Liverpool continued to huff and puff. Gomez whipped in a beauty of a cross but Can hooked it high and wide from six yards out.

There were pleas for a penalty after Herrera clumsily upended Coutinho but Martin Atkinson wasn't interested.

Klopp has been accused of allowing games to drift this season and being too slow to ring the changes.

But this time his reluctance to make subs was understandable. Liverpool were still in the box seat and being too gung-ho could have left them exposed to a United counter-attack.

The problem was that the one piece of real quality the Reds desperately required simply didn't materialise.

Eventually, he put on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge and Dominic Solanke but to no avail.

Mourinho described it as a game of chess. In truth it was more like watching paint dry.

Source: liverpoolecho.co.uk

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