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Manchester United traveled to Anfield on Monday evening knowing that defeat would leave them 6 points off the top of the league and 6 points adrift of their bitter rivals.
The Old Trafford outfit started strongly without necessarily threatening a goal but always looked in control in the first half.
After the break Liverpool grew into the game and but for David de Gea may have taken all 3 points. A misguided header from Zlatan Ibrahimovic left United pondering what might have been but in truth a draw was probably a fair result. Here are 5 things we learned from a tight affair against Jurgen Klopp’s side.
1) Swedish Struggles
He started the season on fire, but United’s enigmatic Swede has struggled in front of goal of late, and that trend continued at Anfield.
As a presence Ibrahimovic brings so much to the side, but poor finishing against Stoke and Liverpool may well have cost United vital points. There is an argument too that with little threat offered in behind opponents the former PSG man restricts the Reds’ options.
Mourinho will surely stick with his man but Ibrahimovic will need to start taking his chances sooner rather than later if United are to have lofty ambitions this season.
2) Ander the Antidote?
Ander Herrera has forced his way into his manager’s plans and is now arguably the first midfielder on the team sheet.
The Spaniard has shown energy, poise and aggression in disciplined performances that have afforded good balance to a side so desperately searching for it.
At Anfield, particularly in the first half, the midfielder was everywhere in defence and dictating play in possession. There’s no doubt that Jose Mourinho is yet to get the best out of Paul Pogba, but Herrera has well and truly put down a marker in recent weeks to partner the Frenchman.
3) Mourinho’s Masterplan
If anyone was under any illusions as to how Manchester United would approach the big games away from home under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho, Anfield was a vivid demonstration of the Portuguese tactician’s famous approach.
It was far from exciting, very dull in fact, and there was always a sense that the Reds came to be hard to beat and steal a victory if they could.
Many will bemoan the approach with exciting attacking talent like Marcus Rashford shackled to positions on the pitch usually occupied by a full-back.
Nevertheless, positives come in the fact that it was a disciplined performance, a performance of focus and togetherness, and perhaps for the first time under Jose Mourinho, a real sense that there was a team out there all pulling in one direction.
4) Settled System?
With Wayne Rooney evidently being faded out for club and country, United have a real chance now to start building a side around a crop of exciting young talent.
4-3-3 has been touted by many as the system that will afford the greatest balance in relation to the players at the manager’s disposal and it is hard to argue otherwise.
To that end, it is hoped that Michael Carrick or even Daley Blind will be afforded a run in the side anchoring and dictating a midfield with Herrera and Pogba in front of them with licence to roam.
Whatever happens, though, it is important now that Jose Mourinho is decisive and begins to bring a real identity to the way the club are looking to play; the honeymoon period is over.
5) Defining Period
With Liverpool, Chelsea, Fenerbahce and Manchester City all in the space of a couple of weeks, Anfield on Monday was the start of a defining period for Manchester United under Jose Mourinho.
With that in mind, the cautious nature of the draw is perhaps more understandable. At some point the Reds are going to have to kick into gear but there is nothing wrong with grinding things out when it is obvious that the team are not currently at their full potential.
Most would’ve taken a point before kick-off on Monday night and the performance shouldn’t detract from that. Further big tests are soon to follow and if the club are to have high ambitions this season they will need to come out the other side with confidence and belief in tact.