Talking Points from Man United's defensive masterclass against Liverpool at Anfield

By Real11 - Dec 18 2023 210 Views

Raphael Varane cannot be overlooked any longer

Manchester United earned a hard fought point as they kept Liverpool at the bay and played a goalless stalemate at Anfield in the Premier League on Sunday. In a game where there were very few clear cut chances, Erik Ten Hag’s side sat back resolutely and defended well to frustrate their opponents, with the pair of Raphael Varane and Johnny Evans stepping up in particular. 

United might have lost this game on another day or could have even won it themselves considering the chances they created on the counter attack. 

The red devils will now look to build upon the point and secure all three points against West Ham on Saturday. 

Here are the main talking points from LIV vs MU: 

The Mctominay Enigma

Scott McTominay has found the back of the net on plenty of occasions this season but his attacking intent has often come at the expense of his control in the midfield. He is a player who has often shone in chaotic football. A fragment of the problem is that he clearly likes the freedom to attack but has been expected to retreat, recover and help his team defend, which more regularly exposes his frailties. 

There has been a chain of thought that he would be better essaying the Bruno Fernandes role and on Sunday he finally got the opportunity with the club captain suspended. Mctominay might have replaced him as the skipper at Anfield, but it is evident that he is not a natural No. 10 alternative. 

He spurned a superb chance to pick out Rasmus Hojlund on the break and lacked the killer passing instinct required, while his diligent workrate was also missed owing to the demands on him higher up the pitch. 

United without Fernandes were going to be exposed when they were reluctant to alter their formation, but this only added to Mctominay’s problems. 

He cannot be dropped from the squad in view of his attacking output but at the same time he remains vulnerable in the defensive role, making it almost difficult to get the best out of him in this United unit. 

Playing the Occasion

Liverpool were firm favourites going into this encounter and they were clearly the better team out of the two, so it is senseless to criticise the visitors for their defensive approach. Yet, no matter how sloppy and unconventional it was at times, United adamantly survived with a show of real commitment and determination.  

The odds of United defeating Klopp’s Liverpool on Sunday were zero to none but they would alway stand a chance if they dug deep, kept Anfield quiet and played the seasonal role of feigning villains. 

There were positives to take from the manner of their determined performance and the way they made it tremendously difficult for the hosts to find a way through. 

After an appalling 7-0 loss at Anfield in March, United came back strongly and produced a defensive masterclass to gain a point out of the tricky game.

Cometh the hour, Cometh the man  

Without their regular and former skipper, United were always at the risk of another humiliating result unless someone else stepped up in their absence. 

McTominay was appointed the stand-in skipper for the match but it was Raphael Varane who really stood up to the challenge with a terrific defensive display. He alongside Johnny Evans subdued the Liverpool attack. 

They were crucial in laying the foundation for United to thwart their opponents' plans. Whenever ‘The Reds’ came charging, they were stopped in their tracks by the vastly experienced pair of Varane and Evans. 

You just cannot keep someone of Varane’s calibre out of the side. If he is available, he ought to play.  There is no rational explanation behind overlooking your best centre back and Varane proved he was just that on Sunday. 

Away Record

United’s torrid away record might have persisted at Anfield, but this was a draw that felt more like a win than a loss. 

They have failed to win any of their last 14 PL away fixtures against teams starting the day in the top eight of the table since defeating Spurs 3-0 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in October 2021. 

Yet this was a match that made them believe the record could change soon. Many had expected United to suffer another embarrassing loss as they were back in March, but they can take pride in the way they played against such an intimidating opposition.

Mainoo makes the opportunity count

Kobbie Mainoo turned heads with his impressive debut on United’s last trip to Merseyside. On Sunday, he became the youngest-ever player to start a premier league match against Liverpool. 

The Man Utd boss has been careful to bring the youngster into action following his first-side breakthrough, but it was a massive compliment to his ability that a starting role never felt like an issue.

Sir Alex Ferguson used to examine possible signings based on how he felt they would play at Anfield and it was one that Mainoo passed.  He was calm and composed on the ball and made the right decisions in the makeshift midfield role. 

It is clear that he still needs a lot of cautious nurturing if he is ever to live up to his potential, but if he can cope up at Anfield, then there is an argument that he can perform anywhere else as well. 

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