Since taking charge of Manchester United, Jose Mourinho has stressed the need for “men” in his side – in other words, strong characters and forceful personalities who can impose themselves on games and handle the pressure that comes with playing for one of the world’s top clubs.
It was interesting to hear criticism in some quarters of United’s approach at Liverpool from the same people that expected the in-form Merseysiders to blitz the visitors from the outset and rack up a convincing win. Some even suggested beforehand a three-goal victory margin and top spot in the Premier League was attainable for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
The visitors clearly hadn’t read that particular script and looked pretty comfortable throughout, even if some newspapers appeared to take the line that it was only David De Gea who prevented a heavy beating. Yes, the Spaniard did make two fine saves but Liverpool rarely penetrated the defence in front of him and, as Mourinho said afterwards, perhaps they are not yet the all-conquering team that has been lauded as such in the media.
It was a controlled display by United and one that thoroughly merited the point. Those bemoaning the fact it was not a more open affair have possibly fallen for the inflated hype surrounding the fixture, only exacerbated by the decision to move it to the Monday night after a lengthy international break and an arguably less-than-Super Sunday on Sky Sports.
Perhaps my memory is scarred by the bad performances at Anfield over the years but I cannot remember too many times when we have breezed into that intimidating arena, steamrollered Liverpool and coasted to three points. Even in our pomp and when the Merseysiders were struggling for form, I find it hard to recall an easy ride against our fiercest rivals.
Yet, somehow, against a confident, highly-motivated side, it seems United were expected to contribute to an end-to-end encounter that would surely have played right into the hosts’ hands. Instead, Mourinho showed the tactical acumen that has become one of his hallmarks, capable of imposing our own game plan and achieving a positive result when many were predicting defeat and, no doubt, a chance to aim more criticism at the club.
What is most encouraging, from my perspective, is the fact his ideas and methods are clearly starting to take hold in the players. I love the fact he can spring a tactical surprise in his selection, not many would have predicted Ashley Young would start out wide, and it shows the extent of his planning and methodology for preparing his team in precisely the right way.
The boss must have been delighted with Young’s response to his inclusion but Marcus Rashford on the other flank also showed the defensive discipline you would not necessarily associate with an 18-year-old striker. Again, this bodes well – as does the fact clever technicians like Ander Herrera and Daley Blind seem capable of carrying out instructions to the letter.
Marouane Fellaini also put in a great shift in midfield and is another who is earning the trust of the boss for his ability to be central to a game plan and providing the sort of strength and aggression that can be vital on nights such as those at Anfield.
As a supporter, I appreciate the fact United are now a physical side and will not be outmuscled by opponents. On too many occasions in the past, I would argue we have been bullied at Anfield – not surprisingly considering the frenzied atmosphere, aggression on the pitch and spite in the stands. I think the impact of such an occasion can be lost – it is not easy place to go and play your football.
Mourinho’s United did that on Monday. The raucous crowd expecting to gloat over a sweet victory were disappointed and quietened due to the away team’s performance. It was a display that showed character from Jose’s men and, for me, shows this side is capable of standing up to be counted.
The views expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Manchester United Football Club.
Source: Manchester United Official