It is acceptable that every team that visits Old Trafford is more cautious and defensive than usual, given it is not an average away game, especially when a coach like Jose Mourinho is in charge. I am not going to bash Jurgen Klopp for leaving the initiative to Mourinho and making his team play much more defensively, because Liverpool aren't tactically nor individually at that level right now. Nevertheless, they have some serious fundamental deficiencies that can cost them the championship this year, and Mourinho was able utilize them to save at least a point. On the other hand, as the side who has the initiative, United understood what it was like to be clueless against a counter-attacking team.
First, let's start with Klopp's side, which is flush with attacking power, but also equally porous defensively. There are problems in the roles Klopp gives to his defenders and the way that those defenders execute them. As a requirement of the counter-pressing model, Klopp usually considers defense something the whole team executes together, starting with the attacking players. In this scheme, it is the defenders' duty to cover the spaces that the offensive players leave in the midfield to make an offensive press meaningful, otherwise the opponent can get out of the press easily with one simple pass. Nonetheless, most of the time center backs and full backs stay too deep to cover their own zone, which is meaningless in the context of counter-pressing. Added to that, center backs, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan do not possess sufficient technique to keep circulating the ball under a press, and they are noticeably slow as the United forwards slipped away many times between them. Secondly, Klopp needs one more player like Emre Can, who can organize the offensive attacks, as Jordan Henderson is too defensive and Adam Lallana is too selfish for that role. No other player than Can has the ability of perceiving his teammates' position in the final third with sufficient technique and a selfless football character. In Liverpool's quasi-blitzkrieg attacks there has to be a player who can deliver the right pass to the right person at the right time. Right now, only Can does this job and this fact decreases the attacking potency of the team significantly.
There is a completely different story going on with United and Mourinho, as they struggled again to score against a team that has no intention of dominating the game. Although Mourinho finally found ways to create opportunities, even though most of them from individual talent and freedom, there is no constancy and consistency in attacks due to the lack of knowledge in dominating the game. Now, given it is obvious that United have to dominate almost every game at Old Trafford, and given they will play half of their games in their own stadium for the rest of the season, it is quite frustrating to see that Mourinho still cannot find offensive fluency. I believe the most clear evidence of United's offensive dullness was the very existence of Marouane Fellaini in Liverpool's penalty box, which made the team play long balls. As I have asked many times in this column, why do we put so much importance in coaching if a team like Manchester United's only back-up plan is kicking the ball to tall people in the penalty box?
Furthermore, neither Marcos Rojo nor Phil Jones are fit for the center back roles for a team like United. As in Liverpool's case, they are too slow and they have terrible ball skills that could have cost them one or two goals against Klopp's team. It is a necessity for defenders to have decent technique in modern football, just as it is a necessity for forward players having defensive skills. Without a proper plan for dominating the game and decent defenders, United cannot be a part of the championship race next season, as this one was wasted due to the same reasons.
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