By Alywin Chew
The North West Derby is traditionally an exciting affair filled with full-blooded tackles, players getting up into each other’s faces and sporadic scuffles that get the adrenaline racing.
This is a fixture where form goes out the window, blood is literally spilled, shin pads are split into two and controversy is rife in the air.
It is best accompanied by the song by Drowning Pool that goes, “Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor….”
But yesterday’s face-off between Liverpool and Manchester United was so tame, I spent most of the time not at the edge of my seat and biting my fingernails, but wondering whether I should order McDonalds for supper and bust my daily calorie cap.
Bodies did hit the floor. But it had nothing to do with over-zealous tackles. United, for the most part, seemed like they need to spend more time in the gym.
In one instance, Anthony Martial got into a minor clash with Xherdan Shaqiri while jumping and fell. The latter was penalised.
In another instance, Bruno Fernandes got a little nudge from Fabinho and acted like he’d been slapped on the face. The latter was penalised.
Paul Pogba, as towering a character as he is, was constantly dominated by Jordan Henderson.
United did have a handful of chances to score, but it was mostly down to unforced errors on Liverpool’s part, and not because they were scintillating in attack. Marcus Rashford constantly getting caught offside highlighted United’s strategy – let’s pray we get lucky and hit Liverpool on the counter.
Only one team showed up to play football. The other was happy to build the wall that Donald Trump never did.
United fans are probably swooning over the prowess of their airtight defence. I’ll admit, United were near flawless in this aspect. They were disciplined and effective in closing down the Liverpool players.
But though they’ve maintained their place at the top of the league, United should be embarrassed at playing such football. It’s the anti-thesis of what the club has always been, at least under Sir Alex Ferguson. The team that turned up at Anfield played like one that was battling relegation instead of contending for the title.
It was disgraceful. It was even disrespectful, not just to their reputation, but to the significance of this hallowed derby.
How they’re even top of the league baffles me.
Perhaps there really is some truth to referee bias, and it seemed to happen again this morning. With just seconds to go before half time, a long pass found Sadio Mane, who appeared to have a relatively easy run at goal. But instead of letting play continue, the referee blew the whistle.
I wish there was more to nitpick at, but the game was so uneventful that even VAR managed to get a day off.
That being said, Liverpool weren’t exactly impressive. Roberto Firmino again showed that he is perhaps past his sell-by date. The team sorely missed the impetus that new signing Diogo Jota provides up front.
Gini Wijnaldum was a shadow of his past self. Largely ineffectual throughout the game, the Dutchman looked like a player whose mind is already set on playing alongside Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp.
While Henderson and Fabinho have proven themselves to be reliable makeshift centre-backs, their deployment in this role is a loss to midfield. Though Thiago absolutely bossed the midfield this morning (SGT), one can’t help but wonder if deploying sublime passers like Henderson and Fabinho alongside the Spaniard would’ve helped create more chances against a stubborn defence.
Again, Jurgen Klopp seemed too slow in introducing fresh legs into the game. Curtis Jones was never going to make a big difference. Divock Origi’s imposing presence would’ve created some chances if he was brought on earlier.
Shaqiri, as delightful as he was with his passes, should’ve been used as an impact sub instead. His inventiveness would’ve been useful at a later stage when United were weary.
Like many fans, I believe Liverpool need to splash the cash this transfer window and reinforce a squad that has been battered by injuries. The sensible thing to do in an uncertain financial climate would be to improvise and make do with what we have, but with the title race being so tight, prudence is probably the last thing we need.
Here’s a parting shot for you gloating United fans – form is temporary, class is permanent.
Learn to play football.