Manchester United vs Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp's midfield selection leaves creative void that starves front three

The Liverpool manager is often unable to decide on a settled midfield and the latest selection, while effective in keeping United out at Old Trafford, failed to create chances for the front three

Simon Hughes
Old Trafford
Sunday 24 February 2019 17:06
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Manchester United vs Liverpool: Premier League preview

A muggy afternoon in Manchester and an uncomfortable one for Liverpool – with the moments nevertheless going their way but not ultimately the outcome; one of those occasions where the discussions will relate to whether it is a point gained or two dropped. For the time being, it edges them back in front of the other club from this part of the world and further ahead of Tottenham. At the end, their supporters were happy – reminding Liverpool are top of the league again.

It had been an opportunity for this team to show those competing with them that they are not going to go away. Though the message was not delivered emphatically, they are where they are with another fixture that bares extra weight than others out of the way.

And yet, there remains feeling of wanting because they could have taken more considering the first half of their opponent, whose rhythm might have been disrupted by three injuries and three substitutions. That did not prove to be the case and United coped well but did Liverpool do enough to make the most of their advantage? In fairness, they were without Roberto Firmino as well after he was taken off earlier than expected but David de Gea, so often a deciding presence in these games, did not have a single shot to save.

Liverpool, though doing a reasonable job of subduing a boisterous Old Trafford before the removal of the first player to leave the pitch in Ander Herrera, could not find necessary quality in the final third of the pitch to enforce their domination of possession.

When they have failed this season, in those three Champions League away fixtures and at Manchester City, an absence of creativity in midfield has usually featured in the analysis. Jurgen Klopp’s selection policy in this area might reflect availability, his respect for the abilities of opponents as well as the demands on the department in his team which expends more energy than any other thus explaining the need for refreshments. Yet the extreme level of change ultimately might also show that he hasn’t quite made his mind up about which recipe works the best. It is clear that he cherishes Georginio Wijnaldum the most - probably Liverpool's man of the match here. If it is a big game and he is fit then he plays. The identity of the other two is less predictable, however. This was the ninth game in a row where he has selected a different combination – and it was one he hasn’t grouped together at all this season.

The organisation between Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho was there but the eye for a key pass was not and this meant Liverpool struggled to create opportunities. There is always a danger with these types of performances, those where one team knows it is on top but then suddenly finds itself behind because of a drop in concentration. That did not prove to be the case because United did not score and though the best chance of the first half was theirs, it was more due to the standard of the service from Romelu Lukaku when he served Jesse Lingard who was denied by the paint-brush hands of Alisson. A superb save by the Brazilian but a warning for Liverpool.

Jordan Henderson was unhappy to be brought off (REUTERS)

Klopp appeared furious with what was happening. On separate occasions, Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane received ear-fulls though it was not quite certain what for. His mood deepened at the start of the second half when Henderson sprinted down the right and should really have spotted Wijnaldum unmarked at the far post but went near instead but did not find Mane.

Klopp’s influence in the first half had been marked by his decision to react to Firmino’s injury by replacing him with Daniel Sturridge and as the afternoon wore on, that began to feel like a mistake, though again Sturridge would be entitled to ask questions about the service he was getting from those behind him.

With twenty minutes to go, Henderson was unhappy with Klopp’s decision to take him off and Klopp identified his frustration, rebuking his captain as he went to sit down on the substitutes bench. You can understand the feelings of both: Henderson had started to influence the game more, he is Liverpool’s leader and he wasn’t going to be around as they tried to get across the line. Yet Klopp knows what happens when the cameras see this sort of incident and the questions that follow.

A draw, then, for Liverpool. At the end, Klopp was talking to Henderson again, smacking the hands of his players. From afar, it seemed as though he believed to be a job well done. Time will tell whether it was.

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