Manchester United 1 – Liverpool 1: Match Review

Old Trafford is never a fun place to go. Alex Ferguson worked hard to build the place up into a fortress and it worked well. Few teams went there and left with all three points during his reign. The David Moyes era saw cracks appear in the castle walls, if not gaping big holes. Things may have got better during the Louis Van Gaal reign but nobody knows as everyone fell asleep there.

Mourinho has certainly tightened things back up again. Only Manchester City have won there so far this season. The Reds were heading to the home of their most bitter rivals on the back of some patchy form, with United having won nine on the bounce. News before kick-off that Joel Matip couldn’t start and Nathaniel Clyne had picked up an injury meant that most fans were less than confident. So how did the game pan out? What were the major talking points?

Mignolet Was In Inspired Form

I have made no secret of my dislike for Simon Mignolet. The Belgian has been less than impressive at times during his Liverpool career. Good moments or games are almost invariably followed up by mad decisions or nightmare matches during which every shot by the opposition seems to end in a goal. The excellent performance by Loris Karius during the League Cup match against Southampton in the week will have put pressure on him heading into such a high profile game as this.

I’m not in the camp of Liverpool supporters who would rather watch a player fail in order for me to be proven ‘right’. I’d far rather that that player prove me wrong and the football club be the beneficiaries of that. If I’m going to give him pelters when he under-performs then it’s only right that I’m just as quick to praise him when he does well. He was my Man of the Match for the Reds today, proving that it’s not just David de Gea who can have a blinder when Manchester & Liverpool meet.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

As well as making some brilliant saves, including one from a Zlatan Ibrahimovic free-kick that he was unsighted on before it was struck, the Belgian was commanding from corners and did some big punches when it was needed. Considering that José Mourinho, the football genius, had a battle plan that was basically ‘thump it long to the big man’ it was vital that the Liverpool goalkeeper stood tall and strong. United didn’t create a lot but Mignolet dealt with what was thrown at him.

Of course the issue with Mignolet has never been that he’s consistently dreadful. He has the ability to pull off some remarkable stops and can look like he’s finally turned a corner, only to do something crazy that has you pulling your hair out. Even during this match, when he demonstrated some outstanding moments, he still rolled the ball out to a player closely marked by a Manchester United lad when there was less than a minute of the 90 left. They didn’t score, but if they had done it should have gone down as one of his worst errors in recent times. It’s why his improvement in form shouldn’t fool you into thinking he shouldn’t be upgraded.

Missing A Spine – But Getting It Back

With seventeen games left of the season the Reds sit seven points shy of the league leaders. My hope was that Chelsea would drop points against Leicester at the weekend, but the Foxes seem to have taken their league title and decided that that’s enough for them for a while and they rolled over; they allowed Antonio Conte’s side to get away without an implosion based on Diego Costa’s downing of tools. It means the Reds need to keep the pressure up as much as possible moving forward.

The good news is that Liverpool’s spine will be coming back. We went into this game without a fully fit Jordan Henderson, with Philippe Coutinho on the bench and not at 100% and minus Nathaniel Clyne. There was also the small matter of Joel Matip missing the game because of lunacy from FIFA, but I’ll talk about that a bit more in a second. How many teams have had to make do during this campaign without their most important players? Have Chelsea had to cope without Hazard, Costa, Cahill and Willian all at the same time? No.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

We have. We stood toe-to-toe with Manchester United with an eighteen-year-old at right-back because Clyne picked up a rib injury against City. We had to play a twenty-one-year-old up front owing to the fact that our Brazilian playmaker was unable to start the game. Henderson was great, yet imagine how good he might have been if he hadn’t been out injured for the last few weeks. That we would have left the ground with all three points had the officials done their job is commendable.

Manchester United have been in great form lately but we limited them to just a few shots on goal today. They had no real answer other than to push Fellaini, Pogba and Ibrahimovic up front and lump it to them. For a club that has spent close to a billion pounds on transfers recently and has a manager that is supposedly a genius, that’s pretty disgraceful. Liverpool are the only team who can leave Old Trafford with their head’s held high after today.

Refereeing Decisions Aren’t Swings And Roundabouts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, being a referee isn’t an easy job. We see things in minute detail that they only see once and at full speed. That’s why the Football Association needs to help out the men in the middle and give them video replays. Would today’s game have been slowed down even remotely if the officials had been given a moment to have a quick look at some video footage of the key moments? No, it wouldn’t have. But the officials might have got those decisions right.

Michael Oliver is a perfectly competent referee, but he got too many basic things wrong today. He got the penalty decision absolutely spot on but he then spent the rest of the match officiating as if he hadn’t. He gave United every small decision, from slight pushes to mild trips, yet when their players fouled one of ours we got nothing. Wayne Rooney should have been sent off for his foul on James Milner, yet Oliver didn’t even book him. As for Paul Pogba, he shouldn’t have been on the pitch at the end of the first-half. At one point he literally grabbed Henderson around the throat and threw him to the floor, yet the officials gave the home side a free-kick.

As for the assistant referees, Manchester United have now seen five offside goals stand in their last seven home games. One of them was even given the BBC’s Goal of the Month award, in spite of the fact that it shouldn’t have stood. Their goal against us wasn’t offside in and of itself, but one of their players was offside in the build-up in utterly ridiculous fashion. There was literally a line across the pitch showing where both players were yet the assistant was about five foot in front of play.

People say that refereeing decisions even themselves out over time, but is that really true? We’re not going to head to Old Trafford again this league campaign. At what other point will our arch rivals have two men sent off and a goal ruled out for being offside in a game that would put us eight points clear of them and just five behind the league leaders? If it happens when we’re away to Watford is that the same thing? If an opposition side sees a man sent off when they should have been when we’re 3-0 at Anfield does that make up for Oliver’s dreadful officiating? No.

Some people might say it’s sour grapes, but that’s just nonsense. It’s perfectly fair to ask questions about a refereeing performance when it’s been so poor and could have such an influence on the season as a whole. We could easily miss out on the title by two points; two points that we should have gained today at the hands of Manchester United. I won’t apologise for drawing attention to Michael Oliver’s performance and saying it wasn’t good enough.

Then there’s the matter of Joel Matip’s absence from the side today. That FIFA have not yet clarified the Cameroonian’s situation is an absolute disgrace. The club must have been in communication with them since before the African Cup of Nations began, yet they still didn’t know if he was actually eligible to play by the time of today’s game. Much like with the Mamadou Sakho situation that derailed our season last year, the authorities have screwed up twice to the detriment of Liverpool Football Club. It’s crucial that our directors and club officials begin to fight back against the powers that be.

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