The Independent’s Simon Hughes reviews the game between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield Monday evening.
Liverpool are not the same team without Adam Lallana
Not a statement anyone hoping to maintain their credibility would have said 12 months ago. Lallana, who was substituted early in Liverpool’s victory at Swansea after sustaining a groin injury which forced him to miss the subsequent set of international fixtures with England, was deemed fit enough to only be selected on the substitutes’ bench here.
Without him – and, indeed, Georginio Wijnaldum, whose quick rotation of possession has been an understated feature of Liverpool’s best performances this season - Jürgen Klopp’s midfield was one-paced and lacking the necessary energy to impose pressure on the opponent.
Emre Can started a league game for the first time and his lack of match fitness was visible and audible. When the German reacted to Marcus Rashford’s darting in-field run with all the stealth of an elephant pricked by a tranquiliser dart, Klopp leapt from his seat to remind him of his expectations. When the centre of the pitch opened up moments later and Can elected to turn around and pass the ball backwards, Klopp was joined by his assistant Zeljko Buvac in the technical area and Can was scalded again.
Liverpool were much brighter when Lallana was introduced with half an hour remaining. Like Can, Daniel Sturridge did not enjoy the best of evenings. Maybe, in fact, Liverpool's improvement was a consequence of the striker’s exit.
Liverpool’s goalkeeping problem has not been remedied with the dropping of Simon Mignolet
Not yet, anyway. There are some encouraging signs for Loris Karius. First of all, he must have done enough in training to impress his teammates, judging by the number of times he was entrusted by Liverpool’s defenders to use the ball with his feet.
And yet, through his actions there were glimmers of encouragement for United: the times he failed to deal adequately enough under pressure from a cross only to be saved by the decision to award Liverpool a free-kick for the slightest of touches on him, and then again when his loose pass was intercepted by Paul Pogba only for the maximum punishment to be avoided because Zlatan Ibrahimovic was subsequently standing in an offside position.
David De Gea took time to settle into his role as United’s first choice goalkeeper when he arrived from Atlético Madrid as a 20-year-old before emerging as arguably the Premier League’s best. Yet just as any Liverpool midfielder bought to replace Steven Gerrard would be affected by the expectations placed on him, Anfield’s nervousness can be felt each time a cross is not dealt with adequately or a shot is parried rather than gathered because of three seasons spent with Simon Mignolet. It means Karius will probably not be afforded the settling in period he might need.
Paul Pogba is not performing with the conviction of someone who is sure of his responsibilities
When an interview with Paul Ince appeared on the pages of The Independent last week, the former Manchester United midfielder suggested that Pogba is yet to discover the form which prompted United to break their transfer record by some distance on a player they let go for almost nothing four years ago because of the different tactical system used at Juventus.
While Pogba’s supporters will might speak of a his diligence here when he helped close down the angles where Liverpool’s defenders and midfield might have been able to build some momentum, he offered absolutely nothing in a creative sense and was slow to react to potential goalscoring opportunities on the few occasions when United broke from their defensive rhythm.
It remains to be seen whether Pogba is best suited to a number 6 position, a number 8 or acting as a number 10.
For £89 million and considering his history with the club, you’d have expected someone at United to know exactly what they were getting.
Anthony Taylor might be an Altrincham fan after all
In order not to become the story and therefore the focus of the questions aimed at both managers in the post-match press conference, there was a feeling that referee Anthony Taylor would need to deliver a faultless display.
Taylor, who lives a Marouane Fellaini misplaced pass away from Old Trafford and was born in Wythenshawe, says he supports his local team, Altrincham.
His appointment to this match was met by bewilderment, particularly from José Mourinho, who suggested it would be “difficult” to referee a match at Anfield when United are the visiting team.
It might be a challenge to believe someone with even a passing interest in football when they claim not to be touched by rivalry when growing up in a city with such entrenched views about partisanship and yet, Taylor’s demeanour was cool and his decision making, consistent.
Though it would not be a surprise if at least one of the managers complained because they usually do to suit their own agenda, Taylor’s performance was sound.