The master of dark arts was at it again at Anfield on Monday night as his men coaxed the hosts into a scruff and engaged in persistent fouling to foil the Reds
It had the billing of an unmissable blockbuster, but in the end, Liverpool's hosting of Manchester United was really just a remake of Jose Mourinho: The Spoiler . The men from down the M62 departed Anfield with a clean sheet and a point, but no more evidence of the "dynamic, aggressive football" the manager promised at his unveiling in July.
In the first half, there was perhaps too much “salt in the soup” - the German's description of the blockbuster fixture - as his men struggled to feed their usual intensity and swagger into proceedings. The visitors had sketched their plan to stifle the Reds to perfection, persistently fouling in order to prevent them from enjoying any semblance of rythym.
Mourinho coaxed his opponents into a physical, aerial fight fully aware United could not triumph in a pass-and-move contest. Liverpool were uncharacteristically obliging, rushing into loose passes, thoughtless long balls and clueless clearances. Klopp’s fury was flung in every direction as his men seemed to have none.
Daniel Sturridge, marking his 100th appearance for the club, will not happily remember his milestone performance. The 27-year-old appeared out-of-sync with his fellow forwards and was worryingly ineffective. Emre Can, making his first league start of the campaign, was similarly off colour.
It was a collective failing, however, from Klopp’s charges in the first 45 as they allowed themselves to be shaken and stirred, inviting United’s scrap rather than imposing their swagger.
By half-time, the only effort inside the box was Roberto Firmino’s header, which was easily gathered by David de Gea. There had been double the amount of physical tussles than attacking endeavour, with 16 combined fouls, but just eight total shots and corners from English football’s most decorated teams. The display had been befitting of Monday night football in a Champions League week.
It was dysfunctional, it was daunting and it was exactly what Mourinho had desired. Liverpool looked the longest distance away from the inventive, assertive side that already swatted away Arsenal, Chelsea and defending champions Leicester this season, while making a stellar Tottenham team appear largely average at White Hart Lane.
The master of the dark arts was at it again at Anfield, conjuring up the ability to jam the hosts’ attacking juggernaut just as he had done as Chelsea boss in 2013-14 to derail their title tilt. This time around was not as dramatic or crushing, but the sight of the Portuguese in the opposition dugout on L4 will prompt everlasting loathing.
The second half under the lights began in disjointed fashion as well, but some entertainment was finally forthcoming. Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed back across goal instead of beyond Loris Karius from Paul Pogba’s delivery, and then De Gea was outstanding in thwarting Can. The German midfielder dribbled inside and stuck a low shot towards the bottom right corner, but United’s keeper got down to pull off the save.
Part of Liverpool’s problem in the fixture was the presence of Adam Lallana on the bench rather than in the first 11 due to his fresh recovery from a groin issue. The England international is the funnel for the Anfield outfit’s press, is their link-man extraordinaire, as well as their shot of effervescence and intelligence.
It is no coincidence that Liverpool were more coherent when he was introduced for Sturridge on 59 minutes. They probed and pushed and finally put United on the back foot, with De Gea again proving the difference between the rivals.
Philippe Coutinho, owner of a catalogue of ridiculous top-corner stunners, was on course to add another. He wrapped his foot over the ball from range, but the Spanish stopper applied a strong hand on the effort to change its trajectory and leave the Brazilian stupefied.
Liverpool had scored nine goals in two fixtures in front of the redeveloped Main Stand before Monday night, but their huffing and puffing came to nothing against United - just as Mourinho had planned.