LIVERPOOL — Jose did what Jose does. And Jose got what Jose wanted. Neither spectacle nor occasion will move Mourinho from a preordained strategy. Rumours that he would start with nine forwards and just one defender proved surprisingly unfounded. A point was what he needed and a point was what he took home.
It was Liverpool, with one win in eight games now, who badly needed a victory. Yet football’s oldest law says that it’s easier to contain than create. Mourinho knows it.
Perhaps not to the extent that his fiercest critics would contend. Lest we forget — and he certainly won’t allow us to — his Real Madrid team were record goal-scorers in La Liga and his Chelsea side magnificent at times.
But right now, he doesn’t need the show. The flair associated with this club of old can be saved for the goal festivals against the likes of West Ham, Swansea, Everton and Crystal Palace. Liverpool away requires a different plan. And, as Mourinho famously claimed at this ground once before, he’s not about to play the part of the clown at the circus. The hoopla and excitement of the game, you suspect, moved him not a jot. His eye is on a bigger prizes.
It was Jurgen Klopp’s turn, two years into his Liverpool tenure and facing questions as to how much progress has been made, to show us what he’s got. The onus was on him; or rather, that is how Mourinho wanted the game to be defined. And so that is largely how it played out.
Not that it didn’t have all the ingredients of England’s most formidable football clash. Crowds thronged outside from breakfast time in anticipation of something special. When the time came, Anfield roared for Kenny Dalglish, celebrating the stand named after him on Friday and the knot of United fans in the corner shouted defiance. This remodelled stadium is now a fitting stage and at times that din was intoxicating.
Yet, frankly, the game itself, at present struggles to match the atmosphere, which is becoming the star of these ultimately-disappointing encounters.
At times, Liverpool threatened to break the leash with which had subdued them. Principally there was a moment on 36 minutes when Roberto Firmino produced a dummy which left Nemanja Matic bewildered. The Brazilian’s cross found Joel Matip six yards out: he shot and David de Gea saved brilliantly and instinctively while Mohamed Salah fired the rebound wastefully wide.
In those moments you could question Mourinho and wonder whether he placed too much faith in his own ability to contain and control a contest.
Undoubtedly, Liverpool were the better side in that they seized the initiative, as you might have expected at Anfield, and attempted to wrest the game from Mourinho’s grasp. And Salah, fresh from his Egyptian heroics, was incisive, cutting inside United’s defence with his pace, though his penalty claim in the 16th was rightly waved away.
But in general, Mourinho looked as though this was all in the plan and that nothing would disturb it. He has faced down more fearsome side than this Liverpool outfit in his time. There is pretty much a formula from getting away from a high-profile contest with what he requires.
Starting with Ashley Young at right wing rather than left back was a clear indication of where the game was heading even before kick off. On those occasions when Romelu Lukaku did receive the ball and set off on a customary charge goalwards, neither Young nor Anthony Martial rushed to join him; their defensive duties clearly as much in their mind as their attacking role.
Premier league results and fixtures:
Yesterday: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United, Manchester City 7-2 Stoke City, Swansea City 2-0 Huddersfield Town, Burnley 1-1 West Ham United, Crystal Palace 2-1 Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 AFC Bournemouth, Watford 2-1 Arsenal.
Today: Brighton & Hove Albion v Everton (The American Express Community Stadium, 2:30pm), Southampton v Newcastle United (St. Mary’s Stadium, 5pm).