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Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp learn lessons to make Utd-Liverpool exciting

Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp learn lessons to make Utd-Liverpool exciting

Liverpool legend Ian Rush fears the influence of Jose Mourinho when the Merseysiders face Manchester United.

Manchester United versus Liverpool has become the Premier League’s most-hyped fixture — but in recent years, it has been somewhat underwhelming. This weekend, we should be in for a genuinely exciting game.

Historically, this has very rarely been a meeting between the two major title challengers, and this is a peculiar rivalry the Premier League tends to fall back upon when there’s not an obvious head-to-head battle for the league title. There wasn’t a particular amount of hype about this game during the years when United were battling Arsenal and then Chelsea for the title, of course. And at one point, this fixture became so irrelevant it was scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m., meaning it wasn’t televised. In a season like this, with so many sides competing for the title and the Champions League places, there tends to be more hype about Manchester United and Liverpool clashes.

The reverse fixture was billed as “Red Monday” by British television, but prompted arguably the poorest game of the season so far. It probably shouldn’t have come as a great surprise: Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United had made a stuttering start to their Premier League campaign, and therefore Mourinho did what he always does away from home as an underdog: he make the game scrappy, cautious and defensive. It was 0-0.

But it wasn’t simply a 0-0, it was a terrible 0-0. Manchester United were desperate not to pass their way into the hands of Liverpool’s press. David De Gea always kicked long, throw-ins were thrown down the line, the centre-backs barely ever had possession. Eric Bailly played 14 passes, twice as many as Chris Smalling — in stark contrast, Liverpool’s centre-backs played 92 and 70 passes, respectively.

What has changed in the last three months? Well, quite a lot, actually. Manchester United are actually playing good, open, attack-minded football, and this isn’t simply a meeting between English football’s most successful two clubs in history, but a meeting between the two sides with the longest unbeaten top-flight runs. United have won six in a row, and haven’t lost for 11 games. Liverpool, meanwhile, haven’t lost in six games. Suddenly, both sides are looking good, and we might actually be in for a decent game.

Jose Mourinho’s decision to play Paul Pogba in a more advanced position is a major reason for Man United’s current form.

Peculiarly, United’s improvement has come partly because of that Liverpool game. With Mourinho determined to beef up the midfield with extra numbers, he pushed Paul Pogba forward to the most advanced positions in a three-man midfield zone, allowing him license to burst forward into attack. Until then, he’d been disappointingly reserved in his deeper role, but there were a couple of moments when the Frenchman’s link play with Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked genuinely exciting. Pogba remained there for the next game, a disappointing 4-0 defeat at Chelsea, but then returned to the deep role for a poor goalless draw at home to Burnley and a 1-1 home draw with West Ham. He looked more comfortable when more advanced.

Since then, he never has been fielded in one of the deep roles. Yes, United’s system has changed, and they’re playing a 4-3-3 rather than the 4-2-3-1 Mourinho initially seemed determined to play. The Liverpool game was, perhaps, the making of Pogba in his second spell at United.

Jurgen Klopp also learned lessons from that first game. He decided to play Daniel Sturridge in the centre of Liverpool’s three-pronged attack, but the forward contributed little in possession, controlling one promising long ball out of play, and was noticeably slack in terms of his pressing, too. Liverpool’s best football came after he was replaced by Adam Lallana. In theory, that was a cautious change, a midfielder for a forward. But it meant Philippe Coutinho moved from the centre to the left, Roberto Firmino switched from the left to up front, and Lallana injected some tempo in the passing. Liverpool were transformed, with Firmino making runs to drag defenders out of position, and others trying to exploit the space.

Sturridge was an unused substitute for Liverpool’s next two matches, and came off the bench in the two after that. A calf injury also interrupted his season, but Sturridge didn’t start another league game in 2016, only appearing from the start for the 2-2 draw at Sunderland. That was despite Coutinho’s injury meaning Firmino was often deployed from the left — Divock Origi often started instead.

Shaka Hislop is a bit at odds as to why Man United would extend Marouane Fellaini’s contract.

That 0-0, then, was more productive than we initially realised — it hinted at how Mourinho and Klopp should proceed for the rest of the season.

Sunday should be a lot more exciting. The only concern is injuries. Ibrahimovic is considered doubtful for Manchester United because of illness, although his absence would presumably mean Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford starting up front, which might suit the nature of the contest, as they would provide speed in behind Liverpool’s aggressive defensive line. For Liverpool, meanwhile, there’s a doubt about Jordan Henderson, among the Red’s most impressive players this season in his relatively new defensive-midfield role. The fact Sadio Mane is away at the African Nations Cup, meanwhile, might force Klopp to play Sturridge, with Firmino on the right. Sturridge has been in decent form, but Liverpool look so much better with the Brazilian up top.

In more positive news, Coutinho might make his first start in in seven weeks, having recovered from injury to play half an hour against Southampton in midweek. He provides Liverpool with guile and creativity from the left flank, and could be the catalyst for their best attacks.

It has been a while, then, since Manchester United and Liverpool were both good sides. United have clearly struggled since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, and before that Liverpool weren’t a top-four side during the reigns of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish. You’re arguably looking back as long ago as 2008-09, when the teams finished first and second in the league, for a clash like this one. Of course, these two won’t be the top two this season — that simply illustrates the quality in the Premier League in 2016-17. Nonetheless, this is yet another genuinely mouthwatering showdown between two organised, intelligent and exciting sides.

Michael Cox is the editor of Zonal Marking and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.

Liverpool legend Ian Rush fears the influence of Jose Mourinho when the Merseysiders face Manchester United.
Manchester United versus Liverpool has become the Premier League’s most-hyped fixture — but in recent years, it has been somewhat underwhelming. This weekend, we should be in for a genuinely exciting game.
Historically, this has very rarely been a meeting between the two major title challengers, and this is a peculiar rivalry the Premier League tends to fall back upon when there’s not an obvious head-to-head battle for the league title. There wasn’t a particular amount of hype about this game during…

Source: http://www.espnfc.com/english-premier-league/23/blog/post/3037537/jose-mourinho-and-jurgen-klopp-learn-lessons-to-make-united-liverpool-exciting

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