As far as sales pitches go, it wasn’t the best.
Available in 900 million homes and in 188 different countries around the world, you have to wonder what kind of advertisement for the Premier League Liverpool’s dull goalless draw against Manchester United turned out to be. By full time, many viewers had probably switched off.
Based on what he saw of United, Grosvenor Sports’ football betting expert Adrian Clarke explains why he doesn’t see them as champions…
Shut up shop
I’ve heard plenty of people describe it as a ‘great point’, but surely this season’s version of Manchester United is capable of more than just a shut-up-shop job at the home of their bitterest rivals?
I think so anyway.
Flying high in the table and soaring with self-belief, Jose Mourinho’s men arrived at Anfield on the back of a quartet of 4-0 victories in just seven matches.
Playing faster-paced football than last term, they were creating chances for fun and dispatching those opportunities better than anybody else too. A 17.4 per cent conversion rate helping them net 21 goals at three per game.
Released from their tactical shackles, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Henrik Mkhitaryan were on fire.
But instead of devising a game plan that played to these obvious strengths (especially against a Liverpool outfit not noted for its defensive security) Mourinho reverted to closing the contest down as a spectacle.
Setting his team up in a 4-5-1 with a seriously defensive mindset, Jose opted to kill the match.
And I fear playing that way in all of Manchester United’s stiffest tests will destroy their title hopes, too.
Last season, with his squad a work in progress, the Portuguese’s big-match caution was perhaps understandable. They couldn’t go toe to toe with the best. They had to find another way.
Not that circumspect tactics did them any good. In ten Premier League contests against the rest of the Big Six, Manchester United won just two, drawing four and losing four. In total, they managed a paltry SEVEN goals.
That was then, but this is now.
Mourinho’s much-improved class of 2017-18 doesn’t need to be as negative.
They’re good enough to slug it out with top teams without leaving all forms of entertainment on the team bus. Their attackers have shown they deserve the chance to thrive in massive games like this.
While it’s obviously better to collect one point at Liverpool than to go gung-ho and lose, it seemed head-scratchingly obvious that every time United’s forwards got onto the ball, they posed menace on Merseyside.
Mourinho’s lack of ambition may have locked Liverpool out, but it also starved his star men of service.
To win league titles you usually need upwards of 85 points, often closer to 90. Too many draws, even against your fellow contenders, isn’t going to get you there. Sooner or later you have to beat the best, not just hold them at bay.
Mourinho will say they’ll win the home games, and take draws on the road, but that attitude heaps great pressure on those Old Trafford contests. They won’t win them all.
Manchester City would’ve tried to beat Liverpool at Anfield, and based on the form book they’d almost certainly have succeeded.
That, for me, will be the difference.
Pep Guardiola’s men may have the odd slip-up, but they will collect an awful lot of three-point hauls, just as they did by taking the fight to Chelsea before the international break.
Look, I rate Mourinho. He will surely go down in history as one of world football’s best-ever managers. But his away day approach has become predictably dull, and there’s no need for it.
Surely this expensively assembled Manchester United team can keep their defensive shape, without completely sacrificing attacking intent?
If Jose doesn’t, he will end up behind their noisy Manchester neighbours come May…
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