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David De Gea superb but Romelu Lukaku frustrated in Anfield stalemate

Manchester United adopted a safety-first approach in their draw at Liverpool.
Manchester United adopted a safety-first approach in their draw at Liverpool.

Manchester United's performance in their 0-0 draw at Liverpool was one the purists most feared and Jose Mourinho -- with a hint of relish, one suspects -- helped to deliver it.

This was an ultra-conservative performance from United which was out of keeping with all their recent outings, but which remained true to Mourinho's attitude towards big games away from home. Romelu Lukaku could and perhaps should have scored the winner, but that would have been unfair on the home side, and it speaks volumes that United's leading players by far were those in defensive roles.


David De Gea again showed supernatural reflexes to make a first half save that was beyond belief, and Ander Herrera, though inhibited going forward, put in a defensive shift of the greatest industry.


Lukaku was isolated most of the match, due to the lack of service from midfield, and the wide players behind him had little more luck. United sat deep and allowed endless pressure, a risk which just about paid off.

Manager rating out of 10

6 -- The rating is for results and not for style, which is just as well. This was the most defensive of outings from Mourinho's United side, going beyond even the 0-0 draw at Anfield last season. A point, in the long run, may be a good outcome, but it is difficult to know if Liverpool were there for the taking. As unreliable as their defence often is, United did not ever really try to take them.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK David De Gea, 9 -- Made an exceptional first half save with his foot, watching the ball on to his outstretched boot as it seared in from close range. Handling and distribution excellent throughout.

DF Antonio Valencia, 6 -- Much more reserved than usual, rarely going forward -- this must have been as a result of tactical instruction. Conceded the ball surprisingly often, which was partly due to the lack of options ahead of him.

DF Phil Jones, 8 -- Passed the ball very well and was not caught lunging in when the opposition had possession in dangerous areas. Shepherded his man away from danger as he has done so often this season.

DF Chris Smalling, 6 -- Completed all of his passes, but there were only 23 of them, which suggests what kind of game he had -- mostly a rearguard action, where he was continually clearing his lines. Was unable to build play from the back.

DF Matteo Darmian, 5 -- An outing that more often than not induced anxiety for many watching supporters. Rarely looked composed and was drawn out of position, and failed to provide support in attack for Anthony Martial.

MF Ashley Young, 5 -- Did not get forward remotely as well as he has in previous matches, unable to beat his man in wide positions and also unable to deliver dangerous balls into the box. Diligent but ineffective.

MF Nemanja Matic, 7 -- Had a substantial workload and looked outnumbered on several occasions, at one point bringing the ball out of defence only to find himself surrounded by four Liverpool players with no passing option. Not his most effective game, but not his fault in these circumstances.

MF Ander Herrera, 7 -- This was the stereotypical "dogged display". Some of his passing was uncertain, but he put in a remarkable amount of defensive work, making no less than nine tackles. He was essentially a centre-back in midfield, but performed that task to the letter.

MF Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 5 -- Isolated, and for the most part invisible. There was a systemic problem which stopped him from getting as involved in the game as he should have done, but elite attackers should create more on their own. He, unfortunately, did not.

MF Anthony Martial, 6 -- It is unfair to say that Martial played poorly as such, simply because he was the only attacking threat down his flank and was thus easy to nullify by marking in numbers. Barely managed to make significant headway in attack, apart from one intricate passing move that almost led to a goal from Lukaku.

FW Romelu Lukaku, 6 -- He will receive criticism for not scoring his team's best chance, a drive which he hit far too close to Simon Mignolet. He should have scored that, but his work rate -- he made several good runs -- was not rewarded with possession, and he touched the ball only 22 times. At times he looked stranded, which is by far the worst use of his talents.


MF Jesse Lingard, 6 (for Mkhitaryan) -- The first confirmation that Mourinho would be settling for a 0-0 draw, as he added energy and defensive discipline but little creativity.

MF Marcus Rashford, 6 (for Martial) -- Was typically direct but his quick feet did not bewilder his opposite man, who stood off him when needed and got tight when approached at the byline.

DF Victor Lindelof, N/R (for Young) -- Brought on to run down the dying seconds of the game, and was not significantly involved in the play.

Musa Okwonga is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow on Twitter: @Okwonga.


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