Manchester United left it late as Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved the hero with a late equaliser to earn a point at home against Liverpool on Sunday night.
The fierce rivals battled out a competitive game in which the away side had the better of the first half, scoring the opener through a James Milner penalty, with United responding strongly in the second half to dominate proceedings.
Jose Mourinho was crucified for playing for a result at Anfield earlier in the season, but this time the roles were reversed as Jurgen Klopp stuck 10 men behind the ball to survive the United onslaught in the second half – not that Klopp seemed to care as he criticised Mourinho for employing “long-ball” tactics to get a result.
In the end, the draw seemed the fair result with both sides having multiple chances to score the winner.
Here are our five lessons from the game.
POGBA’S WORST PERFORMANCE?
Just as Paul Pogba looked to have shaken his persistent critics off his back, the Frenchman gave them a solid month’s worth of material in a comical 45 minutes in which he spurned United’s best chance to score the opening goal and gave away the penalty that would result in United conceding it instead.
Pogba looked lost at set-pieces as he failed time and time again to carry out his assignment of marking Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, constantly losing his man and failing to keep his eye on the ball.
There is no need to panic about the Frenchman’s form – he has comfortably been United’s best midfielder this season – but there may be cause for concern for his defensive capabilities in games where United face a lot of pressure and do not have as much as the ball as they would like.
There were slight improvements in the second half, but Pogba was still wasteful and ineffective on the ball and was flaky off it, with Ander Herrera proving the more capable defensive force.
CARRICK REMAINS QUALITY, BUT UNITED NEED MORE OPTIONS
There is no denying Michael Carrick’s quality for Manchester United, but while links between his starts and United’s results are easy to make, the first 45 minutes against Liverpool showed that there is more to United’s recent success than Carrick getting starts.
The midfielder was constantly swamped by Liverpool players whenever he received the ball and while Carrick remains a fantastic option for United, Sunday night showed that he is vulnerable to teams who press high up the park, if only for the reason that his legs simply will not get him out of trouble.
Pogba was a slight improvement in a deeper midfield role, but really it was Herrera who took on the majority of defensive duties, however the Spaniard still does not have the passing range or the defensive smarts that Carrick possesses.
Before I took my Christmas/New Years break I had been pretty critical of Mourinho’s substitutions at times this season, particularly after the Everton game where the introduction of Fellaini directly attributed to the concession of a late equaliser.
This time, it was the same player but a completely different result. Mourinho’s introduction of Fellaini and change to a more direct style against a Liverpool team that stuck numbers behind the ball worked a treat and allowed United to pile the pressure on which eventually led to Ibrahimovic’s equaliser.
I still remain suspect on the use of Fellaini as a go-to sub, but I think he offers a lot more when United are looking to chase the game against a packed defence than he does when United are trying to hold out for three points.
When Mourinho put a United team out to fight tooth and nail to protect their goal at Anfield against what was a rampant Liverpool at the time earlier this season, he might as well have been the Anti-Christ of football.
It will be interesting then to see the reaction following Liverpool’s defensive efforts at Old Trafford.
United were terrible in the first half but still managed to create the best chances from open play, with Pogba missing an absolute sitter before Henrikh Mkhitaryan got on the end of another decent chance only to be denied by a fine Simon Mignolet save.
Liverpool also created decent chances, but more out of United’s ineptitude, summed up perfectly by Pogba’s inexplicable handball to provide them the opener.
In the second half it was almost all United, with Liverpool sticking 10 men behind the ball to crowd the area and nullify the effect of United’s best passers of the ball in tight areas.
In response, Mourinho reverted to Fellaini and what Klopp described as “long-ball” tactics, failing to appreciate that such a move was necessitated by Liverpool’s packed defence.
Was Klopp wrong to try and ride out the pressure and get a point? No, it is the natural thing to do, but it would be nice to see some balance in the post-match reporting. If that had been United defending a 1-0 lead, the back pages would have been full of stories about Mourinho killing another great game of football.
RIO IS STILL A RED
Not so much a lesson here as a heart-warming reminder. The vision of Rio Ferdinand celebrating Manchester United’s equaliser is first class stuff.