Now that the dust has settled on yesterday’s game – a high-intensity battle that ultimately ended in stalemate, here are four key questions to ponder and discuss.
Did the crowd respond adequately to Mourinho’s challenge?
After United’s win over Hull in the EFL Cup semi-final first leg, Mourinho demanded more from the fans at Old Trafford. It was widely seen as a fairly transparent attempt to ensure maximum noise levels for Liverpool’s visit, which is an entirely valid thing for the manager to do, but did the crowd do the occasion justice? Approaching the ground, chants echoed from all angles, and the roar that greeted the kick-off signaled that this was more than just a regular Premier League game. Every attempted chant from the Scousers was drowned out in an instant, with some of the responses less well-judged than other. But, in truth, there were periods of ominous quiet following Milner’s penalty. Sure, there were raucous reactions to key moments – fouls and attempts on goal – but for swathes of the second half in particular, the singing and chanting dried up as the tension and frustration grew. When I compare this to my memory of the night that Real Madrid knocked us out of the Champions League in 2013 – the night that Nani was sent off – we were nowhere near as relentlessly deafening this weekend. Perhaps we can’t be expected to muster Champions League levels of noise for a game like this – whilst it’s always a massive game, the result was never going to be decisive. But if I could manage to shout myself raw even after a recent operation on my lung, then I want to hear the same level of vocal commitment from the rest of the crowd.
Was it right to send Rooney on ahead of Rashford?
Onto the game itself, and Mourinho’s decision to bring Rooney on at half-time was a big call. It was hard not to see a bit of sentimentality behind this move; I’d like to think Mourinho is more pragmatic than that, but with Wayne on the cusp of beating Charlton’s record, and with the chance of doing so against our biggest rivals, did the manager make the wrong call? Rooney certainly seemed to be dreaming of the headlines with some speculative goal-hungry play late in the game, and with a front four of Rooney, Zlatan, Mata and Fellaini, we ended the game with an overwhelming lack of pace in the final third. I felt Rashford could have changed the game – perhaps not at half-time, but when we were chasing a result, it seemed a shame to see him languishing on the bench. Having said that, Mourinho did ultimately find the player to make the impact we needed, as he sent the big Belgian into the fray. So…
Is the tide of opinion changing on Fellaini?
What a week for Fellaini. A goal, a new contract, and a game-changing cameo in one of the season’s biggest matches. I’ve certainly never been his biggest supporter, and a couple of good performances doesn’t amount to a player completely reborn, but there have been periods where, like it or not, he’s been a key player for us, and there’s nobody else in the squad that gives us a comparable set of attributes. On the forums and social media, the volume of anti-Fellaini discussion has certainly dropped a few decibels. For now, at least. I think I’ll always struggle to take him entirely seriously as a United player, but I wish him nothing but continued success in a red shirt.
Is the criticism of Pogba fair?
It goes without saying that Pogba had a game to forget, even taking the handball out of the equation. Appropriately for a player who became the first to have his own Twitter emoji this weekend, he expressed his reaction to the result with an emoji-fied “shit happens”. Yep, shit does happen Paul, but if you’re going to lay another stinking turd of a performance like this on us this season, please don’t do it in such a vital game. Since his initial try-hard performances after re-joining the club, Pogba had hugely improved and completely dominated some games, but his tendency to overplay was always still there, ready to cause us problems in a game like this. There are parallels with Ronaldo earlier in his career, where there was often too much fancy footwork and too little end product, but we all know how that story panned out. Pogba has all the makings of the best midfielder in the world, but to level-up, he needs to learn when to keep things simple, and when to show his flair.
Let us know what you think about all four questions in the comments!