EPL Notes: Man United, Liverpool struggle to rise to the occasion and more
The happiest managers after Manchester United and Liverpool slugged to a 1-1 draw on Sunday were not on the benches at Old Trafford.
In the breathless six-way race at the top of the Premier League, three of the pace-makers had kept surging on Saturday. Tottenham crushed its jinx team, West Brom, 4-0. Arsenal, helped by two own goals, dispatched hapless Swansea, also 4-0. Chelsea, the leader, cruised past the champion, Leicester, 3-0. The draw on Sunday, combined with Manchester City’s loss at Everton, meant the three London clubs all gained ground.
Manchester United and Liverpool produced a scrappy match in which both struggled to cope with the size of the occasion. Liverpool also struggled with the size of its opponents, although its best moment was a result of Paul Pogba’s inability to cope with the bigger Dejan Lovren.
“Not a high-quality game,” José Mourinho the United manager told Sky Sports. “I think both teams can do, and did during the season, much better than we did today in terms of the quality of our game.”
For an hour, Manchester United bullied Liverpool. Yet United could not take its chances, and Liverpool led. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, twice, and Paul Pogba, once, broke clear. Pogba shanked his attempt. Mkhitaryan shot to close to Simon Mignolet the first time then opted to pass to Anthony Martial the second time but hit the ball too hard. Mignolet also made a strong-wristed save from a ferocious Zlatan Ibrahimovic free kick.
After an hour, Liverpool had managed only one shot on target. That was a 27th minute penalty. The penalty was the culmination of the problems Pogba was having dealing with his man, Lovren, at corners. After being beaten twice, Pogba leapt for the third corner with his back to the ball and his arms in the air, the ball hit his hands. James Milner smashed the spot kick past David De Gea.
For an hour, Liverpool could not keep the ball in midfield or escape its own half. Then,
Jürgen Klopp brought on Philippe Coutinho. He calmed the ball and his team-mates, almost immediately setting up a dangerous chance for Firmino who forced the first save of the game from De Gea.
While Klopp’s change worked well, Mourinho last switch worked even better. The United manager sent on Marouane Fellaini with 16 minutes left. United were going to boot high balls into the goalmouth. Eight minutes later, the tactic paid off. Fellaini nodded against the post. Antonio Valencia lobbed the ball straight back and Ibrahimovic headed it over Mignolet. Liverpool, lacking Joel Matip and Nathaniel Clyne, had defended doggedly but finally cracked.
“If we would play like the second half in the first it would be a different game,” Ibrahimovic told Sky Sports after the game. “We were more direct so we didn’t build from behind. We put it up. They did very high pressure and we did too many mistakes in our build up.”
Klopp seemed outraged that United had salvaged a point with such crude tactics.
“We were the better side, played better football had the better plan,” the Liverpool manager told Sky.
“In the last 20 minutes United only long balls,” Klopp complained with a shrug.
Both managers said they would have preferred to win but that a draw was better than a loss.
The draw dropped Liverpool to third, behind Tottenham on goal difference. More importantly it fell seven points behind Chelsea. United stayed fifth, 12 points behind the leader. On Sunday, locked in their usual brawl, neither looked likely champions.
GOODISON JOY For Everton fans there was plenty to savor as their team beat Manchester City, 4-0, on Sunday.
There was the result itself, the biggest defeat ever suffered by a Pep Guardiola team. There was the joy of taunting two men who had been lured away from Merseyside by the Emirati millions and the promise of trophies: a former Liverpool player, Raheem Sterling, and a former Everton player, John Stones. Stones had a nightmare afternoon summed up in the closing seconds when he whacked a clearance against Seamus Coleman. The ball rebounded to Ademola Lookman, a 19-year-old who had just come on for his Premier league debut. He coolly scored his first Everton with the last kick of the game. Stones was not alone in having a miserable afternoon. Lookman’s shot went through Claudio Bravo’s legs. It meant the goalie had conceded four goals from four shots on target.
Lookman is a Londoner bought from Charlton. The Premier League man of the match was a Liverpudlian who is a year younger. Tom Davies is one of Everton’s own. His display signaled that he is the latest product of the club’s youth system who could fulfill the hopes that Wayne Rooney took with him when he went…