Liverpool may need to start worrying about their No 1;
The Liverpool goalkeeper endured a torrid campaign last season, losing his place in Brendan Rodgers’ first team after a series of high-profile and calamitous errors. To his credit, Simon Mignolet appeared to have navigated those troubles with a strong end to the season and his restoration to the number one spot. Early signs in Liverpool’s biggest game to date were not good, however.
A misplaced clearance set up a United attack, there were a couple of unconvincing punched clearances which, on another day, might have led to trouble and, most worrying of all, he rolled the ball directly to Juan Mata although, fortunately for the visitors, the United midfielder squared for team mate Marouane Fellaini to clear the crossbar by some feet. This is nowhere near the crisis of last season, but Mignolet’s status bears some closer scrutiny.
Fellaini is not a natural No 9
It is a safe assumption that most semi-knowledgable football supporters would have long since assumed that was the case but Van Gaal’s transfer policy this summer of shifting strikers out of Old Trafford while lining up few, if any, replacements led the United manager to try and convince us that Marouane Fellaini could plug the gap, on an interim basis at least.
Fellaini had a dreadful first touch
Injury to Wayne Rooney allowed an early glimpse into the validity of that claim and, while van Gaal does not take kindly to having his judgement questioned, it was hard to envisage any situation in which Fellaini could be anything other than an emergency centre-forward to whom United can pump the ball into the opposition area when chasing lost causes late in games.
An early half chance fell to Fellaini who cleared the crossbar with Mignolet out of position, while his lack of mobility and dreadful first touch in the area were all too apparent.
Football fans are extremely understanding
Just days after David de Gea’s bags were packed ahead of his “dream” move to Real Madrid, the Spanish goalkeeper was recalled by Louis van Gaal, freshly armed with a new, four-year £200,000-a-week contract. De Gea was welcomed warmly by the supporters in the ground when he came out to warm up pre-match and, with the stadium full at kick-off, the announcement of his name in the run through of the United line-up brought him a rapturous, standing ovation.
Van Gaal has expressed his sympathy for de Gea and the “ordeal” he went through during the close season, the transfer speculation having ruled him out of United’s line-up for the opening month of the campaign as the goalkeeper was not in the right state “mentally” to play. Presumably, the slamming shut of the transfer window and that new contract have allowed de Gea to focus on his job more fully, much to the relief of those appreciative United supporters.
Young can still be a key factor for United while the jury remains out on Depay
The arrival of young Dutchman Memphis Depay, and his outstanding display against less than outstanding opponents in Brugge last month, left something of a question mark over the role Young will have to play in Van Gaal’s plans and, with just one start to his name to date this season, the signs were not particularly good.
The jusry remain out on Memphis Depay
However, another disappointing domestic 45 minutes from Depay saw him replaced at the interval by Young who made an instant impact on the game with his direct running, pace, energy and confidence – all qualities that had been sadly absent from both teams during an instantly forgettable first half. Young may be more effective as an orthodox winger in a midfield four, rather than the three favoured by van Gaal, but, regardless of formations, his performance here led to a quick goal and the transformation of the game.
Is it really only six months since Gerrard was sent off in this fixture at Anfield?
Arguably, the most passionate and often downright caustic fixture on the English football calendar, the latest meeting between the two great rivals was, to use a word bandied around the United dressing room of late, distinctly “flat.” In the not too distant past – as recently as March in fact – the game was guaranteed to provide sights like Steven Gerrard upending Ander Herrera and being shown a red card, as he graphically recalled in his autobiography this week.
Old Trafford endured a very quiet first half – but that all changed once Daley Blind scored
Perhaps that lack of homegrown players for whom this fixture really meant something is to blame but how the first half was crying out for a Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Gerrard or Jamie Carragher to stamp his imprint on the game, literally as well as figuratively. The respective teams’ lacklustre starts to the campaign clearly did not help and at least second half goals salvaged something from the game and created something approximating an atmosphere. But football neutrals, as well as the two sets of supporters, need this fixture to regain its former spark quickly.