Following the international break, club football returns for Manchester United in a big way, as the Red Devils pay a visit to Anfield to play arch rivals. With Liverpool on top form, United have got a big challenge in store, but a result against their rivals would go a long way to putting United’s season back on track. Jose Mourinho made some interesting changes to his starting lineup, with Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young in making the XI, changes seen to be pointing towards a defensive strategy.
The first half played out mostly as planned for United. While they didn’t create any meaningful chances, they managed to neutralise Liverpool with some effective pressing and solid defensive and midfield organisation, as well as some tight marking game. The second half was a much slower affair for United, mostly happy to play on the back foot to fend off Liverpool’s attacks, and they defended them effectively throughout.
Not the most thrilling attacking game of football, then. That is reflected on the performances of the attacking players, all of them fading out especially towards the end. Behind them, however, was a different story. In midfield, Fellaini was solid in breaking up the opposition play, while in defence, Eric Bailly made some great defensive recoveries and tackles, and next to him at right-back Antonio Valencia was a very effective attacking outlet as well as being a sturdy defender. David De Gea also chipped in with some superb saves; one from an up close attempt from Emre Can and another from a Coutinho long ranger.
Out of everyone United had on the pitch, however, not one player suited the style of play picked on the day than Ander Herrera. Playing alongside Marouane Fellaini in midfield, he was tasked with a similar role to what he played in recent games, deep in midfield and pressing up, but in this one that role became pivotal. With United focusing much of the game focusing on pressuring Liverpool when out of possession, Herrera’s tenacity complimented the system perfectly. His pressuring of opposition players on the ball was emblematic of United’s football of the day.
And that was just one dimension of his outstanding defensive contribution. He displayed great positional intelligence to be able to position himself at the right place at the right time to make crucial interceptions, and he was also very competent in marking and staying close to Liverpool’s attacking midfielders, necessitating the introduction of Adam Lallana. He also didn’t shy away from tackling, eagerly getting stuck into challenges all game. Perhaps too eager for some people, including the referee, but definitely eager enough.
As for his creative contributions, he was mostly tidy in his passing, but United’s football didn’t really allow for much creativity across the board. Aside from that though, his general defending was more than enough to make him stand out. According to Whoscored, Herrera made a combined 18 tackles and interceptions throughout the game, more than anyone in a single game in this Premier League season. Now if that doesn’t show you how much he deserves to be the Man of the Match, I don’t know what can.