As chants of “we’re going to win the league” rained down at Anfield, it became clear to the hopeful few that our worst nightmare was coming to life.
Although the scoreline shows a close game, anybody who watched knows it’s a generous one. As they do in big games, the team gave 100% effort but it was purely the gulf in class between the two clubs that became the story line. Better in just about every single position on the pitch, dominated 90% of the game and United were lucky to get out of Anfield losing only by two. Truly men against boys, and to most out there, the game was moving at 100 mph and they just could not keep up. Here’s how they did:
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – 4
Probably our strongest starting XI possible considering the injuries but would’ve liked to see Greenwood or Mata instead of Pereira. Set up in a 3-5-2 pressing high early it looked clear that Ole had the players ready for the challenge. He never seems to fail to get the squad up for big games but can’t seem to replicate it against lesser opposition. Strangely failed to make a sub until the 74’ minute even though you could argue Shaw or Pereira could have been sacrificed at half time. Overcommitted at the end as there was no last-man back deep enough to stop Salah’s breakaway goal.
GK: David de Gea – 8
Made an excellent kick save on Mane and a world-class save to push Henderson’s shot off the post. Had absolutely no chance of saving van Dijk’s header for the first goal. Needs to be stronger in the air – second time now this season that he has been weak going up for balls and arguably should have been punished for both. Correctly called foul against van Dijk but De Gea needs to improve his command of the air in the box.
RM: Aaron Wan-Bissaka – 6
Defended well but looked a little bit more out of control than normal. Was brought to his knees by Mane late on. Put a goal on a plate for Pereira with a beautiful cushioned short cross that was missed. Still needs to improve his crossing and decision making around the box.
RCB: Victor Lindelof – 3
Decent positionally but beaten for pace and in the air on several occasions. Lacked the aggression today and let Henderson have a stroll in the park before being bailed out by De Gea. Slow on the ball and poor with his passing decisions and clearances. Put the back line and De Gea under pressure with his passing
CB: Harry Maguire – 3
A tough first game as United’s new captain. Beaten badly by van Dijk for the goal, gave away a silly foul on Salah in a dangerous position, was nutmegged by Wijnaldum to start a break and was generally very timid. Like his counterpart, Lindelof, he was too slow on the ball. Maguire has become a bit of a ball stopper where he takes too long on the ball and then dishes the ball to his closest teammate under pressure.
LCB: Luke Shaw – 5
Performed better than most were expecting considering his recent form and the last time he played in a back three. Was sloppy with the ball but showed the desire necessary for the stage. Had a goal saving tackle on Mane after an unnecessary first touch by the winger. Unfortunately, was undressed by Salah and had to take a yellow in the second half. Probably should have been subbed off at half-time for a midfielder.
LM: Brandon Williams – 4
Easy to see what Gary Neville was talking about earlier this week. Williams is the type of personality that you want to go into battle with even at such a young age. Was relatively quiet and loose in possession (like everyone else) but worked hard for the team. Did not do his job on the corner and was daddied by Van Dijk for the goal.
CM: Fred – 7
Was our best outfield player today (not saying much) and was everywhere on the pitch – a bit too much at times. Constantly moving into space looking for the ball and working equally hard off of it tallying thirteen recoveries and four interceptions. Lost the ball at times, but then again, who wasn’t? Had a few chances on goal but only mildly troubled Alisson. His only error was not tracking Wijnaldum for the offside goal – lucky.
CM: Nemanja Matic – 4
Off the pace of the game completely. Took a bad yellow in the 7th minute and could have picked up his second on 2-3 occasions. Took far too long on the ball and didn’t connect play to the forwards well enough.
CAM: Andreas Pereira – 3
Once again blown away by the pace, strength and IQ required to play in the Premier League. Loose with possession, poor finishing and lucky to not have picked up a yellow. The only logical explanation for his repeated inclusion is his work off the ball. He works hard for Ole, just as Lingard does, but how long can that keep getting you minutes?
ST: Daniel James – 3
Similar story to the rest of the squad – worked hard off the ball but was wasteful in possession. Shouldered off the ball constantly and was devoid of ideas in the final third. To be fair, United were bullied in midfield today which caused a lack of quality balls into the forwards. Showed very little strength late on for the Salah goal – barely even knocked the Egyptian off balance.
ST: Anthony Martial – 2
Was not at the races today and was absolutely pocketed by Gomez and Van Dijk. Very poor first touch and passing. Had a very high quality scoring chance created via a silky one-two, only to go for power and blast it over the net. Was wasteful today.
SUB: Juan Mata – 7
Ironically brought energy and pace to the squad purely with his passing tempo and movement. Linked play very well and United’s best spell of play was following his inclusion.
SUB: Mason Greenwood – 5
Did not make an impact.
SUB: Diogo Dalot – 5
Did not have time to make any notable impact but it was good to see the young Portuguese fullback make his return. Worrying to see how he was not able to keep up with a tired Jordan Henderson…not a good look.