Victory is in the air for United
Mourinho’s big boys head and shoulders over wobbly Reds
tion has at least pulled focus away from Liverpool’s underlying vulnerability.
Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip promise another evening of confusion where there should be cohesion. It’s a defensive partnership of such indecision and uncertainty that Mourinho may not even bother with the bus.
The Portuguese loves to irritate rivals by explaining how easy it is for him to achieve certain scorelines or avoid defeat.
When United went to Anfeld last season, Mourinho got what he came for: a point in a truly wretched 0-0 draw.
To Klopp’s deep frustration, he nullified Liverpool’s most potent area — central midfield — by simply bypassing it.
United negated the Reds’ pressing game by playing over the top of it.
David de Gea, so comfortable in possession, never once played a short ball at Anfield last season. He went long. Every United footballer went long.
Some managers rely on longball football as a route to goal. Mourinho used long-ball football to keep Liverpool’s counterpressers away from his goal. And it worked.
Pumped balls fell from the heavens and dropped on a body part belonging to either Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Marcus Rashford.
Of those two forwards, Mourinho has only Rashford to call upon tonight, but he also has Lukaku and Matic, two muscular monsters with no equal in the Liverpool line-up.
Mourinho also has a stronger, settled, established squad as United increasingly benefit from the second-season syndrome that positively took hold on his previous clubs.
The Red Devils have scored 21 goals, conceded just two and face a raggedy Reds side who haven’t beaten United in the EPL in six previous attempts.
Most importantly, United boast a striker looking for his eighth goal in as many games.
Lukaku lacks Ibrahimovic’s finesse and perhaps even Rashford’s speed, but he’s blessed with a crude power that rivals both men.
However, the Belgian’s outstanding form retains a stubborn caveat, that he makes a mess of minnows but seldom delivers on the main stage.
Liverpool certainly represent United’s biggest challenge to date, so Lukaku will be looking to shake off the shackles of that price tag in a hostile environment.
Long, angled balls into the space between Lovren and Alberto Moreno will give Lukaku a chance to probe Liverpool’s weakest spot.
Simon Mignolet also gives the impression that he suffers from a touch of acrophobia. The goalkeeper’s fear of heights can be infectious at set-pieces. Lovren and Moreno are not immune to the symptoms either.
As a manager who revels in the fine margins of close contests, Mourinho will call upon Lukaku, Matic and either Smalling or Bailly to stand head and shoulders above their markers.
In fact, the eternally cautious coach doesn’t need to be overly negative on this occasion. He has the height advantage. He also has Juan Mata to find the foreheads of his biggest bruisers.
A high-scoring classic certainly isn’t on the cards. Mourinho simply isn’t made that way. But United are more than capable of relying on whipped crosses and high balls, rather than parked buses.
Mourinho advocates simplicity in coaching and his Anfield instructions couldn’t be simpler.
Control the airspace and United will control the game.
Romelu Lukaku’s aerial prowess will pose a stern test for Liverpool’s porous defence.