Yesterday, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United played Liverpool in Liverpool. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. Of course, some nil nil draws can be exciting games, pulsating affairs that draw deserved “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd. This was not one of them. Over 90 minutes, Liverpool created two chances: a quick snapshot that David DeGea palmed away to the right, and speculative curler from distance that DeGea palmed away to his left.
In between, a lot of nothing happened.
One can mock Mourinho with the “park the bus” criticism, but United actually played a somewhat advanced midfield press. They did not dominated possession, but funneled and pushed Liverpool around in midfield near the halfway line. Instead of a second striker, Mourinho played Fellaini and pushed Pogba a bit forward to support Ibrahimovic. If United fans thought that subtracting Rooney would instantly improve anything, they were wrong.
Still, part of the blame lies with us, the fans. Like the knockout stages of a summer tournament, many of the “big derbies” in the Premier League turn out to be lifeless affairs: they are devoid of goals but also, more importantly, goal-scoring chances. These games bring to mind the Super Bowl march of the Baltimore Ravens many years ago: brutally effective, but still brutal to watch.
Thus, I take offense to any description of the game as a “tactical game of chess” or “midfield slugfest.” Coutinho and Herrera, two of the smallest players on the field, got a bit frisky, but this wasn’t a game of full blooded tackles (aside from Milner’s late arrival on Pogba near the end). Compared to the substitutions and shapes in the Manchester derby – which was also a barnburner of a game – this was Intro to Soccer 101. Both teams fielded a 4-2-3-1 of sorts, and little changed over the 90 minutes.
The only highlight, for me, was knowing an American journalist had traveled to the game and was possibly catching really cool Pokemon in merseyside. And I’m not even a big Pokemon Go fan.
Today, courtesy of the League of Champions, we get another common narrative: “the emotional return.” Pep Guardiola, as coach of Manchester City, will lead his team to face FC Barcelona. As you may know, Pep played for Barca and coached there. However, like Mou, he’s now a pretty well-traveled pro. He also played in Mexico, and coached for several years in Munich. Thus, as a matter of practicality and basic deduction, he has not resided full time in Barcelona for at least three years, probably four.
Who draws the line between a return that is “emotional” versus a run-of-the-mill “Hey how you been?” that is the stuff of five year class reunions? I think we need a statute of limitations. If you have not coached or lived in a place for three years, then it is no longer “emotional.” Thus, when Mou’s United returns to Stamford Bridge, it will be both drag “midfield slugfest” and a return of the “emotional” variety.
However, if Mou’s United somehow plays Real Madrid anytime soon – like in the UCL next year – then the return will be unemotional. Rather, the return will best be labeled: heartless. Soulless. Cold as a reptile’s eyes.