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16th Dec 2018

Shaqiri spoils Mourinho’s planned party-pooping to put Liverpool top of the league

Melissa Reddy

“I cannot think of another manager that would relish coming to face us today as much as Jose”

Ahead of Sunday’s kick off, Jürgen Klopp did not dine on the headline stat underscoring the distance between his Liverpool side and their opponents: not since Christmas Eve 1990 had Manchester United been so far behind them – 16 points – in the league.

The German knew that rather than deflate Jose Mourinho, such a fact would be exactly the type to extract every ounce of defiance and dark arts out of him.

Against Liverpool at Anfield, the Portuguese has revelled in his role as a Grim Reaper of sorts – the figure to cut through the fun, to signal the end of hope – even if only briefly – and to RIP what he feels are over-the-top plaudits for the club.

He could be the Grinch that stole Liverpool’s Christmas.

Mourinho, the spoiler-in-chief. Mourinho, with the reality check.

Twice before the 55-year-old has frustrated Klopp on this ground with an obstructive approach that earned United a pair of goalless draws, the first of which came in October 2016.

Mourinho declared afterwards: “Liverpool are not the last wonder of the world like you all say.”

Here, this evening, when 20 minutes were up on the scoreboard, he looked both rocked and relieved.

His team were in tatters, getting picked apart at will –  Liverpool’s pressure relentless – and yet, it was still 0-0.

Mourinho, the spoiler-in-chief and Mourinho with the reality check was still in play.

But even he would have known that couldn’t last.

United looked terrified of the ball in the opening exchanges and, as such, kept ceding it to the Reds, who needed no extra encouragement to further unhinge their rivals.

Beyond being defunct in possession, the visitors were also unmistakably second best in the duels. It seemed inevitable that they would be punished for being so passive and overwhelmed.

That materialised on 24 minutes when Andy Robertson and Roberto Firmino patiently worked a throw-in from the left, the Brazilian feeding his countryman Fabinho.

The midfielder received a shout from Sadio Mane and sprayed a ball over United’s defence and into the speedster’s intelligent run.

The forward controlled expertly with his chest to then finish under David De Gea.

“The brilliant start was one of the best performances we had since I’m in Liverpool, to be honest, not only this season,” Klopp remarked post-match.

“The first half an hour was outstanding, outstanding. We scored only once but I don’t think anyone expects to score three, four, five times or whatever.

“How we played was just perfect, really. We tried to pass in the right areas, we accelerated, we wanted the ball back, we played in behind the line, stuff like that. It was just good.”

The only question at Anfield was how much more Liverpool could extend their superiority on the scoreboard, before United supplied an answer that was at odds with the design of the game.

Less than 10 minutes after taking the lead, the hosts were cursing their missed opportunities and a rare mistake from Alisson.

The goalkeeper made a mess of a low Romelu Lukaku cross, appearing to lose it onto his knee, with Jesse Lingard alive to the situation and levelling matters.

Mourinho, the spoiler-in-chief. Mourinho, with the reality check.

Mourinho as he likes it best: Mourinho against all odds.

Liverpool were dominant in the second half, but they were also frustrated by United’s deep defending. They had 21 shots after the interval, 12 of which were out of desperation from outside the box.

“We can say of course they attacked much more than us, they had corners, they had more play in our half than we had in their half, but it was exactly the moment when the game was going into the dynamic when they were really frustrated,” Mourinho commented.

“You had centre-backs coming with the ball and shooting from 30 yards into the stands – that was a period when the game was more under control and we felt that we could win, even a little bit undeservedly, but it was the moment when sometimes teams that are dominating a game can lose matches.”

Mourinho has been a specialist of the smash and grab, but on 70 minutes, Klopp introduced the antidote to any party-pooping.

Xherdan Shaqiri was sent on for Naby Keita and immediately lifted Liverpool out of their long-range approach.

Direct and dangerous, he was given instructions to bulldoze through United’s defensive blanket and happily obliged. Mane did brilliant work skinning Ander Herrera down the left byline on 73 minutes.

De Gea stopped his cross in, but the ball broke to the right where Shaqiri ran onto it and got a shot off.

It nicked Ashley Young and went in on the underside of the bar to send Anfield into a frenzy.

Seven minutes later, slick interplay with Firmino and Mohamed Salah brought another Shaqiri shot, another deflection and another goal. 3-1. Done.

The home support responded with chants of ‘Liverpool, Liverpool: top of the league’ and more sharply, ‘Don’t sack Mourinho, don’t sack Mourinho.’

How would he respond to the defeat? There were fingers pointed at his predecessors.“First of all, we have lots of problems related with physicality, said Mourinho.

“We have lots of players that I could consider ‘injury-prones’, because some of our players are always injured. And it’s not with me, it was before me.

“If you look to the stats with Mr Van Gaal, and before him with David [Moyes], that period there were players that were permanently injured.”

There was a revisiting of his Greatest Hits. “You can compare my Porto team with Liverpool,” he noted.

“Because the qualities of the players are there. It was my best team in defensive transition; we lose the ball, and we bite like mad dogs and recover the ball after seconds.

“At Real Madrid I had my best team in direct counter attack, because I had a young Di Maria, young Ronaldo, young Higuain and young Benzema. We killed everyone in the transition.

“And in Inter I had my best team in a defensive low block, where people like Materazzi, Walter Samuel, Lucio, Cordoba in the low block, you can be there five hours and don’t concede a goal. Players make teams play in a certain way.”

What of United? What of their performance in which they managed no shots on target in the second half and six in total in comparison to Liverpool’s 36?

“The players gave everything, and when they give everything, I am never upset or frustrated with them, I have a good feeling towards them,” Mourinho said.

“They play in relation to their qualities, the same as the opponent played in relation to their qualities.

“[Liverpool] are fast, intense, aggressive, physical, they play 200 mph with the ball and without the ball. I am still tired just looking at [Andrew] Robertson. I think he makes 100-metre sprints every minute, and these are qualities.

“When the game was really intense in the first 20-25 minutes, it was difficult for us to cope with it.”

Ironically, Mourinho ended up describing Liverpool as though they are “the last wonder of the world.”

In his praise, he suggested his players have the right attitude, but not the requisite quality.

United – 19 points behind Liverpool – will again be considering whether they actually have the right manager.

This time, there would be no spoilage at Anfield. And this time, it seems Mourinho has had the reality check.