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MOTD: Ibrahimovic salvages United point against Liverpool
In a contest long emblematic of the fiery nature of Premier League football, Sunday night’s battle continued the legacy of Manchester United’s rivalry with Liverpool in fitting fashion, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late winner rescuing a 1-1 draw for United. The goal dramatically cancelled out James Milner’s first-half opener and denied Liverpool the satisfaction of their sixth clean sheet in eight games.
It was a scrappy affair, dominated by United’s plethora of crosses and Liverpool’s subsequent counter-attacks, but intensity filled the gap where it lacked in quality. Said United boss Jose Mourinho, per the BBC: “We didn’t reflect the qualities we have and Liverpool have – but it was very emotional, intense, aggressive. We fought until the last second.”
Where Mourinho ironically lamented the defensive-oriented tactics of his opposition in other matches, tonight he spoke almost exclusively in terms of the emotional battle. “They were clever,” he said. “They took their time, they know how to play football and control the emotions of the game. They knew they would be in trouble in the final few minutes.”
It was a long, drawn-out fight, staked out in the middle of the park. Neither side could wrestle control over the midfield, maintaining deadlock in an intense battle which drew both managers into a shouting fight in a flash point during stoppage time.
United bossed possession for long stretches, especially in the second half, but Paul Pogba’s atypically erratic display left United vulnerable to Liverpool’s stinging breakaways.
Although Pogba’s new emoji was splattered across the Old Trafford advertisement boards, he was rather harder to spot on the pitch. The Frenchman cut an isolated figure as he struggled to control the wild midfield battle, completing just seventy-one percent of his passes and creating not a single chance. His most notable contribution to the game was a handball that gifted Liverpool an early lead, and only Ibrahimovic’s late equalizer spared United’s blushes.
Perhaps Pogba was too invested in his social media brand, almost appearing to dab as he cleared Liverpool’s corner with his hand and conceding a brainless penalty that James Milner coolly converted. He also wasted United’s first chance, screwing a shot wide of the post from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s through ball. Ibrahimovic forced Simon Mignolet into a smart stop with a bulleted free-kick from the edge of the penalty area, but United too often lacked the finesse to make good of their efforts.
Liverpool, too, failed to take advantage of their leading position, shrinking back into defense instead of claiming what could have been a huge victory. Their position was further weakened by United’s half time changes, with Wayne Rooney’s introduction for Michael Carrick tipping the scales towards the home side in midfield. It was an even more frenetic second half, and although Roberto Firmino tested David de Gea on the break, United’s equalizer came with just five minutes left on the clock as United’s substitutes combined to set up Ibra. Marouane Fellaini flicked Wayne Rooney’s cross onto the post from six yards and Antonio Valencia put the ball back in the middle for Ibra, who crouched over his towering frame and flicked a header in off the crossbar.