Was a point at Anfield a missed opportunity for Manchester United? Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville didn’t hold back as they sparred over Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s tactics on Monday Night Football.
Liverpool continued their unbeaten league run at Anfield on Sunday despite starting without a recognised central defender and deploying Xherdan Shaqiri in midfield for his first start of the season. Solskjaer later admitted the 0-0 draw felt like an opportunity missed for his league leaders.
Ex-Liverpool defender Carragher echoed those sentiments on Monday Night Football while Neville defended his former side, who had not been expected to find themselves in a title race at the start of the season. Both enjoyed some verbal jousting over how their old clubs had performed on Sunday evening.
Neville: United still not ready to step up
“I think it would be a little bit of hindsight punditry [to say it was a missed opportunity] and the reason I say that is because I’ve been there myself. I thought Liverpool would come out like animals. I thought they would potentially reassert themselves as a danger and make a real statement, a little bit like Manchester City did against Manchester United in the League Cup a week or two ago and that will have played on United’s minds.
“Jamie [Carragher], Graeme [Souness] were all expecting a ferocious Liverpool performance after nine days off and loads of preparation. There was a little bit of worry from United fans. Could this be a point whereby Liverpool could reassert themselves?
“The best analogy I could give is that it was almost like Manchester United had prepared for the toughest hole on the course. The long par-four. The one that you take a par on all day. They’ve played it and as they’ve played it, they’ve walked off to the next tee and they’ve looked back and thought, ‘If I’d just gone for it with that second shot and been a bit more bold into the green, I might have got a birdie’. But that’s only after the hole has finished.
“There was a point in the game yesterday where I said, ‘If this wasn’t Liverpool, if this wasn’t at Anfield, Manchester United would be a lot more positive’. But I genuinely believe that this team is not ready to be able to adapt its mind from seven or eight weeks ago, where some people were saying the manager was maybe getting the sack, to seven weeks later thinking, ‘Right, we’re title winners, we’re coming to Anfield, our toughest away game, they’re a bit weaker, they’re not playing very well, let’s just go for it’. I don’t think they’re ready.
“The best teams, the champion teams, are able to do that, they’re able to step up. This team is not a champion team. I don’t think any Manchester United fan or any pundit or analyst thinks that Manchester United are going to win the league this year. When they’re ready, they will do that. I understand where that team was yesterday and where Ole was in terms of his management of the game.”
Carragher: One of the best chances to win at Anfield
“I don’t agree with any of that.
“Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world. They don’t have to be a championship team to smell something in the game.
“We all felt that Liverpool would come flying out of the blocks. They did. They dominated Manchester United for the first half-hour. Then Manchester United had a few counter-attacks and perhaps sensed that Liverpool were running out of ideas – they didn’t create one big chance in the first half.
“So they’ve gone into the match, and maybe they expected [Joel] Matip at the back, but there are two midfielders at the back, Shaqiri in midfield, the first hour has been weathered, there’s [Paul] Pogba who is a World Cup winner and [Bruno] Fernandes who has won four player of the month awards. What l couldn’t believe in the second half, and the more l thought about it, there was no stage in the game where Manchester United showed any authority.
“Manchester United should have won the game. They had the best chances. And if they scored it’s an ‘Ole masterclass’.
“But for the team Liverpool had on the pitch, Manchester United never had a spell of possession in Liverpool’s final third, putting them under pressure, sustaining attacks. It was the same against Manchester City. You are talking like Manchester United are a small team.
“I likened it today to an Everton mentality. And what l mean by that is that when l was a kid going to Anfield as an Everton fan, ‘oh my god if we got a draw it’s the biggest thing in the world’.
“This is a season like no other. There’s no crowd baying for blood.
“And you talk about Manchester United not being ready for a season, this is an unprecedented season. City and Liverpool are miles off where they normally were. This might be one of the best chances United have and one of the best chances United have to win at Anfield for a few years.
“As l say, l disagree completely with what he said.”
Neville: United have always found Liverpool tough
“It’s a ludicrous analysis of how Manchester United’s history has been at Liverpool.
“In the height of Manchester United’s superiority, when they were a brilliant team with unbelievable midfield players, winning championship after championship and they [Liverpool] had Carragher at centre-back, I could never think of once that we went there – and Sir Alex Ferguson will probably ring me tomorrow if he’s watching and say I’m talking absolute rubbish – I can never think of once when we went to Anfield and were able to dominate the ball, show authority.
“We were back against it for the first hour of every single match I ever played there. Even at 1-0 up with 25 minutes to go, you couldn’t go for it. It was impossible to go for it, never once, only under Louis van Gaal a few years ago did I see Manchester United dominate at Liverpool and thought ‘Woah, that’s a performance’. Every other year I’ve watched us at that game, I’ve always seen us struggle to the last minute.
“With 20 minutes to go on Sunday, I was thinking ‘what are you going to do, Ole?’ Yeah, you can maybe have put Greenwood on 10 minutes earlier, Fernandes could have played better, they got the two biggest chances in the game, that plan worked other than the chances that were missed.
“The other thing I would say is that for Manchester United, had they put [Juan] Mata or [Donny] Van de Beek on and gone for it, Liverpool’s front three would have probably won the game and they’d have lost. Liverpool are still a dangerous outfit, even if they weren’t playing well.
“So to rewrite history and suggest Manchester United can go to Liverpool and dominate the midfield, [Paul] Scholes and [Roy] Keane couldn’t do that at Anfield, against average players, let alone a top Liverpool team that have won the league and the Champions League. I don’t get that at all.
“Look, I’ve been critical of this Manchester United team a lot in these last five or six years, so I’m not going to sit here and defend them when I don’t need to defend them. Yesterday they were at Anfield playing against a top Liverpool team, they’re establishing themselves at a position in the league that to be fair none of us ever thought they would be in.
“I understood why it wasn’t a bit gung-ho and they weren’t going for it at the end – even though part of me thought, ‘If they were a bit further ahead in their development, if they were a bit further ahead in their journey and their experience, they would have gone for it here’.
“But they’re not. Seven weeks ago, the manager was getting sacked, the players were getting booted out, [Mino] Raiola was talking about Pogba. They were all over the place. They were getting kicked out of the Champions League.”