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Do Jose Mourinho's United lack identity and more Premier League talking points

Plus, Loris Karius was a concern on a frustrating night for Liverpool.

1. Do Mourinho’s United lack identity?

“IS THERE AN identity to the team yet?” asked Man United legend Paul Scholes recently. “I don’t think there is,” he concluded.

Tonight, at least, Man United’s style was certainly distinctive, with Sky pundit Jamie Carragher at half-time describing their approach as “almost a 6-3-1″ formation.

Last season, fans complained that Louis van Gaal’s teams were boring when they had 65% possession, so you wonder what they must be thinking now.

According to Opta, the Red Devils had just 35% possession — the club’s lowest ball-retention figure since records began.

But those who criticise Mourinho’s defensive approach must remember that even Alex Ferguson wasn’t averse to adopting a negative strategy — in his last season in charge, the legendary Scot played Phil Jones in midfield for a match away to Real Madrid in the Champions League, to cite one of numerous examples.

And although tonight may not have been a typical Man United display, it was certainly unmistakably Mourinho-like, and the Portuguese coach will be encouraged that his side appear to have improved defensively and are growing more accustomed to the coach’s instructions following a recent shaky period when nothing seemed to go right.

2. Karius a concern on frustrating night for Liverpool

Derby County v Liverpool - EFL Cup - Third Round - iPro Stadium Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius looked nervous at times tonight. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Jurgen Klopp cut a frustrated figure this evening, as his previously free-scoring side failed to fire.

Speaking on Sky afterwards, Gary Neville said Liverpool in the first 25 minutes looked like a team who had been paying undue attention to the game’s build-up, and few would disagree, as the hosts conspicuously failed to build on the crowd’s energy and test their opponents in the opening stages.

The Reds could cite key player Georginio Wijnaldum’s absence as well as Adam Lallana’s lack of fitness as partial excuses, but throughout the team, Klopp’s side lacked their usual sharpness against an admittedly impressive United backline.

Of similar concern will be the performance of 23-year-old goalkeeper Loris Karius. Even on an evening when he had little to do, Karius showed signs of nerves, flapping at a cross in the first half and almost gifting United a goal with a sloppy stray pass in the second period.

He’s new to the Premier League, so Klopp will surely give his inexperienced stopper the benefit of the doubt for now, but in an environment where young players are seldom trusted, Karius needs to up his game fast or risk being replaced imminently.

3. Pogba still yet to find consistency

For a player who cost a reported £89 million, Paul Pogba’s start to life in the Premier League has been disappointing.

Tonight, not for the first time, he never really grabbed hold of the game, with United’s midfield largely dominated by a superior Liverpool outfit.

The Red Devils, as mentioned above, had historically low possession stats, and Pogba was particularly culpable in this regard — the French international was dispossessed more than any other player in the first half.

However, there was one positive moment for United fans to cling to. In a tight match, with few chances or goalmouth action, Pogba still managed to produce a rare bit of magic, evading a challenge from Jordan Henderson before delivering a perfect cross from which Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have scored.

4. An awful match for the neutral

Britain Soccer Premier League Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini, left, vies for the ball with Liverpool's Emre Can. Source: Dave Thompson

Tonight’s Liverpool-United clash patently failed to live up to the hype.

The first half was particularly dire, with no genuine chances to speak of.

After the break, the pace of the game intensified, and there was the odd moment of drama, but it was still hard to escape the feeling that — as one of this site’s commenters pointed out — the highlight was the appearance of a black cat on the pitch prior to kick-off.

It’s probably no surprise, given Jose Mourinho’s reputation as a defensive coach, that United seldom looked like they were trying to win a game that they could hardly afford to lose.

There was greater disappointment from a Liverpool perspective, however. Even Jurgen Klopp admitted afterwards that his team failed to play to their potential, and they certainly weren’t ever inventive or threatening enough in attack to deserve a win.

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Paul Fennessy

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