The Premier League is back from an unusually-interesting international break, and the fixture many are looking forward to most is the first, on Saturday lunchtime, when Liverpool will hope to prove themselves as title contenders this season following a slow start.
Only goal difference is keeping United off the top of the table with six wins and a draw from their seven games so far, but Liverpool are down in seventh, already seven points behind the pacesetters.
Both Kenny Dalglish and John Aldridge expect Mourinho to go to Merseyside on a spoiling mission in order to keep his side’s unbeaten record intact and maintain the gap between United and their north-west rivals.
“Last year, when United came to Liverpool, Jose Mourinho parked the bus,” Dalglish told the Liverpool Echo. “But it wasn’t just the one bus, I think it was a couple of double deckers he put there.
“That’s not to give him stick in any way, it was very difficult for Liverpool and Zlatan Ibrahimovic nearly got a late winner.
“But I think United will come and set up quite defensively.”
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Aldridge was even more forthright in his Liverpool Echo column: “I’ve seen some suggestions that United might come to Anfield to attack, that Mourinho might take the shackles off them and go for the throat. Get real!
“There is a zero per cent chance of that happening, trust me! It just isn’t in Mourinho’s make up.
“His way is to spoil, to slow the game down and try to frustrate their opponents. Say what you like about him, and he’s not my cup of tea as you’ll know, but he does it well.”
If Aldridge is right about Mourinho’s approach, then the Portuguese’s record at Anfield suggests the former Reds striker is also correct to credit him for a job well done.
At Liverpool, Mourinho has won four of the seven Premier League games he has been in opposition. Indeed, it is over a decade since he last lost at Anfield in the league. On aggregate over those seven games at Anfield, the score is: Liverpool 5 Mourinho 10.
Overall against Liverpool, Mourinho has lost just twice in the league, winning eight of his 14 battles against the Reds. In all competitions, he has suffered only six defeats out of 25, tasting victory on 11 occasions.
Perhaps familiarity has bred contempt. Only Barcelona have stood in opposition to Mourinho more often than Liverpool. And the manager has rarely endeared himself to anyone who leans towards the Reds, shushing fans during the 2005 League Cup final and engaging in a long-running battle with Rafael Benitez when he was in charge at Anfield.
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It is Chelsea’s visit to Anfield in April 2014, of course, that grates with Reds supporters more than any of the petty squabbles. It was then that Chelsea ended Liverpool’s 11-game winning run and halted their march to the title.
Like Dalglish’s expectations for the coming weekend, Brendan Rodgers said Mourinho “parked two buses, rather than one” and “virtually played right from the off with a back six”.
Liverpool dominated with 73 per cent of the possession, 26 shots on goal and 14 corners compared to Chelsea’s two. But Chelsea scored twice from their 11 attempts and took the points.
Mourinho’s men had more shots (15 compared to Liverpool’s 12) and corners (5-4) on his next visit in August 2014 – his final one with Chelsea – with Rodgers’ side again beaten, 2-1, despite having the lion’s share of possession (58%).
65 – Possession (ave) – 35
41 – Shots – 33
21 – Corners – 8
1 – Goals – 4
Last season, Liverpool had 65% possession, and more shots (9-7) and corners (3-1) than Mourinho’s United, but they were unable to find a way through and, as Dalglish admitted, would have lost had Ibrahimovic buried his late headed chance.
“Last season’s game was a bit of a non-event, maybe the most boring we saw at Anfield all campaign,” says Aldridge.
Klopp said at the time that “no-one will show this game in 10 or 20 years”, but the German focused on his own side’s failings rather than the tactics of Mourinho.
“I am not frustrated but I am not happy with the performance,” he said. ”It was a hectic game, interrupted here and there, but we lost patience with our passing game. We were ready to fight but when you can play better, you have to.
“The kind of defence is difficult to play. The man-marking is really difficult, they are stronger than us.”
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Mourinho for his part was not downhearted with the result nor the performance: “It is not the result we wanted but it is a positive result. It is a result that stops a direct opponent getting three points at home, so not a bad result.
“The game was difficult for both teams but for longer periods it was more difficult for them than us. We controlled the game not just tactically but the emotion of the game. That was probably the quietest Anfield I had and I was expecting it to be the other way. It was a positive performance.”
That trip to Liverpool came only two months into Mourinho’s United reign, at a time when he sought to make United hard to beat. But this season United have been much more of a threat going forward, scoring 21 goals to Liverpool’s 13.
Mourinho has not always parked the bus at Anfield – Chelsea won 4-1 there in 2005-06 – but whatever tactics he adopts on Saturday, the Portuguese will no doubt be happy providing he can make it five games unbeaten at Liverpool HQ.
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