Liverpool vs. Manchester United: Is the Premier League seeing a passing of the ‘mentality monster’ torch?

If there’s a problem with Jurgen Klopp’s habit of giving good, catchy quotes, it might have to do with how his special Nice words tend to return to him like a boomerang. Liverpool the greatest period could come when they loosened the pressure and increased control, but whatever the pace, his side was still viewed through the prism of the “heavy metal” label that he memorably attributed to his Borussia Dortmund team in 2013.

Likewise, rarely does a week go by without seeing Liverpool being judged by the label of “mentality monsters” that their manager first began applying three years ago. Books, banners and a host of trinkets are adorned with legend, perhaps the two words that best describe Klopp’s golden age. Their resonance is so great that it is not surprising that these two words bleed outside of Anfield.

The word “mentality” was used seven times in Erik ten Hag’s eight-minute press conference broadcast. Manchester United Trip to Liverpool on Sunday. Considering his team fought back a goal to knock West Ham out of the FA Cup midweek, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Ten Hag was asked if he had developed his own mentality monsters. The Dutchman didn’t bite, his answer was soothing enough to perhaps keep him from the last few pages. “Our mentality is generally very good. We have many leaders who set standards, control standards, correct if necessary. We are happy with this process, but you can always do better.”

It is easy to understand why this particular question arose before Sunday’s match. Wednesday’s 3-1 win was the sixth this season when United lagged behind just to secure the victory. Three of them happened after the World Cup, primarily exhilarating fights to be overcome first. Manchester and then Barcelona in the Europa League (you can see Manchester United’s entire Europa League run on Paramount+). Such results are in the DNA of Manchester United, and their history is replete with too many examples: Camp Nou in 1999, Fergie’s time, “guys, this is Tottenham.” It is not enough to win and win in style, victory must be secured in the most dramatic way.

If any player was going to bring thrills, spills and trophies to United, it’s perhaps unsurprising that it was an import from United. real Madrid the team that won the Champions League solely on unfathomable resurrections. Casemiro was everything Old Trafford had hoped for and more; a rhythm setter who has become a superstar (except that, unlike Phil Collins, his entire record since leaving the band is not completely hopeless). Beyond progressive passing, tackles and aerial prowess, the Brazilian has imposed his mentality on teammates who play with the confidence of spring nights at the Bernabéu.

When he took on West Ham on Wednesday night, he went so far as to announce set pieces for Bruno Fernandes. There are no quarterbacks in football, no player dictates the rules of the game like individuals in the NFL or NBA. However, if they did, they might look like Casemiro on this United team: ball winner, standard weapon, pacemaker, emotional pivot.

United’s resolve grew around midfielder Casemiro as Liverpool all but collapsed. If once Jurgen Klopp’s team could react to setbacks by brushing off their fears and diving back into the fray, now they seem to have stepped even deeper into the quagmire. No one seems to reflect on this better than the Reds’ Brazilian anchor. Fabinho the decline may be startling, but the explanation is simple. Since moving to England In the summer of 2018, the 28-year-old played 15,323 minutes in club football and another 1,220 minutes for his national team. That’s almost 184 complete games. In 2021–22 alone, he played the equivalent of 41 90-minute games, as he and his teammates competed in every competition they entered, up to and including the final kicks in the final game.

The same is true for the entire team. Not that the players like it Virgil van DyckMohamed Salah and Andrew Robertson lost drive. They just look frazzled. Van Dijk, for example, played more minutes than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues between the start of the season and the end of the World Cup. For proof, just look at Fabinho, who, after being in and out of the team in January, delivered his most impressive performance in some time in a win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in the middle of the week.

“It’s obvious,” Klopp said. “Everyone saw that he was not in the best shape, and now everyone sees that he is coming back. This is exactly what we need. These things happen and you can’t always explain it, which is why I was so happy with the last game, just how it was for us.”

As Ian Graham pointed out at this week’s Financial Times Business of Football Summit, Klopp’s men didn’t turn into a bad side overnight, no matter what the results may indicate too often. It was a season rife with what the club’s outgoing head of research called “large elements of luck or unexplained options”. Liverpool played badly against Real Madrid. They didn’t lose 5-2 badly. Similarly, they may be sixth in the table, which really matters, but their expected goal difference (xGD) of 10.4 puts them in the top four in the Premier League. It is noteworthy that they are ahead of Manchester United by a narrow margin.

United are moving in the right direction – they’ve hit 20.1 xG shots in the last 10 league games, allowing the opposition to improve by 11.3 xG – but despite all the haste, hailing Ten Hag as the man who woke the slumbering titan is all questions still remain about what Casemiro might look like this time around and Raphael Varane age or when Marcus Rashford the volcanic streak cools down. The latter seems like a matter of time, given that his 18 Premier League and Europa League goals since the World Cup have come at 11.4 xG strikes. That even Klopp seems to be enamored with Rashford’s scoring form is a reminder that no one deserves that purple spot more than the man who fed the school kids, but there’s no guarantee in this sport that players will continue to get what they have earned.

Perhaps it’s a reminder of how short United’s rise was to earn such high labels. Six defeats turned into wins is an impressive enough comeback, but when Klopp started calling his team “monsters of mentality” they won the Champions League (snatching a place in the final from Barcelona, ​​who were three goals behind them after the first leg) and rushing to the first Premier League title in 30 years. It will take much more than the EFL Cup and a Premier League winning streak for Ten Hag’s side to match this team.


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