Man United striker Marcus Rashford has described their approach to drawing fouls in the penalty box as “savvy,” as taught by their former manager Jose Mourinho.
United visit Anfield on Sunday in a game of high stakes in the context of the Premier League title race, set to the backdrop of scrutiny over both sides’ penalty record.
Jurgen Klopp has pointed out United’s rate of winning spot-kicks, a case which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has refuted, while former referee Mark Clattenburg suggested the Liverpool boss has been hypocritical in his stance.
The hope will be that this weekend’s clash will be without controversy, but the Reds must be wary of United’s “savvy” approach in the 18-yard box.
Rashford, speaking on receiving the Football Writers’ Association’s Tribute Award for his incredible efforts in supporting young people off the pitch, suggested Mourinho’s influence has led to a more cynical outlook.
“It’s just a case of us wanting to score goals, and the teams wanting to defend goals, and penalties can happen,” he said.
“There’s been times when we’ve probably not got penalties – I remember when Jose was manager, there was five or six times I can remember where I should have had a penalty.
“Jose ended up saying to me: ‘If you’re not savvy about the way you do it, you’re not going to get it’.
“After that we started to get a few penalties, and it was something that, in terms of development, you have to learn that and understand it.”
This is, naturally, an area Liverpool should be considering when they head into Sunday’s clash, particularly as Klopp is likely to name an inexperienced centre-back pairing, with Fabinho partnered by one of Jordan Henderson, Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams.
Both Phillips and Williams have been exposed for a lack of pace in recent outings, while Henderson’s positional sense as a makeshift centre-back was understandably suspect in the 1-0 loss to Southampton earlier this month.
But Rashford’s words open up a debate as to the ‘art’ of winning a penalty, and whether players should go down more easily under pressure from defenders in order to attract the attention of officials – particularly with the influence of VAR.
Klopp’s comments on United’s penalty record came after a foul from Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow on Sadio Mane in last month’s 0-0 draw at St James’ Park, with the outside perspective being that if the No. 10 had gone down, the spot-kick would have been awarded.
It may be something that Liverpool need to learn – although the negative focus on Mohamed Salah‘s perceived diving may not aid their cause – but in the short term, it is something they will need to be cautious of against United.