MANCHESTER UNITED VS LIVERPOOL
United sought to continue their pre season run of victories in the final of the International Champions Cup (irony noted) against the sycophants of Liverpool.
Although the first chance fell to United following a cross from Young which Hernandez couldn’t convert it was Liverpool who made the most of the first half particularly setting about testing the obvious weakness in van Gaal’s current 3-5-2, an increase in space between the defenders. An assured and confident defence is required and the reds have, will and are continuing to work on this. Unfortunately for Jones, he came in a little too strong (unheard of!) on Sterling and conceded and penalty allowing Liverpool to take the lead. Stay on your feet!
An inability to bring the ball out from the back encouraged Liverpool to press higher (as well as covering the midfield fairly well) which saw poor build up play in United’s half; a contrast to the previous games. It wasn’t helped by a general lack of quality passing which permeated the half.
When United were in the attacking zone the pressing wasn’t as organized as previous although Herrera, Young and Rooney were probably the most consistent in pressing after a loss of possession but not uniform enough.
The Moyes legacy lives on! There was the odd switch of play to either flank to draw out the Liverpool centre and full backs to engineer 1 v 1 (or 2 v1) situations. The left flank remained an area of interest, Liverpool hindered United’s transition via Shaw in their spell of possession. Young seemed to start higher in transition vs Shaw which meant Liverpool weren’t able to apply as much direct pressure higher up the pitch as they would have liked. The other complication is sometimes Rooney would drop from his zone into a left winger’s, bringing a defender with him, further congesting space on the left flank.
Liverpool were dropping to congest the midfield making it harder for players to get joy with the passing triangles. An issue further compounded by the fact Young tended to stay wide instead of drifting in from the right flank and Hernandez tended to stay on the shoulder of the last man. Compare this to Welbeck, who is happy to drop deep and link with midfielders, Rooney or even the other wing backs to help complete passing triangles or simply help move play up field. This is not to say Hernandez wasn’t helpful in the build up play but more often than not, his higher positioning and tendencies implied a certain sense of dissociation from the rest of the team’s build up in attacking areas. This is a fear upon van Persie’s return.
The defensive organisation needed to be better and we saw that. Jones and Smalling improved their timing in the tackle and they picked the right moments to break from the back line to deal with the threat. Further observation will be required to understand what van Gaal is asking of the outermost centre backs in these situations. For example, Blackett tracked a player’s run if they ran across his zone behind the back line which meant a defender was there to front the attacker in case they received the ball in front of the box. As United’s domination in the second half increased this type of situation appeared less often so it will be interesting to see how we adjust in the future.
When the back line was more of a flat five, Young was beat a few times in 1v1 situations and when teams have speed, such as Liverpool, United need to be aware.
Although there were less instances of incidental/provocative pressing, the team was quicker in resetting to their defensive positions after a loss in possession which meant Liverpool had to work harder to break through the defensive lines.
A slight adjustment made saw the strikers peel wide, were talking to you Hernandez. In the first half, he usually found himself on the last shoulder of the defender on the backline more than peeling wide and complemented his movement to where the midfielders were. However, this changed in the second half and it offered the central midfielders another outlet when there were less open passing angles through midfield. This played a major part in the first goal. When Herrera received the ball and was holding off Henderson from winning it, Hernandez was already drifting wide close to the 18 yard box but giving himself enough space between the left back and the nearest defender. This movement gave Herrera a passing option he didn’t have as much before and he played a great pass to Hernandez under pressure which gave him the chance to take one preparatory touch before firing a delicious cross for Rooney to guide home. It’s these subtleties that make the difference.
Tempo. If there was one thing United must heed from last season it is tempo. An improvement in this in the second half saw United take the game to Liverpool. Tempo can come in the form of the press but it can also come in the form of the pass.
From a buildup of play in the defensive half, instead of passing directly to Shaw, the centre back would find Rooney who continued to drift to the left flank a few yards ahead of the halfway lane. This emphasized the importance of having Blackett, a left footer, in the left centre back position. In the first half, Evans who primarily uses his right foot would take his first touches inward more often than outward thus if to find Rooney in those wide channels, it would take more time since he would have to create the angle first by taking a couple touches, giving Liverpool more time to reorganize. Blackett added more intent in our transition play and more urgency in how United built from the back. His natural left-footedness helped in taking advantage of the passing lanes to Shaw/Rooney that were already present. This would suggest having a left-footer in the left centre back position is better for this system if we are looking to circulate the ball quicker. It doesn’t mean that Evans is not suited for this position but more so these are one of the complications of playing him in this role.
Transitioning this build up play into the opposition half was aided by the introduction of Cleverley who helped to improve our lateral ball circulation. He likes switching play and in this performance took less touches on the ball before making a decision. One of these switches led to the second goal as he switched the ball from the right central zone in midfield to the left flank where Shaw had already spotted Mata making a run across the box to the left side of the semicircle. Once he received the pass from Cleverley, he played it into Mata who then had enough time to collect his feet and have a shot at goal before Liverpool could fully shift over defensively to the right flank (from their perspective, for us, left flank). The key here was the speed this was done because if there was a second more, it would have given Gerrard time to cut off the option to Mata.
It was then Lingard who tied a neat little bow on proceedings by making it 3-1 to United.
“It’s nice for the fans in the USA and also at home that we beat Liverpool,” said new United boss Louis van Gaal. Spot on!