LIVERPOOL vs MANCHESTER UNITED
22.03.2015

The most important of league games, no doubt and United were overdue a big performance having whimpered in recent games at Anfield.

PERSONNEL

In: None.
Out: None.

KEYPOINTS

  • United’s centre-backs, Jones and Smalling, were paired together again for a second game running and were impressive.
  • Carrick was majestic, his positioning allowed greater security for the centre-backs and he marshalled the area very well. He also provided the necessary security allowing Fellaini and Herrera to press higher.
  • Daley Blind pushed on very well and occupied Sterling and Rodgers positioning of him no doubt helped.
  • Fellaini and Herrera were superb in different ways. Fellaini occupied that open zone you get in a 3-5-2 whilst Herrera occupied the channel. Both pressed and Fellaini provided an outlet allowing United to beat the Liverpool press.
  • Mata’s goals were brilliant and well taken. He’s lived out all our dreams by scoring like that at “Anfailed”.
  • Nice to see Gerrard play his last game against United in this manner. The sycophantic media haven’t been able to resist defending his actions by pouring over his years of ‘good’ service. No doubt he’s a good player but give it a rest.
  • United are the most successful visiting team at Anfield in the Premier League era. 11 victories in 23 years.

FIRST HALF

From the start the game was played at a fascinating frantic pace, within the first 5 minutes Liverpool were the more dominant, playing with zip as many pre match commentators had assessed but just as quickly United reversed the initiative through a domination of the midfield with Carrick, Fellaini and Herrera.

First half teams - the Liverpool shape isn't quite right. Coutinho played centrally behind Lallana and Sturridge

First half teams – the Liverpool shape isn’t quite right. Coutinho played centrally behind Lallana and Sturridge

There were many factors to this but one that stood out was Herrera’s positioning. He focused on his channel and as a consequence preoccupied Allen, pinning him back and in conjunction Rooney dropped off near to Henderson, which castrated the base of Liverpool’s midfield 5.

Herrera shows his worth

Herrera shows his worth

This quick turnaround saw United complete 90 passes in the first 14 minutes compared to Liverpool’s 39, of which only one went into the United area. Nice.

United's early passage of play

United’s early passage of play

United stretched the play well and mixed and matched their play; central to this was Carrick who as Michael Cox described best in The Guardian, “played intelligently without the ball – often sticking tight to Philippe Coutinho or Adam Lallana, but refusing to be dragged out of his natural position. He made timely interceptions and covered diligently whenever one of the centre-backs moved forward to track an opponent”.

This mix and match was completed by Fellaini who offered United an alternative to the short, neat and fast tempo of passing. He cared for that ball like a doting mother, never letting it go, often taking it on his chest and allowing United to start their passing moves higher up the pitch having beaten the Liverpool press.

Fellaini found his spot on the left between the Liverpool lines

Fellaini found his spot on the left between the Liverpool lines

Liverpool were also their own worst enemies in the positioning of their players for example Sturridge who was often up front alone. Sterling out on the right was pushed back by Blind. Liverpool weren’t helped by the positioning of their wingbacks. Despite being deep Sterling forgot to defend, as did Moreno who allowed Mata the freedom of the park.

Fellaini's headers were the key to his play

Fellaini’s headers were the key to his play

This issue led to United’s first goal when Moreno took a ridiculously high position and there was no need for the poor positioning of the Liverpool midfield either as Countinho went AWOL giving Herrera so much space and time. It all came from a pass out from the back from Jones to Fellaini who found space between Sterling and Can. This showed the issue with wingbacks, do you go or not? We’re glad they went. Herrera played an excellent pass inside Moreno and Mata scored. Boom! 13 minutes played, 1-0.

United's first goal showed how they stretched the play

United’s first goal showed how they stretched the play

Although Rooney occupied Liverpool with his movement he was not successful enough in terms of passing quality and this was probably one of the key reasons that despite their first half domination United created very few clear cut chances. His opposite number was Sturridge, who had less of the ball than Rooney but when he had the chance used the space behind Valencia well. Valencia was defending quite narrowly. Lallana missed a great chance following neat build up play on the 34th minute which could have been a crucial point for United and was sweet too because it gave false hope as Liverpool began to turn the heat up.

Lallana fails to hit the target

Lallana fails to hit the target

SECOND HALF

Haha, what a clown! Substitute Gerrard was sent off after a challenge on Herrera following a strong challenge a moment earlier on Mata. His haste was due, no doubt, to United’s dominance in the first half and also a player trying his best to make an impression. This sending off was made sweeter with the challenge from Jones on Henderson only ten minutes later.

Off you go Stevie!

Off you go Stevie!

Liverpool had to adjust and at times were seen with a two man defence in a 4-3-1-1 formation with Can higher and Sterling out left. It was pleasing to see United’s show of intent in the half with the high press and this was illustrated by a Liverpool throw in halfway in their own half with United pressing up to the halfway line.

Smalling takes no nonsense from waste of space Balotelli

Smalling takes no nonsense from waste of space Balotelli

When Young went off for Di Maria it forced Can back but Di Maria didn’t stick to the channel he often moved in and his input to the second goal was great playing off the front line, so operating almost as a number 10. This assist for the goal was key in quashing Liverpool’s momentum. An interchange of passes saw the ball reach Mata in space on the narrow right. He fed a pass inside to di Maria who produced a delightfull chip into Mata who had run behing Moreno and Allen to produce a sublime overhead kick from behing himself across the Liverpool goal into the opposite corner.Boom! 58 minutes played 2-0.

Second goal for United

Second goal for United

Despite having 10 men Liverpool made a game of it but United were still too good. Despite this Liverpool goal still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and it should have been saved but United lost their shape in its build up, particularly Blind losing his head going through to the middle Liverools goal came after 68 minutes.

Thereafter the game was fairly even in terms of possession with Liverpool trying to asert themselves and United trying to pick them off on the break. If United had been playing at this stage of the game as they had in the first half they may have scored four rather than two. They could have scored three when Blind was bundled over as he ran onto a ball played inside the full back by di Maria in the 93 minute. Rooney’s penalty was saved.

Overall average positions

Overall average positions

CONCLUSION

Continuing the standards from the Spurs game was perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this United performance and it was even better being against Liverpool. In fact United were better again all across the pitch. The formations, 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 v 3-5-2-1/4-3-1-1 resulted in space in front of the Liverpool wingback/outside centre-backs where Fellaini and Herrera prospered. The pair also stopped Henderson and Coutinho coming inside and making trademark shots from outside the area, as their goal against City. The United centre-backs also deserve their praise, Smalling and Jones playing together again (the fourth time this season) were a delight and we hope that when Jones said, “Hopefully now we have had back-to-back games together we can keep it going and keep playing well together. We complement each other well”, he’s right.

Mata did fantastically well in keeping narrow and overloading the wingbacks. Where does this leave Di Maria though? At real Madrid he worked the right and his strength was in going up and down. Van gaal has a conundrum.

As a side note what is the point of bringing on Balotelli? He offered more of a focus up front but did little with it and Rodgers deserves all he gets if he thinks that Ballotelli will help his side. Earlier in the season, comparisons in terms of a ‘risk signing’ with Cantona make a mockery of football intelligence.

Sublime technique from Mata

Sublime technique from Mata

Recent visits to Anfield have been sorry affairs for United so they must be applauded on taking the game to Liverpool rather than playing on the counter but they must also not get carried away as Juan Mata noted on his blog, ‘we must be cautious: these are just three points in the race to our goal.’

On this occasion however Van Gaal outwitted Rodgers; he got his shape, selection and tactics right and asked Liverpool questions to which they had no answer.