LIVERPOOL VS MANCHESTER UNITED
01.09.2013

Much was made by the media that a Moyes team hadn’t beaten Liverpool at Anfield; yet he hadn’t been there with the champions of England. United have had mixed fortunes in the last five years at Anfield and a lacklustre performance against the media’s favourite club would no doubt have many panicking in the post Fergie era.

PERSONNEL

In: Young, Giggs
Out: Rooney, Valencia

KEY POINTS

  • This was a disappointing display from United. They were too slow, too passive and lacking creativity in midfield. United’s short passing and rigidity was too predictable.
  • Van Perise was starved of service for most of the game and was unable to influence proceedings.
  • In the second half when Liverpool adopted a “what we have we hold” approach United failed to find a way of taking the initiative, breaking Liverpool down or building any period of sustained pressure. The lack of creativity or a Plan B was similar to the performance against Chelsea. Liverpool were hard working and disciplined. United did not do enough to overcome this.

FIRST HALF

No sooner had the game began and United found themselves a goal behind. A goal from a set piece is always disappointing especially when it’s scored by ex-City player Daniel Sturridge. This goal was no more than poor marking and a lack of concentration. Ferdinand was not tight enough and it allowed Agger space to get a header toward Sturridge who’d drifted between Evra and Cleverley to flick past them both.

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United’s 4-2-3-1 looked predictable in the face of Liverpool’s pressing. As much as we hate to say it the Liverpool midfield and front three were aggressive and quick to close players down, particularly Carrick and Cleverley.

1ST HALF

However in the initial response United showed some good sharp one touch passing but unfortunately it led to nothing. This sharp upturn reverted to a flatter pattern throughout United’s play; passing slower out from back, with short passes not stretching play and inviting and in fact helping Liverpool to press. Carrick was sat to the right of Cleverly and as far forward as him, thus meaning they were too square to each other.

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This midfield combination meant United didn’t help themselves, as the gap between those two and the defence was often too big and played into the hands of Liverpool’s 4-3-2-1,  (the three being Lucas, Henderson and Gerrard) with Aspas and Coutinho the two behind Sturridge whereby Coutinho roamed much more than his partner.

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Lucas and to an extent Gerrard sat deep so situations where van Persie and Welbeck faced Skrtel, Agger, Lucas and Gerrard Liverpool had that space was open through the middle and if Young or Giggs tried to overcome this then space became available out wide. This made it easier for Liverpool to move the ball forward quickly out of their own defensive areas.

Compare this to United’s midfield duo and it was surprising how much space they left behind for Coutinho, Aspas and Sturridge to exploit.

The game was constantly being broken up by both sides with 15 fouls each, however you felt that it was part of Liverpool’s tactic to break United’s patterns of play up particularly in the transition to van Persie who was starved. When the ball did get to him he was poorly supported and any movement around Liverpool’s penalty area was pedestrian at best.

An injury on the 36th minute to Jones saw Valencia replace him in a straight swap.

United were now struggling to play the ball out of their own half and there was insufficient movement off the ball. The zone in between the front 3 and 1 was not effectively used with Welbeck not dropping in, and the attacking line was too flat, with the only one passing option being available, never two. United were also too narrow; Young was hardly involved and this was a disappointment as it allowed Liverpool’s weaker areas, their full backs, opportunities to play unchallenged (any opportunity that makes Johnson look good needs to be stamped out).

SECOND HALF

No changes at half time and obviously no lessons had been learnt on how to mark at set pieces either when a quick free kick was met by an Aspas header on 48 minutes.

Liverpool were now 4-4-1-1 when on the 60th minute Aspas came off for Sterling. This saw Countinho partnering Sturridge with Sterling nullifying the threat Valencia was beginning to pose as part of a more direct United approach.

2ND HALF

In the 62nd Young went off for Nani, the Portuguese who needed to push on as Liverpool were not being stretched enough. Nani moved to the left in a straight swap and perhaps Moyes felt that a trickier player would unlock the hard working Scousers who were retaining their shape well.

As United looked increasingly off the pace Hernandez was introduced for Giggs and Nani moved to the right, Hernandez was sat up top with van Persie behind whilst Welbeck went left. It was still a rigid and slow 4-2-3-1 performance.

With Welbeck so far left a direct consequence was that he nullified the runs of Evra. When Evra did come up it was inside and he was blocked by a solid Liverpool midfield.

It was a strange second half as Liverpool rarely troubled De Gea, and this was made more pertinent when he was called into action to mop up a poor Vidic back pass.

CONCLUSION

United were just not aggressive enough. There was little creativity in the midfield and with Liverpool taking the game to United with an aggressive press the team as a whole were too reactive. Despite the obvious ‘defend what we’ve got’ mentality from Liverpool in the second half it was cause for concern that United had no plan B. The midfield just isn’t working at the moment and Carrick and Cleverley’s too high, too square positioning saw United move the ball too short and too slow out of the back.

Compare this to Liverpool who moved the ball out of the back four quicker, ran harder off ball and played smarter up top.

On the whole United appeared too concerned with keeping their shape, too rigid to be challenging, so didn’t run to create passing options for teammates.

Let’s hope Moyes can turn things around soon!