MANCHESTER UNITED vs LIVERPOOL
17.03.2016

After a disappointing performance and result in the first leg United had it all to do in this game. Needing a 3-0 win, on current form logically this seemed beyond United but most fans just wanted the side to give it a real go and as a minimum salvage some pride.

PERSONNEL

In: Mata.
Out: Herrera.

KEY POINTS

  • This was a much improved display from United, even if the equalizer from Coutinho on the verge of half-time did take the wind out of their sales. But United had 17 shots of which only 3 were on target. This tells a tale.
  • United left Varela exposed on countless occasions in the first half and he struggled. Ultimately Coutinho made United pay for this, but Liverpool broke on his side several times in the half. The writing was on the wall before the goal.
  • Rashford played well again, but looked a bit leggy at times and probably needs a rest. Are United unfairly over relying on youngsters?
  • United lost their way in the second half and lost intensity. Heads went down begging the question as to whether the players are too easily discouraged? Do they lack belief in the manager and his methods?
  • This game was disappointing but take heart, we have a number of young players who are showing great promise. Rashford, Lingard, Martial and Varela even if he had a poor game here. Martial is going to be a star!

FIRST HALF

With only one change from the side that started against West Ham in the FA Cup United set up in their usual 4-2-3-1. Liverpool also adopted this shape. From the very start United were pro-active, playing a very high line and pressing Liverpool. It was clear they were keen to take the initiative as they had to in order to claw back a two goal deficit. Liverpool could afford to play a more cautious game and in the early stages they pressed United in high areas but when United successfully played around this, which they frequently did, they adopted a low block and maintained a fairly rigid shape. When they got possession of the ball however they kept it well and looked to move it forward in a structured way. They did not hit the ball long as many sides would have done in this circumstance.

1sthalf  4768046-e1458253355692

United’s first half shape and Juan Mata who returned to the side but was dissapointing

United’s football in the first half was bright and inventive. They worked hard, moved the ball quickly and were aggressive. They tended to attack more on the left with the ball being switched towards Martial. Rojo, Blind and Carrick all looked to direct the ball that way. United tended to attack less on the left.

That United didn’t make an early breakthrough was probably because at times their attacking play lacked composure, particularly in the final third. They often rushed their passes here, or chose the long pass. They also missed a number of good chances in the first half, snatching at chances when it seemed easier to score. Rashford, Mata and Martial all had good chances with only Rashford getting his header on target. Liverpool also had a number of good chances however and whilst United were playing well this was a tight contest.

Varela struggled against Coutinho

Varela struggled against Coutinho

A pattern emerged very early in the half which persisted and eventually was to United’s undoing. Lingard, presumably on instruction tended to come narrow on the right. That is towards Mata. Rashford in a more advanced position tended to move wider but not so wide that you would call him a winger. This movement had several consequences. Firstly Rashford and his pace came up against Sakho. For many people he is seen as the weakest link in the Liverpool back line. Unfortunately not a lot came from this. Secondly Lingard and Mata were often too close together and their inter-passing therefore did not stretch Liverpool. Thirdly when Liverpool got the ball they had acres of space on the United right. Coutinho regularly attacked this space and most of Liverpool’s better attacking moments came on this side with Varela looking increasingly isolated as the half wore on. He found himself overloaded and regularly lost the ball.

Penalty after trip on Martial. Boom!

Penalty after trip on Martial. Boom!

Despite this it was United who made the breakthrough. The goal came from a penalty as Martial was tripped by Clyne as his surge towards the bye-line caught the Liverpool man off balance. Martial stepped up to score from the spot himself. Boom! 32 minutes 1-0.

Coutinho - smart finish to beat De Gea at his near post

Coutinho – smart finish to beat De Gea at his near post

For a few minutes it really looked like United might overwhelm Liverpool but again their attacking play was lacking composure. Smalling missed a great headed chance to make it 2-0.

Liverpool though continued with their game plan, retaining their shape and looking to retain the ball, move it quickly and move it forward, usually down their left against Varela. This paid dividends just before the half time whistle. Coutinho was allowed to run at the United right, eventually he found himself against Varela and he was able to go past him far too easily. Perhaps Varela was now becoming demoralised by the difficult time he had been having throughout the half. Coutinho rounded him mand then beat De Gea at the near post. Right in the stroke of half-time Liverpool has an away goal. 1-1.

SECOND HALF

At half-time Van Gaal removed Varela and introduced Valencia in his place at right back. Lingard also tended to stay wider at the start of the second half and United started the half brightly. It was almost as if Liverpool hadn’t scored as United continued to push. Lingard staying wider meant that United’s play was better balanced.

United’s bright start to the second half lasted about fifteen minutes after which they appeared to lose their way. On 62 minutes Darmian replaced Rojo at left back. At the time this felt like a strange substitution as Rojo had been playing well and had been providing good support for Martial who was still United’s biggest attacking threat, but it was later revealed that he had been ill before the game. From this point on it felt as if United had lost their momentum, maybe even lost their believe that they could get back into the tie. The tempo of their play dropped and Liverpool looked increasingly comfortable and confident.

2ndhalf  &NCS_modified=20150916170226&MaxW=640&imageVersion=default&AR-150919215

United’s shape late in the second half and Schweinsteiger who couldn’t change the game

On 70 minutes Schweinsteiger came on for Carrick. Schweinsteiger had made an assured impact when introduced against West Ham but he made little impact here, perhaps because Liverpool looked increasingly assured. United’s play became sloppy. Early in the game Liverpool had pressed United, but during the middle segment they had dropped deeper retaining their shape, now they started to press United again seeming to sense that United were losing their way. Liverpool could and perhaps should have scored another goal as on several occasions they almost caught United on the break. Thankfully United were spared the indignity of this and the game ended 1-1.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately this was a disappointing night for United, but an improved performance. United had to get to half-time though without conceding a goal. They failed in this but the real damage was done in the first leg of this tie.

United showed good attacking intent but their shooting was wayward. All too often they failed to test Mingolet in the Liverpool goal. Liverpool had their fair share of shooting opportunities but were far more likely to require De Gea to make a save. This has been one of the bigger problems this season because United don’t create that many opportunities. When they do create a chance therefore they need to be more clinical.

United were sucker punched here on the stroke of half-time. The movement ahead of Varela on the United right left the young full-back exposed. If this forward movement was planned it was reckless and United paid the price. United’s second half performance was never quite as intense after this

United’s youngsters, Varela apart, continue to play well. The more experienced players struggled here. Carrick and especially Fellaini and Mata had poor games. United’s belief in themselves seemed to drop in the second half. Where were the leaders at this time?