MANCHESTER UNITED VS LIVERPOOL
After the debacle at City David Moyes made wholesale changes. United owed the fans a good display and a game against Liverpool is as good as any as an opportunity to bounce back.
In: Rafael, Evans, Buttner, Jones, Giggs, Kagawa, Nani and Hernandez.
Out: Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Fellaini, Young, Valencia and Welbeck.
- Unlike in the derby United competed from start to finish, playing at a higher tempo and being braver in possession. They maintained a better shape throughout.
- United’s midfield had better balance with Jones partnering Giggs. Where Carrick and Fellaini had been a passive and rather plodding defensive shield, Jones and Giggs complemented each other, gave a more rounded midfield display with a balance of defence and attack. They linked play better with Giggs using his natural mobility to good effect.
- Rooney had another good game and with Giggs, Kagawa and Nani moving well United did enough to ensure that Liverpool always had to stay on their toes at the back. Liverpool played a 3-4-1-2 combination which ensured that they were able to retain possession, but despite creating plenty of 3 v 2 situations all over the pitch they never quite overwhelmed United.
United started this game in a 4-4-2 shape. Smalling and Evans were the centre backs and Rafael and Buttner filled the fullback positions. In central midfield Jones partnered Giggs with Giggs as the slightly more advanced of the pair. Nani started to the right with Kagawa playing to the left. As is Kagawa’s way he played fairly narrow and demonstrated his usual tendency to move towards the centre. Hernandez partnered Rooney at the front.
The initial shape did not last for long. After the performance at City it was clear that David Moyes had asked the team to move the ball more quickly and they started at a high tempo. As such United got the better of the earlier stages, but with Rooney dropping deeper and with Nani and Kagawa pushing on the shape soon morphed into a 4-2-3-1 shape. United then stayed in this shape for much of the match.
A couple of features of United’s play in this early part of the game are worth noting. We have already mentioned the tempo but the other aspect of the opening period was the willingness of United’s players to show bravery in movement on and off the ball. This was a far more dynamic display than that seen at City. Rooney dropped deep, Kagawa came inside, Giggs pushed on when United had possession and both Rafael and Buttner were prepared to push up to make an overlap, joining in attacks. United passed the ball early. Liverpool too played their part in making the pace of the game. They chased and harried forcing United to play the ball early. Whereas on Sunday the game just happened to United, here they were a part of the contest. Liverpool had plenty of good possession but in the opening twenty minutes it was a midfield battle with few real chances being created.
The other feature worth noting was United’s ability to stretch the play by moving the ball quickly horizontally or vertically. This took the ball away from any attempt to close down and press, and whilst United did not find men in real space to receive the ball this allowed them to retain possession for longer and kept Liverpool from asserting themselves. United stretched the game via good first time combination play rather than by long balls. Against Liverpool at Anfield and in the derby United had failed to do this and so, especially at City had invited pressure. At Anfield this failure had allowed Liverpool to successfully press and trap United in tight areas. The decisive factor in this was the movement of four players, Nani, Kagawa and Rooney, but critically Giggs who by pushing forward linked the defence/deep midfield and forward line ensuring that in the opening period at least the forwards players were not isolated.
Perhaps it was inevitable that United could not maintain this high tempo start and after about twenty minutes the tempo dropped. Liverpool’s did not and as a consequence they took control of the game for the next twenty minutes. Liverpool’s shape certainly played its part in enabling them to do this and having asserted themselves it looked for a while that United would in fact be overwhelmed. Liverpool were set up as a 3-4-1-2 shape with three centre backs and two wing backs pushing on beyond Gerrard and Lucas. Up front Suarez partnered Sturridge with Victor Moses behind. This shape worked for Liverpool. Gerrard and Lucas, but principally Gerrard directed the play from deep. The wingback pushed on and the excellent movement of the front three meant that Liverpool always had a passing option. United struggled to win the ball back.
United however retained their shape and never became too passive as they had done in previous games. When they did get the ball their movement and running off the ball relieved pressure and with Jones and Giggs dovetailing and Rooney and Kagawa dropping into midfield to prevent overloads United were able to minimize the number of chances Liverpool created. Liverpool had a number of good chances around the twenty minute mark, but as the half wore on the significance of their threat declined. Consequently the game reached half time at 0-0.
Boom!! Let’s not mess about now. Had United been sent out by David Moyes to get on the front foot and take the game to Liverpool? If they had it worked. Corner won on 46 minutes and the ball in was missed by Gerrard. Enrique had lost Hernandez and he finished smartly to establish a lead. This was important; it’s a cliché that goals change games but this one certainly did. One felt that if the score had remained at 0-0 at some point in the half Liverpool’s pressure would eventually tell. With a lead this just seemed far less likely. The goal seemed to affect Liverpool for a few minutes and prevented them from taking an early initiative.
It was United in fact who asserted themselves, again playing at a high tempo. Kagawa notably turned well and ran at the Liverpool defence before shooting just over the bar and Rooney cut in from the left to force a sharp save from Mignolet.
The balance of the game changed with a substitution on 67 minutes. Rodgers removed Lucas and brought on Kelly to replace Henderson at right wingback. Henderson moved to the middle to partner Gerrard. Liverpool now took control of the game again.
It was noticeable now that Suarez was having a more significant impact on the game. Moses, Sturridge and Suarez now constantly switched positions with Suarez more usually dropping deep to receive passes and then turning to feed the other two or the advancing wingback. Henderson also pushed on. United’s two fullbacks struggled during this period of the game and with one of the front two moving wide to link with the advancing wingbacks there were plenty of overloads. On several occasions these wide overloads were transferred to the centre of the pitch via sharp passing and it was only the lack of composure in the final third that prevented Liverpool from equalizing.
David Moyes response was to remove Kagawa and Hernandez in quick succession around the 73 minute point and to introduce Januzaj and Carrick. This was a good move; Hernandez worked tirelessly all night but as his game is to play on the shoulder of the oppositions defenders and with Rooney dropping deep as Liverpool took control of the game he simply became isolated. Kagawa faded as the second half wore on.
Carrick dropped into a screening role to the left alongside Jones and Giggs moved further forward looking to break up the easy possession being enjoyed by Gerrard and Henderson. Nani switched from right to left and Januzaj played to the right. Rooney went to centre forward where he sought to also restrict the Liverpool midfield whilst at the same time he looked to make life hard for the Liverpool defence to start moves. As the game wore on Kolo Toure moved forward from defence to midfield and the pressure began to build. Liverpool’s attacking however simply became more frantic rather than more effective and with Carrick now a calming influence, limiting space on the left side of United’s defence and retaining possession when the oppositions attack broke down United were able to see out the game.
On 90 minutes David Moyes sought to kill some time by replacing Nani with Welbeck.
This was a far better performance from United. Largely this was as a consequence of their playing at a higher tempo and being braver in possession. This meant that this game was a contest from start to finish with United always competing. Liverpool had greater possession and the better chances, but unlike against City you never felt that a goal by the opposition was inevitable.
The other factor was an undeniably better balanced midfield combination. Jones as a natural defender took on a deeper sitting role; less mobile he occupied space and screened the defence. Giggs was more mobile, being prepared to run into spaces with or without the ball. This meant that he linked play and whilst United were able to stretch the game they rarely became overstretched in terms of formation. Liverpool always had a man to pass to but rarely looked like overpowering United despite creating regular overloads.
This was not a great United performance, but then could Liverpool point to a great display at Anfield. Both games were settled by a single goal from a badly defended corner scored by the team who had less of the ball and took less initiative. But United triumphed with a competitive performance which at least restored a little pride.