Manchester United took a cautious approach in a tense game. Both teams were scrappy but gave us a thrill-a-minute ride in the last quarter. David De Gea saved United’s blushes.

Sir Alex Ferguson isn’tA�renownedA�for taking a negative approach to big games. The Scott did not bend his rules even against Barcelona in the Champions League Final last season, fielding a side that intended to attack Barcelona rather than stop them from playing.

But it was different yesterday afternoon against Liverpool as Man United’s starting eleven did not feature the likes of A�Rooney, Nani, Anderson – centralA�figuresA�andA�linchpinA�to the top form that the team has enjoyed this season. Even Hernandez and Valencia could not make it to the starting 11, underlining the managers curiously cautious approach.

Kenny Dalglish, on the other hand, chose to defy the pass and move prophecy that has been touted to be the backbone behind the resurgence of Liverpool after the king took over the reins from Roy Hodgson in January. Liverpool were scrappy and disjoint in the first half. There was no zip in their passing, or in their movement.

Liverpool fielded a 4-4-1-1 that had the flexibility to adapt. Steven Gerrard returned to theA�manifoldA�making a start after six months. The captain was given an advanced role in midfield behind Suarez, but this madeA�him a silent figure through most parts of the game; attempting to link-up with Kuyt on the right.

Liverpool Average PositionAverage Position of Liverpool players on the ground.
Note : Enrique in an advanced position on the left, Gerrard and Kuyt drifted on the right.
Henderson playing in an advanced midfield role after replacing Lucas.

Liverpool almost always chose the route one, playing the long ball to Kuyt and Suarez, who then played it around to either flanks or back to Lucas or Adam. The team looked blank in terms of creativity, rather A�the onlyA�emphasisA�was not to make a mistake and concede the possession in the build-up to an attack.

If Liverpool’s scrappyA�play was not enough, Man United’s priority was to not lose shape. They had saved their attacking bits for the very end. That was pretty surprising considering that the Red devils have been on a rampantA�form this season.

Man United starting XI featured Fletcher, Giggs, Young, Park and Jones in the midfield, suggesting Ferguson was out to not lose rather than win. The team assembled in a 4-5-1 with Welback isolated at the top. Other than a misdirected header from Jones and a couple of wild and ambitious 30-yard attempts, the United midfield was never really able to instill the fear in the opponents’ mindset, something you would expect of them.

 

Man United Avg PositionAverage Position of Man United Players on the pitch.
Note: Look at Welbeck playing as a withdrawn forward with Giggs, Jones and Fletcher holding the midfield at the half line showing United’s lack of attacking intent,A�untilA�Hernandez replaced Jones.

Liverpool had their first real chance to score at around the half-hour mark, when a scuffed shot from Charlie Adam ended up at Suarez’s feet, who amicably beat Evans with a dummy move to the right, only to have shot the ball straight into the goal keeper. It was the only highlight of the first half that was pretty dull.

In the second half, Liverpool looked vibrant coming forward, specially from the left where Enrique and Downing combined well to cause problems to the United back line. Stewart Downing, who is yet to score after ten matches this season, was kept shut by Smalling most of the times. However, Enrique combined well going forward and produced handfull of crosses into the opponents box.

Around the hour mark, Dalglish chose to turn things around, substituting Henderson with Lucas. It helped Liverpool as the defending champions were caught on the defensive. Gerrard moved back to theA�centre,A�allowing Charlie Adam to move further up and support Henderson, Kuyt and Suarez. The move paid off as Adam won a soft free-kick courtesy a foul by Rio Ferdinand near the edge of the box. The ex-England captain was lucky to be on the pitch having already fetched a yellow card earlier. On any other day, Man United could have gone a man down.

And in a very interesting manner, the free-kick was indeed converted by Steven Gerrard; the Man United wall breaking up to expose the goal. Liverpool were deservedly ahead.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s strategy was going well till the free-kick. Before the kick was taken, Fergie had decided to bring on Rooney and Nani in the last part of his strategy – the onslaught. But since United went behind, he was forced to bring on Chicharito as well; a move that paid dividends when Hernandez equalised with a terrific header.

Liverpool reacted swiftly, creating as many as four glorious chances after being pegged back. A Stewart Downing cross was tapped into the Man United goal by Dirk Kuyt, only to be brilliantly blocked by De Gea. Henderson’s little cameo created plenty of problems in the opponents’ third. Having been denied a sensational winner by the brilliant De Gea courtesyA�a backward dive, Henderson should’ve won the game with a free header in the last minute of stoppage time.

.

Ferguson’s team selection might have raised a few eyebrows but in hindsight, it only made sense. Man United have an important Champions League encounter in mid-week, after which they meet Manchester City next weekend. Having already beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs, taking a draw at Anfield is good if that comes at the cost of keeping best players fresh for the upcoming two encounters. Even if Man United draw with City next weekend, they would still walk out with 11 points (with a possibility of 13 points) against the top five clubs, which is any day better than gambling and ending with only nine.

Liverpool have quite a few positives to take away from the game, biggest of which was a solid – but not spectacular – performance from skipper Gerrard. His name on the scoresheet is a refreshing sight for the club. Another positive was Jordan Henderson’s dynamic cameo. Although the performance was good and dominant, the lack of a clinical finisher and a cutting edge in front of goal played its part when for almost seventy minutes, Liverpool were up against an opposition hellbent to stop them from creating anything and had to take advantage of every little chance. When United restored their normal mode, Liverpool carved out a string of chances which is an encouraging sign.

They resembled a Chelsea side under Mourinho, which never really displayed fluent football but somehow managed to get the points on the sheet. It speaks of the discipline that Steve Clark demands from the team in terms of maintaining the shape while defending as well as well as when attacking. But that only comes at the cost of the pass and move principle, which is Kenny Dalglish’s primary philosophy!

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2 Responses to “Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United – Post Mortem”

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  1. Dogzenkatz says:

    Shape? What shape? The 2 most impressive teams so far this season where shape is concerned have been Chelsea and City, both of whom appear very well drilled, as you would expect with continental style exponents at the helm. Under Dalglish, Liverpool has opted for a less structured game, relying more on players’ instincts, which has the advantage of unpredictability and unsettling most well drilled teams, but also the distinct disadvantage of being clumsy and easily undone by players who know how to move the ball around quickly as was evident coming up against Modric and Parker.

    As for United, their game plan for the season has been to play within their opponents shape. You could see from their games that the more shape their opponent kept, the shapelier United’s own setup looked. They were able to cut through a Modric-less Spurs like butter, and totally wrongfoot and outscore a more impressive Chelsea side. Their distinct advantage is being able to open teams up for the counter and capitalise on the spaces left vacant by the other team. However, in doing so, United compromise their ball retention and solidity in defence. That weakness is addressed however by the proficiency and speed of the likes of Jones, Anderson and Cleverley.

    The problem for Fergie coming into this game is that it was impossible to stick to his masterplan for the season against Liverpool’s shapeless game, especially without Cleverley, without whom it would be pointless to deploy Anderson either. Both managers, like Benitez and Mourinho, also happen to be fans of Arrigo Sacchi and their respective styles demand that all players press their opponents and defend from the front. Therefore, it was inevitable that we would be seeing the high tempo rubbish we witnessed in the first half. Everything was a scrap without any real system.

    I do not think Dalglish intended to cage United in for the whole game. He wanted to take the game to them. Ferguson also understood that and was very aware of all the Liverpool players capable of forcing an early goal. Protecting Rooney aside, it’s no surprise he opted to bench Nani and field a bunch of grafters that as far as possible mirrored Liverpool. Fledgling English rightback(Kelly/Smalling), slow English defensive veteran(Carra/Rio), inconsistent stopper(Skrtel/Evans), world class leftback(Enrique/Evra), former Villa winger(Downing/Young), midfield grafter(Lucas/Fletcher), highly rated new signing(Adam/Jones), star veteran(Gerrard/Giggs), workaholic forward(Kuyt/Park) and Spanish keepers. Suarez and Wellbeck were the only significantly different players, and had it been Rooney, it would have been a perfect balance.

    However, as it turned out, United managed to get the better result, seeing as we had 8 shots on target as opposed to 3 from them. Henderson will become an amazing player for us over the next few seasons, seeing as he made a greater impact than Nani, who is definitely United’s form player. I am concerned about our setpiece defending. If our opponents string corners back to back, we tend to concede when the second or 3rd corner in succession is on the opposite flank. One wonders if Agger, being a left footer might have made a difference.

  2. Aditya Sharma says:

    Liverpool were unlucky not to win this game..
    That being said, I am a little worried that Liverpool’s midfield doesn’t pose enough of a goal-scoring threat
    Apart from a few off-chances, there were very few occasions when Downing, Adam, or Kuyt showed any signs of being able to score goals themselves. Compare this to some of the other top teams in Premiership (Chelsea’s Mata, Lampard and Sturridge, United’s Nani and Young, City’s Nasri and Silva), and it feels as if this is an important area of improvement