Man United edged out Liverpool in the battle of England’s two most famous clubs and arguably the most hated rivals as the higher pedigree of Ferguson’s team shone through. It is now five consecutive league meetings at Old Trafford that the Red Devils have won between the two clubs. Perhaps this one was extra special because it ensured the league double over the Merseyside outfit for the first time since 2008. What is worrying from Brendan Rodgers’ point of view is the huge yawning gap between the clubs, United now leading Liverpool by 24 points and despite the claims of progress by the manager, results on the pitch have failed to mirror the progress.
Liverpool’s second half display and Daniel Sturridge’s substitute stint must offer a silver lining but the sense of Déjà vu shall remain. The once mighty Merseysiders have failed to win any game against a team in the top half this season. Perhaps, the Liverpool faithful will need to show more patience and give the manager more time, but with in a result oriented business such as Premier League football, patience is typically a virtue conspicuous by its absence.
Team line ups: Fergie 1-0 Rodgers
The United fan base were eager for the team news and they were to go in without Wayne Rooney for the first time in a big game this season. Rio and Vidic were paired together for the first time since September and it was no coincidence that the United defence looked far less permeable under the guardianship of its two veterans. Cleverley and Carrick, who have been the consistent big game central midfield pairing for the manager, started once again. However, the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Danny Welbeck ahead of Hernandez, but as things turned out, it proved to be a masterstroke from the wily old Scot.
Rodgers, on the other hand, went for a safety first approach as he decided to bench Daniel Sturridge and opt for Luis Suarez as his only striker. Although, it was an expected move for fans and neutrals alike, some thought that it was a chance for the Liverpool manager to have a go at the United defense which has looked far from assured this season. Andre Wisdom was also selected for the biggest game of his career so far at right-back and to be fair, the youngster did not look out of place.
Tactics and Game Changing Moments
Looking at the United line-up, one thought that it would be a 4-2-3-1 with Welbeck on the left and Kagawa playing in the hole behing RvP. Instead, it was a straight 4-4-2 with the Japanese playing on the left, Ashley Young on the right and Welbeck in support with the Dutchman up front. Kagawa and Young drifted inside from time to time, linking up with the two central midfielders, allowing the two full-backs to charge forward in open spaces.
Liverpool, on the other hand, came out in a typical 4-5-1 formation with Luis Suarez leading the line as the lone front man. Sterling and Downing played on the flanks but on their unnatural sides and thus they were looking to cut inside on every opportunity. Lucas played as the defensive midfielder while Allen and Gerrard were given the responsibility of dictating the play. However, Allen had a shocking game and thus was hardly able to influence proceedings.
The game took some time to get going as both teams were looking to keep their shape and adapted a safety first approach. But as the half went on, the home side started gaining confidence which was evident through their slick passing and movement. The first goal was also a result of such a move as quick exchanges between Kagawa, Cleverley, Carrick and Welbeck allowed Evra some space on the left, and the Frenchman took full advantage by delivering a perfect ball for van Persie who had made half-a-yard for himself to strike a first time shot past Reina.
The goal gave the home side even more confidence as they attacked with purpose and created all sorts of problems for the Liverpool midfielders and defenders. However, they failed to make their advantage count as the likes of Welbeck and even van Persie were guilty of missing clear cut chances. The visitors, on the other hand, became more and more nervous and started making mistakes at the back. Suarez was left an isolated figure in the first half as there was hardly any work for the United defenders and De Gea, who did not have to make a single save in the first half.
Substitutions: Rodgers Finally Gives United Something To Think About
The Liverpool manager decided to bring on Sturridge in place of Lucas right at the start of the second half and it worked out brilliantly for the Merseysiders. The former Chelsea man now played upfront, allowing Suarez to play in the free role in front of the midfielders. This move worked both ways for Liverpool as not only it gave them the cutting edge in attack, it also forced Carrick to play a lot deeper, thereby reducing the home side’s attacking prowess. The two strikers also linked up very well on few occasions which put some pressure on the United back four. However, Rodgers’ other two substitutes – Henderson and Borini, on for Allen and Sterling, failed to make much impact.
Sir Alex, on the other hand, had to make a couple of forced substitutions as Young went off injured at half-time to be replaced by Antonio Valencia while Chris Smalling was brought on for the injured Nemanja Vidic. Both substitutions hampered the Red Devils in some way as Young had been excellent in the first half while Valencia was hardly involved in the game thus impacting the team’s attacks down the right hand side. Also, Smalling looked far less composed at the back as compared to Vidic which is understandable to quite an extent. However, the manager’s move to replace Kagawa with Phil Jones proved to be a crucial move as the Englishman man-marked Suarez in midfield, thus keeping his threat down to a minimal in the latter stages of the game.
The whole Manchester United team played brilliantly in the first half but Michael Carrick was the best of the lot during the first period. He not only broke up Liverpool’s attacking play, but also showed his full range of long and short passing. All of United’s transitional play from defence to attack went through the former Tottenham man as he provided the calming influence for the home side just as the fans are used to seeing Paul Scholes do. Danny Welbeck, who was named man of the match, was also brilliant and was even singled out by the manager during his post match comments. However, Fergie would be worried about De Gea once again as it was his mistake that allowed Liverpool back into the game.
There were more poor performances from the visitors than there were good ones. Glen Johnson was once again excellent at left-back and Andre Wisdom also showed his presence at times. Daniel Sturridge scored in his second game running for Liverpool and his partnership with Suarez is a major positive for Rodgers to take away from this fixture. However, there were far too many individuals – Lucas, Allen and Downing to name a few, who failed to turn up for this game which would always turn out to be a major problem for any team playing at the home of Manchester United.
Sir Alex called it “an engrossing game, as expected in a Manchester United-Liverpool match” and hailed his side’s “magnificent performance in the first half”. However, he also admitted that “it was hard work after they scored”, which was a fair judgement but in the end he also showed his relief to have won the game.
Rodgers, on the other hand, condoned his team for their “tentative” first half performance but tried to take some positives out of the “fightback” in the second half. He also lamented the difference in the squad depth between the two sides as he stated that “There was 21 points difference before this game but it wasn’t 21 points in terms of quality, it was 21 points in terms of the depth of the squad”. It was a rather overestimated statement from the manager of a team which has failed to beat any team from the top half of the table this season. Also, the fact that the manager tried to hide his side’s first half abject display in light of the second half performance which also did not promise that much, should be a worry for the Liverpool fans.