Manchester United avenged last season’s 3-0 mauling at the hands of arch rivals Liverpool, and won their sixth game on the trot with the exact same score-line. With this result, the Manchester side continue to make a strong case for the top 4 positions are look to be pulling off a Liverpool of last season. Au contraire, Liverpool hopes of sustaining last season’s success continues to look bleaker and bleaker. Goals from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie ensured the three points for the Red Devils.
David de Gea is a brick wall
It won’t be wrong to say that the 3-0 scoreline looked very flattering to United, considering their overall performance. The hosts certainly converted every clear chance they got, unlike their opponents, however, most of the credit for the result has to go down to one man- David de Gea. Arguably playing the best football of his career, arguably the best goalkeeper in the league, the Spaniard saved everything that came his way. And no, that is not a figurative phrase. He literally saved everything that came his way. 25 seconds before Wayne Rooney scored the opener, de Gea saved Raheem Sterling’s effort, which should have the back of the net. The first half had a couple of more great Liverpool chances, another one by Raheem Sterling, and sure enough, the former Atletico man didn’t let his team down. In the second half, Sterling had a one on one chance, courtesy a shocking back-pass by a United defender, but de Gea stayed on top of his game and ensured United didn’t get on the back-foot at all. Mario Balotelli had three great chances, and he would have converted those against anyone else, despite his poor form, but de Gea won that battle too.
The remarkable thing is that because of United’s injury issues, the 24 year old has had to play behind a different back four, virtually in every game. Yet, he continues to boss between the sticks.
United’s midfield and defence is not doing a great job at the moment and they will eventually be punished if they continue playing this way, but David de Gea is one hell of a shot-stopper. James Pearce rightly summed up his performance saying ‘Get the feeling we could play for another six hours and Liverpool still wouldn’t score past de Gea.
Contrasting feature of the game
Liverpool created plenty of chances. Like mentioned before, they had some great chances which yes, because of de Gea were kept out, but it was the lack of top class finishing, on part of the Reds too, which let them down.
Raheem Sterling’s finishing has been brought to the fore on multiple occasions in the past. With De Gea made some fantastic saves. But Sterling could have done better each time. It was simply not up to the mark. Had he converted the first chance of the game, or passed it to Adam Lallana the second time, the result could have been very different. Last season, with Suarez and Sturridge, Sterling got out of this rut and started scoring good goals and converting chances. Unfortunately for the Reds, Sterling seems to be caught in the old pattern again. When your false nine hasn’t scored in 20 appearances, for club and country, how do you expect to win?
Mario Balotelli came after a lengthy time on the sidelines and his one half contribution was impressive. It is easy to make him the scapegoat every time, but credit should be given where its due, and this was probably Balotelli’s single most impressive performance. Balotelli would have opened his Liverpool Premier League account today had it not been for one Spaniard. His performance today, however, would give Rodgers’ the boost of starting him in a crucial match against Arsenal next weekend.
Contrastingly, Manchester United didn’t look very threatening creating anything in the midfield or in the attacking third in the sense that there weren’t too many clever passes or intricate through-balls that did the damage for them. It was just pure, class finishing. Granted the second goal was offside by a mile, but United’s finishing was their best feature of the game after De Gea’s individual performance. Wayne Rooney proved why he is England’s best striker by neatly tugging in the ball into the back of the net from the edge of the box. Robin van Persie continued his good run and scored another classic poacher style goal.
The game can nicely be summed up by saying that one team took advantage of sloppy defending, and one team didn’t.
I have reason to believe that some sports journalists have actually given up watching football analysing Liverpool’s defence and trying to search for solutions within the existing parameters. Brendan Rodgers made a ballsy decision and attempted to play three at the back with Johnson, Skrtel and Lovren. Henderson and Moreno occupied the wing-back spots. This move was definitely made to ensure the Reds don’t leak goals against United’s threatening attack—something which obviously didn’t come to fruit. Johnson was replaced by Kolo Toure in the first half after injuring himself. Questions have to be asked as to why Toure, undoubtedly Liverpool’s best defender since the second leg against Real Madrid, was not started in a big game. Toure was missing against Basel with an injury and if not rushing him back to the line-up was the reason, fair enough. But if the thus far disastrous £20m signing from Southampton was picked on merit, Rodgers has some answering to do. Lovren’s direct error, a failed clearance, led to United’s last goal and the Croat’s positioning for the first goal was absolutely bizzarre. When a wing-back, especially a player like Alberto Moreno who is more attack natured, is being used, the left sided centre back has to do better in the situation. Lovren was caught in the most absurd situation and made life very easy for Antonio Valencia who sent in a good low cross for Rooney to tug away.
Why does Mamadou Sakho continue to not get chances? The player has a lot of potential and was picked up for a hefty price last season. He had the trust of Blanc at PSG and continues to be in favour with Deschamps for Les Bleus, yet he continues to bear the brunt of the fall-out he had with Rodgers in September.
£12m man Alberto Moreno admitted in an interview that he started as a wing-back and is more inclined to attack than defend, and it showed. If he is in a side that is winning the game, his attacking instincts are absolutely delightful to watch. But in opposite circumstances, the former Sevilla player looks completely out of sorts. His defensive contribution has to improve. For the first goal, Valencia made Allen and Lallana look like fools and beautifully outdid the two, eventually setting up Rooney’s opener, which gave United the momentum they needed to come out on top. Moreno should have at least been in the picture there, helping the defenders out.
The Reds’ attack had reason to be hopeful after today’s performance. The defence needs sorting out ASAP.
Six wins on the trot. Now you can say Manchester United are back
Van Gaal’s side won their sixth game on the run. They’re not playing beautiful football, they’re not annihilating defences, and they most certainly are not impressing with their tight defence, but they’re winning, and eventually, isn’t that all that counts? Against Southampton, Arsenal and to an extent against Liverpool, they didn’t put out brilliant performances, but they nicked every chance they got and they got three points out of three tough games. Their next five Premier League games are against Aston Villa (A), Newcastle (H), Tottenham (A), Stoke (A) and Southampton (H). These five games can be very tricky for the 20 time league winners, and if they are able to continue picking up points in these games, they could very well cement their place in the top 4 and make it very tough for the likes of Spurs, Liverpool, Everton, Saints etc vying to finish in the elite spots.
Brendan Rodgers’ position as Liverpool manager continues to be in threat and chants of ‘You’ll be sacked in the morning’ paint the picture well. However, doing so is probably going to do more harm than good for Liverpool. Firstly, who do you replace the Northern Irishman with? Firing him would only bring more disharmony and chaos in the dressing room as the club enters a busy festive period. Secondly, Liverpool’s big problem was not creating chances and going by today’s performance, they look like they’ve improved in that department. Thirdly, after the game against Arsenal, Liverpool have a flurry of winnable games– a period where if they can get going, they’ll be right in the mix of things. And lastly, as weak as a reason this might be, Rodgers did wonderful things with the Reds last season. He certainly deserves his fair share of time to sort things out and make amends. If by the end of January, things don’t begin to improve, perhaps then, FSG should pull the trigger and ‘dismiss’ Brendan Rodgers. For now, it seems like it would affect the club in a negative way rather than positive.