Brendan Rodgers should have no excuses after this defeat. No mid-week games, no fresh bout of injuries, and no major tactical surprises spent by the opposition. His team was beaten simply by a lack of desire, and a lack of discipline. Louis van Gaala s men showed up at Anfield determined to take 3 points, and that is just what they did. The match had a few ups and downs, but it always looked like a Manchester United victory.
No surprises from either coach as they picked the same line-ups as last week. Brendan Rodgers decided to play Raheem Sterling on the right flank, with Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho. All three of them were mostly anonymous, showing only flashes of their individual skills. Daniel Sturridge in turn had to work on scraps, getting almost no service from midfield through most of the game.
United have a great start
Manchester United started very well, pressing the Liverpool team high up the pitch, making it tough to get the ball out of their half. Marouane Fellainia s physical and aerial presence made life very difficult for Emre Can. Right-back Antonio Valencia was relatively quiet and didna t get forward much, but Juan Mata was an attacking dynamo, constantly trying to exploit the acres of space between Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno. The Spanish wing-back had a poor game, offering little in attack and defense.
Liverpool will regret just how easy it was for Man United to score the opener at the 14th minute mark. Ander Herrera threaded a ball in behind the Liverpool defense, and Juan Mata scored through a very tidy finish in the far corner. The fact that Mata had so much space to run into, and that there was no one marking his run until it was too late, shows the defensive frailties still present in this side.
It took Liverpool 34 minutes to create their first good chance of the night, with a Daniel Sturridge being released by a long ball forward, in turn laying it off perfectly for Adam Lallana who struck wide. It was a rare moment of cohesion from the Liverpool team, something that wouldna t be seen more than a handful of times more in the game.
Man Uniteda s defensive performance was commendable. They pressed the Liverpool team very well, doing their best to win back possession in the opponentsa half itself. When Liverpool did find their way into the United half, the defensea s organisation did well to keep them at bay. Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera were ever-present, shielding their defense on every occasion. And the team did very well as a unit to play the ball out of defense whenever they did win back possession.
Of course it helps to have David De Gea between the sticks. The Spaniard is not only a great shot stopper, he is also great at neutralizing most balls lofted into his area. Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet also had a good performance, as he saved a Michael Carrick screamer from distance.
Gerrarda s Red Mist
Steven Gerrard was brought on in the second half to inject some aggression into a limp Liverpool side. He went stunningly overboard with a stamp on Ander Herrera that saw him sent off less than a minute after coming on. The captaina s moment of madness practically ended the game for Liverpool FC. Coming back from behind was always going to be difficult against this Man United side that, for all its attacking shortcomings, is very comfortable in possession. But going down to 10 men right at the start of the second half killed all hopes.
Then Juan Mata again played tormentor, as he rubbed salt in the wounds of Liverpool FC with a wonderful scissor kicked goal from an Angel di Maria assist.
Liverpool 10 men retaliate
Whata s really interesting is that Liverpool looked much better with 10 men and 2 goals down. The defence was more organized, and the counter attacks more incisive. On the 69th minute mark, United lost the ball in their own half to Philippe Coutinho, and the ball found its way into the feet of Daniel Sturridge who delivered a powerful finish.
The team suddenly looked like they were in the mood to create a fairytale ending. It was not to be however, as Man United got back control on proceedings, and saw out the rest of the game comfortably.
Towards the end, it seemed as though the game would also end with the same scoreline as the reverse fixture (3-1), as Daley Blind won a penalty when he was brought down by a tired looking Emre Can. But Simon Mignolet pulled off a great save to keep the score at 1-2.
Rodgers has to take his share of the blame for this. Not so much from a tactical perspective, but more from a man management angle. His men did not show up mentally prepared for this game, and that is something should ensure never happens again. The lack of discipline from the team was surprising, as Mario Balotelli and Martin Skrtel also had small skirmishes with the opposition.
Rodgers will also have to figure out how to best use Raheem Sterling. The youngster was wasted on the right flank, having almost no say on the proceedings. It will be especially interesting to see how Rodgers tweaks the team once Jordon Ibe is back in the side.