The age old rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United is one that needs no introduction. Despite their overall success in recent years, Manchester United have largely struggled in their annual visit to Anfield barring last year of course. Liverpool came into the game on the back of 2 wins and were hoping to make it 3 wins out of 3. United and Moyes on the other hand, were off the back of a 0-0 stalemate against Chelsea, and were hoping to register their 2nd league win of the new era.
Eventually it was Daniel Sturridge’s early improvised header which was the difference in what was a tightly contested affair. The match had few clear cut goalscoring chances for either side and as is the case with most games between the 2, the event failed to match the build up.
LIVERPOOL PRESSING HIGH IN THE FIRST HALF
Pressing high up the field is one of the most fashionable tactics in recent times. This game was no different and Liverpool didn’t have to wait long for the fruits of their off the ball labour. Ashley Young was caught in possession deep in his own half and although Sturridge’s shot was deflected wide, the subsequent corner resulted in what was eventually the game’s only goal.
Liverpool’s pressing though was not the run-of-the-mill close down the player with the ball. United’s over reliance on Carrick in central midfield is widely documented. Both Coutinho and Aspas were quick to close Cleverley and Carrick down, diluting their influence in proceedings at the centre. A direct consequence was that the transition from defence to attack in the first half was mainly through long balls from Vidic and Ferdinand. The pair played a total of 33 long balls in the game with the Serbian contributing to 10 of those in the 1st half alone.
UNITED’S LACK OF ATTACKING PENETRATION
United have failed to score in their last 2 outings and truth be told despite territorial dominance in the 2nd half, clear goal scoring opportunities were few and far between for the Premier League champions. Unitedsurprisingly played with inverted wingers on both flanks. While the sight of a right footed winger on the left flank has become a familiar sight, the deployment of Giggs on the right flank was a surprising move. The move didn’t pay dividends and both Giggs and Young were eventually substituted. Indeed Manchester United’s wing play on the whole was a let down with a disappointing 6/32 crosses successful.
With United’s misfiring wide play, it was through the middle that United’s attacking impetus should have arrived. With Rooney missing due to injury and Kagawa still not up to match fitness, creativity in the central channel was a virtue that United were left searching for. Even set pieces which were a surprisingly important part of United’s attacking last season were disappointing to say the least. Both Ryan Giggs and Ashley Young disappointed with their deliveries and despite his threat in the box, it shouldn’t be long before we see Van Persie resume his set-piece taking duties. Credit must go to Liverpool though. United asserted themselves in the second half but Liverpool held their ground. Defending deep for long periods, their compactness proved too difficult a barrier to breach for a side that looked devoid of ideas.
THE MIDFIELD BATTLE
Many a game in football is decided by which of the 2 teams reign supreme in the middle of the park and that’s exactly how it played out at Anfield. United’s midfield has been identified as the primary area to strengthen by the new regime and the need was only further highlighted. From the start, Liverpool’s 3 man midfield held sway over United’s pairing of Cleverley and Carrick. It’s no secret that United have struggled against 3 man midfields and the impressive trio of Henderson, Lucas and Gerrard made it hard for United to play through the centre. The trio made an impressive 12 tackles between them and Gerrard and Lucas boasted of 6 and 4 interceptions respectively.
From United’s point of view, it is a brutal fact that their current midfield personnel find it hard to cope with 3 man midfields. Carrick didn’t have the best of games while Cleverley has perhaps a bit unfairly donned the role of scapegoat for United. His defensive capabilities have improved but that part of his game will never be one of his strengths. With 24 hours remaining, Moyes and United fans will certainly hope to see at least 1 new face in the department.
A GAME OF TWO HALVES
Staying true to the oldest cliche in any football fan or commentator’s repertoire, the game was indeed one of two halves. As mentioned above, Liverpool’s quick pressing and overall higher intensity in the first half put United on the back foot and despite not dominating possession, they looked the more dangerous of the 2 sides. United were dormant in terms of attacking threat and Liverpool would have ideally liked a 2nd goal before the half time break.
However, it was not to be and United came out in the 2nd half with more intensity. They had taken a leaf out of Liverpool’s book and were pressing higher up the pitch. Liverpool were content to sit deep and absorb the pressure while hoping to pose a threat on the counter through the likes of Sturridge, Coutinho and later Sterling who came off the bench. Sitting on a 1 goal lead can be a dangerous tactic at times, especially against a team like United who are accustomed to teams defending deep against them but the tactic eventually paid off for Liverpool as despite the territorial dominance of United in the 2nd half, Nani’s long range drive and Van Persie’s shot from an acute angle were the only noteworthy chances.
LIVERPOOL’S GRITTY DISPLAY
Over the past few years, Liverpool have often been accused of not showing enough grit especially in big games. It is impossible to be on your best form in every match of the season, thus winning games when you’re not at your best becomes vital. Much has been made of both Liverpool’s record against the so called big teams from last season but Liverpool showed defensive and tactical discipline to eke out a great win against their rivals. Liverpool find themselves on top of the table going into the international break. With Suarez set to come back from the ban to complement a red hot Sturridge and co, Liverpool look like they have their attack sorted. The Anfield faithful will be hoping that Liverpool will be able to maintain this discipline throughout the season.
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