Its considered to be the biggest game in English football. One of the fiercest rivalries. A fixture that the whole world stops and takes notice of. Manchester United and Liverpool have been arch enemies for decades. On Sunday the two met once again. It wasn’t the greatest of games between the two sides with Liverpool not turning up for the first half, and United seemingly nervous in the second. The home side got the job done though to secure the double over the Merseyside club for the first time since 2008.
Here we will try to dissect and decipher what exactly when down at Old Trafford.
NOTE: This article is a combined effort by 3 of our writers- Vishal Patel, Sami Faizullah and Arnab Ray.
Manchester United started the game in a 4-4-2 formation, with Kagawa on the left, and Ashley Young on the right. Welbeck and Robin van Persie started up top. Ferdinand and Vidic started together for the first time since September. Carrick and Cleverley patrolled the suspect central midfield area.
In order to put Liverpool off their usual metronome passing, Ferguson had his steeds press the Liverpool players high up the field. This didn’t necessarily involve rabid chasing, but systematic closing down of each Liverpool player, including the keeper. Another important aspect was closing down receivers. The United players made a conscious effort to mark, and attack potential receivers of the ball.
Manchester United used the wide areas very consciously in order to build up their attacks with the likes of Carrick and Cleverley supplying a large number of passes to the wingers. This use was effective, especially on the right with Young as Sterling wasn’t tracking back with intensity. The goal also came from a cross. This tactic was all the more effective as Liverpool focused on the center, and consequently left space out wide.
The full-backs found plenty of space as well with both Rafael and Evra willing to go forward. This was slightly restricted in the 2nd half as Liverpool pressed forward, forcing the full-backs back.
The space was utilised well out wide and it was this space that created the first goal. With all the action in midfield, Evra creeped in from behind and found himself with enough time to play a ball into Van Persie.
The Kagawa and Welbeck interchange was a feature of United’s play on the day. Such switching movement was applied with the objective of dragging the Liverpool defenders out of position so as to create space. This coupled with Kagawa constantly drifting infield kept Downing and Wisdom occupied, leaving Evra with the space to cross. It was this movement from Kagawa that allowed Evra the time and space to cross the ball with ease and accuracy for the first goal.
As can be seen from the picture above, Welbeck dropped deep, and Kagawa move to his more natural central role. It allowed Evra space on the flanks. Not only that, whenever a striker of United’s dropped deep, a midfielder was forced to track him, consequently burdening his game as well.
Robin Van Persie has been in red hot form this season, and the secret behind this is plain and simply the amount of space he creates for himself with his movement. A feature of his movement is the quick change of direction. This was exhibited in the first goal, where he initially moved deeper to get free of markers, and then bore down on goal as the ball was played. This allowed him late movement, making him difficult to pick up for the Liverpool defenders.
Another feature of his intelligent movement was his influence from deeper areas. In the first half especially, he dropped deeper on several occasions, to not only bring others into play, but create space for himself.
Both United strikers on the day worked well in tandem to stretch the Liverpool defence. Van Persie stayed deeper to get the space, but the tireless Danny Welbeck, who worked the channels throughout the game, created this for him. He ran in behind the defence with alarming regularity. The long ball over the top aimed at Welbeck’s run was a feature of their game plan. This running and movement from him kept Liverpool’s defence occupied, and left the likes of Kagawa and RvP in acres of space.
Shots from inside the box
Manchester United were able to penetrate into the box comfortably, especially in the first half as Liverpool constantly dropped deep inviting pressure. United duly accepted and ventured forward. The amount of shots from inside the box is alarming. 70% of their shots (9 out of 13) came from inside the penalty area.
De Gea’s error/Defenders slow to react
The blame for the Liverpool goal can be placed upon the center backs and De Gea. Firstly, De Gea needed to palm the ball out to a less dangerous area. This is a mistake he had made for James Perch’s goal as well at Old Trafford. It was this sort of small detail that really set van der Sar apart as a keeper, and it is the mastery over such details that David De Gea has struggled with.
A level of blame has to be placed on the United defenders as well. None of them were able to react for the rebound as quickly as the opposition striker did.
In the second half, manager Rodgers brought on Daniel Sturridge, and shifted Suarez to a slightly deeper position. This brought ‘El Pistolero’ into the game a lot more, and he gave the United midfield a lot more headaches, causing Carrick and Cleverley do drop deeper. Apart from this change, Rodgers also made his players press United higher up the field, and United lost their composure, misplacing a lot more passes in the second half. As a result, RvP was also isolated for long periods and United didn’t offer much going forward. This isn’t a one time case, and United have, in the past, shown a tendency to get in trouble from such situations.
Brendan Rodgers went for his tried and tested 4-3-3 formation. There were not many major surprises in the team selection. But the side never really got going. It was when Rodgers made some substitutions and put some much needed firepower up-top, dropping Suarez deeper, when Liverpool got going.
Suarez Isolated, moved deeper later
LuisSuarez has been a constant threat to sides this season. He however failed to really making any impact at Old Trafford. Two reasons behind this. 1) There was absolutely no service to the striker who largely spent the first half chasing United defenders down and pointing to other United defenders to be closed down by his team-mates. 2) United stuck to their man and didn’t give him any space whatsoever. He wasn’t allowed time on the ball and the close marking put him off his game. It was in the 39th minute that Suarez actually had the ball at his feet for longer than 4 seconds for the first time.
This is something we’d probably see more this season as Rodgers tried to accommodate Sturridge. We’ll have to wait and watch if that was the reason for Suarez dropping deep but Liverpool’s top scorer was not getting the ball enough and Rodgers was forced to change things around to get him into the game. He got a lot of the ball once he dropped into a deeper position. United defenders weren’t able to follow him there and Carrick failed to keep a hold of him either. He found some space and some much needed time on the ball. His runs into the box disrupted the defence occasionally. In the end it wasn’t a fruitful move, but it shows the flexibility Rodgers has at his disposal with a centre forward in the side.
No Attacking intent
The Liverpool side also lacked that ‘bite’ so as to say. There was not much energy or effort going forward, almost as though Liverpool came to settle from a point at the start. A wrong attitude to go out with. These sort of games are there to be won, and it was disappointing to see Liverpool just sit back. Changes at half time so Liverpool contribute more in attack with the side creating some decent openings. It just proved that the Liverpool were more than capable to match up against United, but failed to do so.
Invisible and Inefficient wide men
The wide men of Liverpool- Sterling and Downing had a poor showing. Neither of them really got into the game and provide any sort of help, either in attack or defence. The two just seem to make the number. A lot of Suarez’s isolation was down to these two as well who could keep possession in the oppositions half and failed to retain the ball in their own. Sterling was able to pick Young’s pocket occasionally, only to lose the ball a few seconds later. Downing stayed on for the entire 90, but barely got into the game. Going forward he didn’t offer much, and just made the numbers in defence.
Failed to get a hold of the midfield
In the first half, Liverpool employed three midfielders, with Lucas being chosen to sit deep and protect the defence. Liverpool’s passing strategy also meant that players like Gerrard and Allen had to come deep to receive the ball, leaving the midfield areas open. This led to Carrick and Cleverley having both time and space in the middle of the park and basically directing play. Just before Reina got injured, the ball that played Rafael behind was the perfect example. The Liverpool midfielders were content to just sit back, and Carrick had enough time to slow the ball down, look up and then play a perfect pass to Rafael.
This was coupled with constant errors made by the Liverpool midfield. Robbed off the ball and misplace passes, not to mention lack of any service to the front line (or man) meant that the United midfield had a walk in the park. There was no urgency from Liverpool to venture forward, the midfielders were instructed to contain United’s midfield, they failed to do so. Manchester United had full control in the middle.
Resorting to crosses, to no avail
Liverpool made a desperate attempt to get into the game, and get a goal from somewhere. Plenty of crosses were put into the box. But with no one to aim for, and the aerial success of United’s defence, Liverpool failed to make any thing materialise from this.
Presence of Sturridge
The biggest positive to take from the game was Daniel Sturridge. Fans have been calling for a centre forward at the club and Sturridge is doing a decent job of warranting a place in the side. His presence made the United defence uncomfortable and also allowed Suarez into the game, drawing defenders away from the Uruguayan and forcing them to stick to him. His goal as well was pleasing to see as he followed up on De Gea’s rebound, like a proper striker. Liverpool have lacked that in recent seasons. There were early signs of a partnership between Suarez and Sturridge with the two linking up. However two occasions we can be critical of Sturridge is early in the game where he ran at the defence and opened up space for a shot, choosing instead to pass it through. He lacked the confidence there, and the composure 5 minutes from time with the ball dropping on his weaker foot. That really was the chance to equalise and such chances have to be taken in such games.
Game in Numbers
Liverpool were superior in possession and passing success rate, managing 54% possession and 85% pass completion rate (compared to United’s 81%)
15– Number of shots that Manchester Untied managed on Liverpool’s goal, 5 hitting the target. In comparison Liverpool took 13 shots with only 3 hitting the target.
8– Number of shots Robin Van Persie took with 3 striking Reina’s goal. Sturridge was the highest for Liverpool in that regard with 4 on target.
83%– Liverpool’s successful tackling rate (31 attempted tackles in total). Man United had a meagre 58% success rate with their 25 tackles.
94%– The pass completion rate of Shinji Kagawa and Daniel Sturridge, the highest number for attacking players. Martin Skrtel had a 100% completion rate but with very little attacking passes.
67– The most number of attempted passes by a player on the field- Michael Carrick. Agger was highest for Liverpool with 65. Gerrard close behind with 64.
3– Key passes played by Suarez and Sturridge each, more than any other players on the field.
62%- Aerial duels won by Manchester United. They dominated in the air. Ferdinand, Rafael, Welbeck and Skrtel won the most headers with 3 each.
6– Van Persie dispossessed Liverpool players 6 times off the ball, forcing errors. Welbeck also proved to be a nuisance with 5 dispossessions. Sturridge was the highest for Liverpool with 4.
7– Number of tackles attempted by Rafael, highest on the pitch. Johnson was next with 5. The full backs were hard at work.
6– Interceptions made by Carrick in midfield. Liverpool’s three man midfield of Gerrard, Lucas and Allen managed only 5 combined.
11– Most number of long balls attempted by an outfield player., this by Steven Gerrard. Manchester United’s goalkeeper De Gea had only 1 more than that.
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Graphical illustrations taken via Squawka.com with their prior permission and pre-set guidelines. Statistics via whoscored.com. Line-Ups made at footballtactics.net