A spirited performance from Brandon Rodgers’ men managed to completely stifle Robin Van Persie and co in what was a lacklustre Manchester United performance. With United in the market for a central midfielder or two, a microscope was intensely focused on England International Tom Cleverly; is he good enough to partner Michael Carrick in the engine room? On this evidence he is not and struggled dearly to impose himself on the game. Liverpool were not at their scintillating best, but showcased greater hunger and desire to win this game, highlighted by them winning 60% of the ground duels in the match (57) compared to United’s (38). In the end, an early Daniel Sturridge header was enough for Liverpool to seal all three points and maintain their 100% record.
A contrast in defensive styles
Manchester United lined up in a flexible 4-4-2 shape, Giggs moved infield early when the team were in possession to form a 3 man midfield base as a counter measure to Liverpool’s midfield trio of Lucas, Gerrard and Henderson. United placed a huge emphasis on moving the ball around the ground quickly, in an attempt to catch the aggressive pressing Liverpool midfield out high up the pitch, revealing passing lanes for Welbeck and star striker Robin Van Persie.
Highlighted in black are Liverpool’s midfield trio (Gerard, Lucas and Hendrson) pressing quite high up the pitch all at once as Lucas wins back possession. Although a risky strategy against the slick passers United possess, they did this successfully in the first half and really managed to disgruntle the United midfield. As a result, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverly lost possession a total of 50 times throughout the game, 20 more times than Liverpool’s above mentioned trio. As Carrick and Cleverly struggled to impose themselves on the fixture, the pair began hitting more and more quick transitional passes (10 each) more than any other midfielder’s or forwards in the game.
On the flip side, Manchester United were content in falling into a deep defensive block early without applying much pressure on the ball. The reasons for this was to try and stop the chance creation machine which is Liverpool F.C. Sturridge, Aspas and Coutinho like to interchange positions frequently and so a huge emphasis was placed upon Patrice Evra and Phil Jones to cut off the passing lanes in the zones behind and the two centre halves as their lack of mobility reared its ugly head. Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool’s primary playmaker actually did not manage to create single chance in the match which is in stark contrast to Liverpool’s last home game vs another deep defensive block team in Stoke City, as he created 6 chances.
Evra and Jones expanded and compacted (like in the image above) and did a good job protecting the 18 yard box with their presence, allowing the centre backs to deal with the huge threat that is Daniel Sturridge. Although Man United defended fairly well, their attacking left much to be desired and there superior possession throughout the first half came to nothing as Van Persie was barely involved.
Manchester United’s reactive measures:
As the second half went on, United seemed to acknowledge that they were not going to create much in the open play and so began attempting multiple crosses. The team widened its passing support ranges, and began whipping in what ended up being a huge 32 crosses (Liverpool crossed the ball just 5 times.) The United players’ desperation to nick a goals manifested itself in the excessive overload in the box for these crosses.
Here’s an example (above) as United abandon their passing build up, instead flooding the box with players and getting numerous crosses in. However, the team still failed to create a single clear-cut goal scoring opportunity, with only 19% of these crosses finding the intended target and showcased poor finishing inside the box.
Manchester United lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation without the ball and played with a very deep defensive block. The players sat back contently in their positions and allowed Liverpool to retain possession in the middle third. Instead looking to clog passing lanes and make important interceptions, ending up with 20 interceptions in total. Danny Welbeck however is allowed to deviate from this plan slightly and use his athleticism to pressure the Liverpool defenders and deep-lying midfielders.
Manchester United’s transitions
– Offensively – Within the first 5-8 seconds of recovering possession, United looked to stay quite compact and tended to play short vertical passes if possible to progress play at a medium tempo. Michael Carrick is the key to this system, he is the player the United players look for first (if available) in order to initiate attacks from deep.
– Defensively – United opted to apply very little pressure on the ball and usually fell back into defensive block immediately, usually within the first 5 seconds. Mainly due to them being extremely wary of Liverpool’s counter attacking threat, in particular Coutinho’s dribble-drive and passing threat.
David Moyes will most certainly be looking to strengthen the central midfield area of his team as deadline day is upon us. Michael Carrick was given little help in the engine room by Tom Cleverly and United seemed overawed by the sheer athleticism and energy showcased by Liverpool’s tenacious midfield trio. With Marouane Fellaini looking like a possible signing for Moyes, could he be the man to solve Man United’s midfield woes?