Tactics Talk: Liverpool were rampant until the red mist descended against Manchester United
Alex Ferguson has been dominating big matches in his 26-year tenure at Old Trafford, but came up against a new tactical adversary in new Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers and he might just have lost this opening bout despite his side taking the three points.
The surprise in Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting XI was the omission of Nemanja Vidic for the returning Jonny Evans. Carrick and Giggs started in midfield with Nani and Valencia out wide. Shinji Kagawa began his fifth game of the season behind the in-form Robin van Persie up front to complete a 4-4-1-1 which Ferguson hoped would keep his side solid, but also have the creativity and pace to counter attack effectively – a tactic used by Ferguson regularly when up against rivals at the top of the league.
Brendan Rodgers has been consistent in his attractive 4-3-3 approach to most games so far this season. However, as impressive as Rodgers’ system may be it has proven ultimately unsuccessful so far as his side languish in 18th position taking only two points from five games in the Premier League.
With the usual back five of Pepe Reina, Martin Kelly, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson, Liverpool lined up with Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen in front of the defence and Jonjo Shelvey operating in an advanced position ahead of them. Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling have started the last four games either side of Luis Suarez and Sunday was no different.
First half – Rodgers’ men rampant ’til red!
One of the main reasons Liverpool appointed Rodgers was to bring a fresh and entertaining approach to a lifeless Kenny Dalglish side. His midfield is pivotal to that.
Early on, the role of each player in both midfields became apparent. For Liverpool, Allen and Gerrard would provide a variety of passes in attack; Allen linking from defence to midfield and Gerrard moving the ball from midfield to the front four. They were also a safety when defending allowing Jonjo Shelvey to get close to the front three and occupy the space normally used so well by Michael Carrick.
Carrick has played like a pass-master so far this season, but was unable to have any effect on the first half. The lack of space limited him to 18 successful passes with none of those making it in to the last third. Giggs had less of an effect too completing only two passes in Liverpool’s final third and his first-half tally of 15 successful passes sums up United’s performance; abject until the red mist descended!
After robbing Ryan Giggs of the ball, Jonjo Shelvey earned a red card for a reckless lunge on Jonny Evans. All involved at Liverpool may point at the referee, but you must ask why he made such a risky tackle in a safe area?
Second half – A game made for Scholes and Andy Carroll
A change in performance, attitude and scoreline was expected from United in the second half, but it was Liverpool who continued where they left off. Alex Ferguson won’t be happy at how frail his team looked when trying to defend a cross in to the box. For Gerrard’s goal, Scholes was beaten too easily on the wing before Ferdinand and Rafael’s comical defending.
It may have been a setback for United, but their altered approach remained – they still had to score goals. Paul Scholes was introduced to make the most of the Shelvey-shaped space in midfield and it was his influence which led to an immediate response.
Patient movement from side to side by the midfield led to Rafael feeding Antonio Valencia on the right touchline. The full-back lost his markers before receiving the ball back in the box and curling a superb strike in to the top corner.
Now, Liverpool’s only threat was Suarez coming short, but, even when the Uruguayan was able to turn, his options became increasingly limited. The home side needed to move quickly from back to front – Andy Carroll anyone? Brendan Rodgers’ brought on Jordan Henderson instead to provide stability, but at a risky time of the match.
United pressed high and on a rare foray forward from Liverpool, they lost that vital goal. Daniel Agger’s poor touch in an advanced area allowed Antonio Valencia, selected for his direct pace, to burst forward and earn a penalty. Robin van Persie slotted home the spot-kick, his only impact of the afternoon, and Liverpool’s chances of getting anything from the game decreased dramatically.
With 15 minutes left to go and a one player advantage it would be difficult to bet against United holding their lead and that’s exactly what they did. Rodgers had played all his cards and had little threat in his outnumbered midfield. Ferguson had the luxury of bringing on Javier Hernandez who stretched the tired and old legs of Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher in defence. United controlled things and the 2-1 lead became a 2-1 win after seven minutes of injury time.
Rodgers’ tactically spot on, but Ferguson wins!
It would be hard to look beyond a Liverpool win had Shelvey not been sent off. The home side were by far the better team in the first half, outscoring their opponents in every area including possession; 65 per cent to 35 per cent.
The second half was a different story with United making almost double the amount of passes of the home team, with Paul Scholes particularly impressive completing 96 per cent of his 45 passes.
For the managers, Rodgers will be disappointed but knows his full team can cut it at the top. Ferguson gave the best assessment of his side, “The first half, Liverpool dominated it. We were lucky.” Lucky enough to leave Anfield with a win and that’s all that matters.Tagged in: football, Liverpool, manchester united
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