Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United Talking points

United deflated

AUTHOR: – Doron

The chance to open up a 6 point lead over Arsenal was squandered as United fell to back-to-back defeats for the first time in nearly two years. Liverpool powered to a 3-1 win and below we’ll try to discuss the main talking points.

Talking Points

4-4-2 over 4-5-1?

It came as a huge surprise to me when I saw the team lining up in a 4-4-2 formation. Despite incorrectly predicting the personnel in our match preview I still expected a 4-5-1 system to be used with Giggs inside and Rooney wide left. The beauty of such a system was that it allows for a change to a 4-4-2 without the need for any substitutions – Giggs wide left and Rooney rotates round to be a striker.

The next surprise was to see a flat back four from Liverpool in a change from their usual formation Kenny Dalglish has adopted. Liverpool lined up with Meireles on the right and Maxi on the left, both as narrow wingers. In the middle, Gerrard sat deep with Lucas just ahead of him. Kuyt and Suarez rotated their movement; whilst one held high, the other would go deep to complete a three man central midfield for Liverpool:

Click on images to enlarge

Heatmaps for Suarez and Kuyt

As shown above, Suarez spent 46% off his time when passing the ball away from the final third of the pitch, and Kuyt 48%. By dropping deep, especially in defence it meant that United were overrun in the middle:

Liverpool’s 3 men in the middle vs United’s 2 men

As shown (above) it left Carrick and Scholes to play against three central plays and two wingers coming narrow, hence both Scholes and Carrick were isolated and as we’d come to discover, both would have poor games. As the game went on it became clear that United were struggling. Liverpool continuously had a man spare – usually the runner, someone coming from deep and arriving into the penalty area. So obvious was this early on that it lead to the commentator on Sky saying after only 13 minutes, “this game is already looking stretched” – quite simply there was too much space for Liverpool around the United midfield.

As soon as Liverpool scored their two quick-fire goals – which despite United enjoy periods of possession – had been looking more likely than any United goal, United had to stick with their 4-4-2 as it is generally the more attacking of the two formations we tend to deploy.

Personally, and no one has to agree if they don’t want to, but I feel United started too boldly with a 4-4-2. I’d have preferred caution and sense with a 4-5-1 with the option to revert to the more attacking formation should it be needed. It’s not often that Ferguson gets the tactics wrong, and on the rare occasions he does, he usually makes the correct changes to fix it (Blackpool away is a great example). However, today I think he is as responsible as any of the players in slipping below the standard required. After all, we laud the great man when we win so he too is as accountable when we lose, and certainly isn’t excused from any criticism.

United unable to get the ball back or forward

For all the possession United had today (562 attempted passes with a success rate of 79% compared to Liverpool’s 421 passes at a success rate of 70%) United created very little and used the ball ineffectively. One can argue the point that the tactics restricted the play – with an outnumbered midfield it meant as hard as it was to defend against Liverpool, it was even harder to break them down. United lacked options as players were quickly closed down however this doesn’t excuse the poor individual performances and the fact United seemed unable to conjure up anything for the majority of the game that threatened Liverpool:

Nani and Giggs passing

Carrick and Scholes passing

Whilst the two chalkboards above both show how United actually kept the ball well (blue = successful passes), they emphasise how hard it was for our midfield four to play a successful ball into the box. Only 8 times throughout the match did United successfully pass the ball into the Liverpool penalty area (the diagrams show 6 but Rooney played 2 successful balls into the penalty area in the second half when he went to the left wing). By contrast, Liverpool managed this on 15 occasions. As if Liverpool needed help in the box, United assisted two of their goals anyway!

On the three occasions, United nearly did score (before Chicharito’s late goal) the delivery into the box was only good from set pieces. Berbatov hit the post with a moment of inspiration – a long range shot with the outside of his boot; Brown had a half-header deflected and cleared off the line whilst the best chance fell to Berbatov who had a header following a flick-on cleared off the line.

Liverpool successfully nullified the threat that United pose and rely on this season – wing play. Only four successful crosses were completed out of 22. It begs the question, do United rely on wingers too much? Wing play has always been associated with the club but this season there appears to be a lot of reliance on our wide players for attacking inspiration. I don’t have a problem with this and think it’s an easy excuse to make when on one of the rare occasions this season our wingers failed to “gee-up” the team but I do believe it’s a point well worthy of discussion.

United’s unsuccessful (18) and successful crosses (4)

United’s inability to get the ball forward effectively was not helped by an inability to get the ball back. Across the midfield there were failed tackles with 11 attempted and only 2 won:

The only two successful midfield tackles (in blue)

Once again it is possible to point at the tactics and suggest they didn’t help in this instance. United’s midfielders were outnumbered and the spare man meant it was hard to get a tackle in for fear of leaving someone free. As it was, United often committed themselves and allowed a free runner to get in behind the midfield.

The only positives

In a game where 3 goals were conceded it may seem strange to suggest that the centre backs did well. Missing Vidic, Ferdinand and Evans, the pairing of Brown and Smalling would have appeared susceptible. The pair had never started a game together at centre back and were not helped today. Rafael, for all his promise shown this season, looked like a player who hadn’t featured recently, whilst Evra, captain on the day looked unfit and unable to run easily all game. Pressure was therefore on Brown and Smalling to keep Liverpool at bay.

Both centre backs could have done better for the first Liverpool goal however other than that I felt they did well enough. Neither could have predicted Nani inexplicable header towards his own goal that set up Liverpool’s second goal and although Smalling played Kuyt onside for the third goal, Edwin should have parried the ball round the post rather than at the feet of Kuyt to smash the ball in.

Smalling once again looked an assured presence on the ball and alongside Brown, the pair won lots of key tackles:

Smalling and Brown tackles

The pair were kept busy all afternoon and the next chalkboard merely emphasises that (unsuccessful clearances count for very little so don’t read too much into all the red dots):

Smalling and Brown clearances

In the initial aftermath of the game, it seems like there were very few positives to take but I felt our centre backs did well given the lack of support they had from under-performing team-mates around them.

Bad tackles

Just before half-time the game took a nasty twist. A late, bad, rash and reckless foul on Nani by Carragher infuriated United players. Nani was able to get up, grab the referee to point out the damage before rolling on the floor again and crying. An explanation as to how Nani was able to get up in the first place is simple – adrenaline. Only once the pain hit him did he fall back down again, the initial shock of the tackle was yet to hit him.

The challenge by Carragher was truly awful. Phil Dowd got it wrong by not sending him off, that’s straightforward and clear-cut. It seems lucky that the injury to Nani is only a deep gash yet he was unable to take part in any more of the game.

Here’s the tackle in case you missed it:

A couple of images of the wound have been put online too, the first was uploaded by The Sun (although one has to question if it’s been doctored – what is the white in the wound?):

The second was uploaded by Craig Norwood and is more graphic but clearly the same wound (see the rip at the top of the wound going to the right in both pictures):

The sudden anger that entered into the game lead to another poor challenge just a minute later. This time, Rafael launched into a tackle on Lucas. Rafael got yellow carded by referee Dowd but Maxi escaped caution having fouled Rafael badly in the build-up. Arguably both players were lucky to escape red cards.

You can make your own mind up by re-watching that incident here:

Match Conclusion

A trip to Anfield offered the perfect opportunity to complete a hat-trick of wins this season over arch rivals Liverpool. In the league, three points would have opened a six point gap over Arsenal. However, Liverpool started the game strongly with Luis Suarez looked dangerous. The first close effort of the afternoon came from Berbatov though – 25 yards out he hit a dipping shot with the outside of his boot that had Reina beaten but just clipped the post. Liverpool started to prod more and only solid defending stopped them getting a real sighting of goal.

It was United again though who came close to scoring. A Wes Brown header took a deflection and had to be cleared off the line by Liverpool. The breakthrough came on 34 minutes, Suarez’s feet were took quick for Rafael, Carrick and Brown, his shot was saved by van der Sar but Kuyt following up beat Smalling to the ball to tap in from a yard. Only two minutes later the lead was doubled. A Suarez cross was inexplicably headed the wrong way by Nani and Kuyt was able to nod home unchallenged from yards out. The half ended with Nani off injured after a shocking tackle by Carragher who was only shown a yellow card. As tempers flared two more poor tackles followed, Maxi on Rafael and Rafael on Lucas – both offenders were lucky to stay on the pitch but only Rafael was booked.

United started the second half with purpose and had another header cleared off the line, this time it came off Berbatov’s head. Van der Sar did well to save an effort from Meireles who was clean through on goal however the veteran keeper was at fault for Liverpool’s third goal. Suarez’s free kick was parried into the path of the onside Kuyt to tap home for a hat-trick. Edwin will be disappointed not to have turned the ball away from goal and behind for a corner as the free kick wasn’t particularly powerful. United did finally score, Chicharito headed home well from a Giggs cross deep in injury time for his 10th league goal from only 14 shots on target. A terrible afternoon was compounded by the club refusing to speak to any media sources including MUTV and banning the players from doing so too.

Aside from the game, Park and Valencia did travel with the playing squad to Anfield, suggesting they are both now close to returns. With Nani injured they may be needed soon as United will look to avoid three defeats in a row when they take on Arsenal at Old Trafford in the FA Cup on Saturday 12th March.

AUTHOR: – Doron

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37 Comments on Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United Talking points

  1. Personally I thought Rafael and Carragher should both have gone. Stupid, dangerous tackles. Rafael’s looked better solely because whoever it was he was tackling made a full-body dive to get over him. If he hadn’t and Rafael had been allowed to connect it could have been pretty bad.

    As for the tactics, I really don’t understand the reasoning behind going for a 4-4-2, and I think it was a result of Ferguson’s indecision. Rooney is still not in great form BUT has scored goals in two very important matches recently and he didn’t want to bench Berbatov again. So rather than bite the bullet and drop one he rolled the dice and it came up badly.

    What was the reasoning behind Fletcher not playing? Because as one of our big game players not being fully fit is the only excuse for him not getting the nod ahead of Carrick, who simply wasn’t strong enough when doing his part to try and stop Suarez’s run. I felt he was in the best position to make a tackle without risking a foul too much and he shied off it.

    Overall I can live with the result in as much as Liverpool were the better team by a reasonable margin, but we had chances we should have taken and all three of Liverpool’s goals were completely preventable.

  2. @Ian

    Hi Ian

    What are your thoughts on the foul by Maxi just before Rafael’s tackle? I thought that too was a red.

    4-4-2 was so bizarre, I said in the preview that a 4-5-1 with Rooney left made more sense.

    Fletcher was apparently ill during the week according to one of the club’s in-house journalists.

  3. Haha.. Lets be honest, that second picture is a joke of a picture.. Since when was Nani white? :S

    Maxi didn’t deserve a red at all…

  4. Both tackles could have been reds, but I actually think the ref dealt with both situations pretty well (other than the colour of the cards). Alot of Refs want to be the centre of attention but it was quite clear emotions were high and Dowd knew both sets of players were acting like kids. In regards to Man Utds tactics, as a Liverpool supporter I was delighted to see Fletcher on the bench. He’s a big game player and he breaks up play. Scholes and Carrick were too static making it easy for our runners from midfield.

  5. Came across this on blog on the Liverpool section of newsnow and have to say it’s nice to see and such a quality, intelligent post thats interesting to all football fans with great analysis and a lack of moronic comments (that comes from both our sets of fans). Respect to your website.

  6. I would just like to commend your honest, analytical approach to an article about losing to Liverpool. I am an LFC fan, and having seen some of the comments and articles on various online media post final whistle today, found yours to be as good a read as any of the national journos.


  7. I dont think Maxi should have gone, but Rafael was over the top. Carragher’s was just mental.

    Dowd has recent history of losing the plot during the game. I think he lets too many bad tackles go ( like Barton’s challenge on Diaby ) because he thinks they are ok.

    Somebody needs to educate him on good tackles versus bad. I wouldnt be surprised if he was the ref who oversees the next serious injury in EPL.

  8. Liverpool fan in peace. Great article, enjoyed reading it. How Carragher didnt get a red is beyond me. It really was a terrible tackle. The way Nani reacted reminded me of when my mum ran over a cat when I was a child. The cat bounced like a kangaroo to the pavement and dropped dead. Sounds mildly amusing but it was quite horrible. I said after the cup game that Gerrards tackle wasnt a red and I stand by that, the tackles by Carragher, Rafael and Maxi today were all worse than Gerrards in the cup game, it was Carrick rolling around like he had been shot and the reaction of the United players that got Gerrard the red but as they say, these things even themselves out and today did just that.

    This is the worst United side for 20 years. That isnt a dig, its a fact and also a compliment. Your worst side in 20 years is top of the table. It shows just how good United have been over those 2 decades. I think you will win it this season, due mainly to a lack of any decent competition but to win it next year, there will have to be a couple of major signings in midfield.

    Just my opinions and ones that you probably dont want, but I thought I would share them anyway!

  9. What a refreshingly honest, well-informed and articulate article, compared to the peurile drivel on Republik of Mancunia and some LFC websites. I could hardly believe that his ferginess thought he could steamroller LFC with attacking football,you have to have the ball to play and kenny got his tactics just right, always players running beyond the ball. Strange that old Roy thought Rafa’s squad was rubbish and was settling for mid-table, defensive mediocrity! N

  10. @Lee

    Thanks for your comments, all are welcomed on here so even if you disagree with anything written feel free to air your opinion. As it is, appreciate your comments 🙂

  11. @Red Chegs

    Thanks mate, we just try to blog about what we see; if United don’t deserve to win then so be it. Our talking points pieces hopefully analyse where United have gone wrong and where a game is won and lost – obviously being a United blog the focus is on our team; there were lots of positives to be said about the way Liverpool played but I don’t think most of our readers would have appreciated that!! Thanks again though

  12. @nev the red

    Good name for a Liverpool fan 😉 – thanks for your positive comments. I agree that our formation was way too bold – I was shocked to see us go 4-4-2 and in my match preview had said that it was a nailed on 4-5-1 from our point of view. Still, tactical battle won by Kenny and a deserved win for Liverpool

  13. both tackles were deserving of a red card. Nani however has bought embarrassment on the club and himself. You are a PROFESSIONAL, highly paid athlete!!! Why was he not wearing shin pads in the first place surely he can afford the best ones money can buy? But his antics were horrible and maybe the tears were held back from what can only be described as an own goal from him (LFC’s 2nd goal) and his 10 year old (female) emotions caught up to him at the tackle. I have no doubt that those photos above are photoshopped. NANI…..GROW UP MATE!!!!

  14. I do not agree with your assessment of Ferguson the side were out gunned.
    They defended poorly lacked creativity and were over run the fact is Liverpool were more desperate.

  15. @Graeme

    If you rewatch it, you’ll see he is wearing shin pads as it’s illegal I believe for a player not to be. A lot of players today wear very small slip-in pads that arent secured to the leg or ankle, they slip into a pouch in like an under-garment type thing. I bought a pair myself thinking they were “cool” but immediately found them to be useless and they slip out easily. They really should be illegal those types of shin pads. AS for the photos; perfectly legit; the first one from The Sun you can see on Getty images if you like and the second is a screenshot taken from Setanta Ireland

  16. @rodney

    Do you not think that if United started with 3 men in the middle then Liverpool wouldn’t have “out gunned” United so much? That’s the area United were so overrun.

  17. Yes they would have been outgunned because the2 midfielders lacked run and anticipation 3 would have probably allowed the same result.
    Look at the defending and finishing it was not up to it on the day so what difference would 3 in the middle make.

  18. We had a man down in midfield anyway, throw in the fact that Suarez and Kuyt were both dropping deep at times too and you can see why we were swamped at some stages. It probably would have suited us better, in some ways, if Carroll had been fit enough to start.

  19. It is all very well asking the question about the formation, but with Fletcher ill and unable to start would a 3 man midfield of Carrick, Scholes & Gibson have been anymore beneficial? We would have been just as static. You could point at the Carragher incident & suggest if he goes do the Rafael/Maxi incidents happen knowing the ref’s stance? At 2-0 but with 10 men I still see us getting back into it but the Ref did not make the ‘big call’again.
    All the title challengers have had a bad spell it’s just down to how quickly we can recover, we now have a good break in the league to get Rio, Vidic & Valencia back on the pitch so that should tighten up the back line and add a different attacking dimension to our game.

  20. @3times

    In the preview I suggest playing Giggs in the middle with Rooney wide left. Beauty of that would be if we needed to go 4-4-2 we could do so easily just by moving Giggs wide and moving Rooney up top without the need for subs.

    It’s all in hindsight but if we had 3 bodies in the middle there suddenly wouldn’t be so much space behind and in front of our midfield.

  21. @ nameonthetrophy
    I understand where your coming from and the lineup did lend itself to do this but SAF never changed it to combat their dominance in midfield. Maybe he felt with what was available our strength was with the forwards he wanted to get the most out of Berbatov, Rooney & Nani, Berbatov is totally ineffective in 433/451 & we don’t know which Wayne is going to turn up, he has also looked pretty poor when playing from the left.
    It’s been a bad week but there is still some gas in the tank.
    In honesty they played well, yes we were lacking in the midfield area but when you point to the players in those positions that are out: Anderson, Hargreaves & Fletcher at least 1 if not 2 of those would have played yesterday if fit. I also think Park might have started with Rooney up on his own if available.

  22. On a another note to bolster that midfield, I read somewhere Fabio used to play as a holding midfielder. Can anyone confirm, he would certainly give us mobility and can use the ball well, any thoughts?

  23. I think what just showed yesterday was the fact that we had all of our big game hard working players out and LFC had almost everybody fit in midfield. Just change that midfield to Fletcher, Carrick/Scholes/Anderson, Park, Valencia on the right and nani on the left and play Rooney up top alone and we would have battered LFC like anything. We had Vidic, Rio, Park, Valencia, Anderson, Fletcher (ill) all out. All these are United’s big game hardworking players, which then allow players like Carrick, Rooney, Nani to play but we simply did not have the legs.

    Its injuries that are badly affecting us. I am actually surprised that we have managed to go top with Valencia out, Park out for 10+ games, Anderson being in and out and the constant injuries to Rio.

    People must remember how well we worked against Arsenal at home and completely strangled them when we had Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher, Park all fit.

  24. Agree with you Sahil
    Interms of the title race we should get a decent compliment of players back by the time we face Bolton, so let the Scousers,Citeh(as they will have enjoyed this week) & the cockneys have their day.
    Arsenal are the only realistic challengers and they have some tough away fixtures notably Spurs & Stoke.

  25. @ 3times: I could actually imagine either of the da Silvas as a makeshift central midfielder in the ball-hunter mould. I don’t know that I’d trust them to sit their and soak up pressure but supported by a couple of other in a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 I can see them just being given the job of tearing around pressuring whoever’s in posession, as they’ve both got the technique and physical ability to then run forward with the ball and keep it moving.

  26. @3times

    In the reserves it’s been common to see Fabio play as a CM in a 3 man midfield. He’s never really played a holding midfielder, it’s just not his style. Very box to box; likes to get forward and has done well. Problem of course is that doing that in the reserves is nothing like doing that in the first team!

  27. horrible game to watch im not about to delve in to anything that has already been hashed to death but can someone clue me in to why most united fans were wearing black? Was it just to stand out amongst the Anfield support?

  28. Another poor performance by united, need to get rid of a few players and bring some world class one’s in.

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