It’s sad really that many will expect to be reading about non-footballing issues on a piece written about a football game. To be honest, the biggest disappointment post-match was that the Guardian have discontinued their chalkboards and therefore here ends analysis via that method. Anyway, United moved temporarily top after a generally comfortable win over Liverpool as Rooney scored a quick-fire double. Scholes came in for Ashley Young in the only change from the Chelsea game. Liverpool surprisingly left out Bellamy and Suarez came in to start for the first time after his ban.
Here we discuss the talking points of the game and invite Liverpool fans to join in the discussion below.
Scholes and Carrick roll back the years – aided by Giggs duel role
In a game where controlling the tempo in midfield was always going to be key, Carrick and Scholes combined perfectly to steer the game in United’s favour as they sought to capitalise on a misfiring Liverpool midfield, a centre without its usual bite and guile. The last two affairs between the sides have largely been drab encounters with little creativity from the centre, but Fergie’s decision to start Giggs alongside Scholes and Carrick worked wonders.
Nominally starting on the left, Giggs applied his duel role to near perfection today, coming inside to assist the once again telepathic Carrick and Scholes duo. When the latter pair weren’t dictating the game, exchanging passes, and generally stamping their authority on the game, they were chasing, harassing and intercepting the ball, aided by the Welshman who sat deep in order to match the Liverpool trio across the centre. (Gerrard found himself doing the work of three as Spearing and Henderson were anonymous – Adam and Bellamy were surely the better options here for Kenny.) It was roughly a year ago that United’s central pairing were due to start against Liverpool (away at Anfield) for the last time, yet here we were again – just weeks after another decent display from the duo at Anfield – being reminded of how important this axis has been to United’s success in the last 5-6 years.
Carrick famously took the shirt that belonged to Roy Keane, and Old Trafford struggled to warm to the lanky England International early on, particularly given his more cerebral approach to controlling the ‘middle of the park'; but when alongside Scholes, his confidence seems to beam, and only a few weeks ago Carrick jokingly pined for the 37 year-old’s return in an interview. On today’s performance, where taking the game to the opposition was more important than usual, we can see why. The metronomic passing from the centre was pivotal to the outcome, and though Giggs’ passing wasn’t as accurate as usual (see Rob’s ‘Pareto Principle’ here), his positional play and his ability from set-pieces caused Liverpool all sorts of problems.
Danny Welbeck – United’s all rounder
Danny Welbeck should now be considered the main partner for Wayne Rooney at Manchester United ahead of Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen. Welbeck was sensational against Liverpool on Saturday and his close control, power and movement demonstrated how much of an all round forward the 21 year old is. His hold up play, diagonal movement and strength helps Wayne Rooney and co play balls in behind the defence or indeed support United’s number 19 as he out muscles a centre half.
Welbeck gave Agger and Skrtel a torrid time all game, whether it was dropping deep, pressing high up when Liverpool had the ball or playing on the shoulder. The following highlights Welbeck dropping deep and having the skill and vision to pick out Rooney with a deft flick.
Scholes plays the ball into Welbeck who has dropped off Skrtel:
Welbeck’s flick is perfect and straight into the path of Rooney who then lays the ball off to Scholes, who movement is still top class:
Scholes lays a superb ball out to the left flank for Giggs, but Welbeck – not content with his excellent build up play – is already on his bike into the box anticipating a pass from Scholes:
In the second half, Giggs intercepts a pass to Glen Johnson and breaks down the left hand side. Welbeck has already picked up a great position in between the two centre halves, with Agger obviously concerned with Rooney‘s movement (The final ball from Giggs was poor and went out of play):
Lastly, this example highlights all his attributes as a forward. The ball starts on the left hand side (as United comfortably played the ball across the back line) with Evra playing a one two with Giggs. Evra then finds Scholes in acres of space, a massive error for Liverpool all afternoon. Notice Welbeck’s starting position is deeper than Wayne Rooney for once, however as soon as Scholes gets the ball – Welbeck has accelerated away:
Instead of Welbeck, Scholes plays a pinpoint pass to Giggs who has moved down the touch line. Notice that Johnson had pushed high up on Evra so he is now out of position. This means that Skrtel now needs to come across, leaving Welbeck free to receive a pass from Giggs:
Giggs plays the ball in behind, but Johnson reads what is happening and sprints back to intercept the through ball from Giggs as Welbeck closes him down. Johnson is the clear favourite to deal with this ball and should put it into touch:
For some reason, Johnson takes the ball into the corner flag and scuffs his clearance, due to the presence and strength of Welbeck. United’s number 19 then proceeds to dribble into the box and setup Giggs, who crosses low into the box, which is then cleared:
Danny Welbeck has become one of England’s brightest young forwards and should now be considered the main man to partner Wayne Rooney. This is an enormous compliment to pay to a player, considering the partnership Hernandez and Rooney struck up last season. Hernandez will definitely have a say, especially in games where the opposition play a high line – but for now, Welbeck is first choice. A class performance from the young man.
Rafael and Evans
It’s becoming a bit repetitive now but yet again, Rafael and Evans were supreme.
Rafael showed further maturity to his game defensively. He’s become strong and powerful when the ball is both in the air and on the ground. His timing and decision making with regards to jumping into tackles is now consistently good and he appears to have been watching Evra closely – he jumps early enough now to ensure he can win most headers (as seen by impressive leaps vs. Carroll). His performance wasn’t flawless, there were signs of rustiness at times and he appeared a little more reserved going forwards but there’s little doubt that he should now be set for a long run at right back.
Evans has not only silenced any doubters but is now getting praise from many quarters. Match Of The Day even dedicated a segment of their ‘analysis’ to his performance against Liverpool. He was supreme, winning header after header and showing incredibly mature defending – not committing too often but reading the game perfectly. Alan Shearer was spot on in highlighting his composure as a top asset. On the ball Jonny was excellent, using it wisely and having the confidence to run it out of defence, often after a top piece of control. Not that Jonny is a “confidence player” but right now he’s clearly buzzing.
Did Kenny get his selection wrong?
Not a lot to say about this but Kenny potentially made a couple of errors. Bellamy, despite playing a lot recently, was a shoe-in to play. His running and pest-like annoyances would have been perfect against United. Suarez was lively early one but despite scoring appeared quite emotionally involved in the game and maybe Carroll would have been a better option, testing United and De Gea in particular aerially. Downing’s form didn’t really deserve a start and Spearing was all over the place. Leaving out Maxi and Adam were mistakes and an attempt at over-complicating a system that’s worked well recently.
Evra and Suarez
Sadly, it would be wrong to overlook the fracas that went on between Evra and Suarez. The tone was set early on when Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand and it seemed to continue throughout the game. Suarez, as mentioned, was emotionally involved in the game – complaining as many decisions didn’t go his way and he foolishly kicked the ball away at half time leading to a scuffle at half time.
Post-match Evra was entitled to celebrate in front of the home fans but should have been more tactful in terms of crossing Suarez’s path (probably purposely) to reach the Stretford End.
Since the game various apologies and statements have been issued yet there is still a lingering discomfort with the situation, best summed up by Ian Ladyman in the Daily Mail.
Another controlling but entertaining United performance ended with the right result as they outclassed Liverpool all over the pitch (and off it). Two second half goals from Rooney were enough to clinch the win despite a late goal from Suarez. Carrick and Scholes controlled proceedings whilst Welbeck’s work-rate and energy constantly had Liverpool on the back foot. Valencia was nigh on unstoppable at times and really, Rooney should have scored three or four.
United travel to Holland now to face Ajax in the first leg of their Europa League tie on Thursday. With no weekend fixture, expect a strong team to play and potentially minutes for the likes of Cleverley and Fabio.