Robin van Persie failed to find the back of the net against Liverpool
Follow Doron on Twitter
United’s hardest fixture of the domestic season came early, before autumn had even hit. Moyes was dealt a blow on Saturday as Rooney needed stitches to a facial injury sustained in training – he and Valencia were replaced by Young and Giggs. Liverpool were forced into one change from their last league game as Skrtel replaced the injured Toure. We welcome comments from both sets of fans.
United create their own problems
That Liverpool took the lead within four minutes was mightily frustrating. Not just because we’d conceded early but that it was a preventable goal, one that came off the back of a rare individual error rather than good football.
It can be argued that the corner was sloppily given away in the first place but the corner itself is a new phase of play and one that the majority of the time is successfully defended by teams. The vast majority of corners do not end with goals. Ferdinand is seldom beaten to headers and his marking is usually first rate but on this occasion he lost Agger – maybe being so early in the game he wasn’t quite focussed yet or something distracted him but in the end he wasn’t close to Agger and his header was flicked in cleverly by Sturridge who’d reacted far faster than Evra.
Going behind so early meant the pressure was on United to force the game into the Liverpool half but Carrick and Cleverley struggled to match up to Liverpool’s three of Henderson, Lucas and Gerrard. Two versus three is something United have come up against numerous times and that United still don’t have the right personnel to match up to a three is going to continue to make these situations hard. Gerrard in particular did a good job of screening Liverpool’s defence, cutting out any direct service to van Persie and as such Liverpool forced United to play the game in parts of the pitch that wouldn’t harm them. Sloppiness and individuals playing within themselves meant that for long spells Liverpool were comfy.
Liverpool impressively gritty
It’s fair to say that we’ve become accustomed to dross when we go to Anfield. Liverpool seem much more able to ‘get up for the game’ than we do and it’s no secret that we struggle against teams who play three in the middle. Having got the early goal, Liverpool were happy to sit deep and defend their lead rather than open themselves up in search of a second goal. Some may say it was unambitious but it won them the game.
Liverpool sit pretty at the top of the league with a perfect record so far after three consecutive 1-0 wins. Overall they’ve not played consistently good football but they’re showing good fight and some excellent tactical discipline that’s not been seen in a Liverpool side for a while. All of their midfielders knew their roles today and there were excellent defensive performances from the centre backs. I’m not sure anyone expects them to be fighting for the title come May but their start to the season has been efficient and quietly impressive.
Where was Kagawa?
Shinji Kagawa travelled to Anfield with the squad but didn’t make the bench. Post-match, Moyes was asked why and he suggested that there was one undecided place among the subs and he had to choose between Nani and Kagawa for it. Neither are fully match fit yet but with it being feasible that both wingers would need changing, have a second winger was a safe option. It may be worth asking why say Buttner was needed on the bench ahead of Kagawa but we’ll never know.
Leaving Kagawa out has coincided with three things: 1) Dortmund fans want him back; 2) United badly need some creativity; 3) Moyes told the media on Friday that Kagawa still isn’t quite ready in terms of his fitness yet. The third point appears to have been somewhat overlooked. Kagawa joined up with United in Japan during pre-season and was then given more time off. Fergie even said last year that the club were aware that Kagawa’s played a lot of football the last few years without much of a break and that he’d need a rest. Upon reuniting with the team in Manchester, Moyes made various references to Kagawa’s lack of fitness and then on Friday confirmed he’d been given another week off. Meanwhile, the club let him get a game with Japan to get some minutes under his belt – a sensible move as risking an unfit player isn’t something the club could afford to do (even if he’s made the bench lately) but his country could.
Kagawa will no doubt be in the side soon and United will benefit from his creativity, calmness and composure but that he’s not started any of the opening games has been blown way over the top without people actually assessing the situation. Getting the most out of Kagawa will be a challenge – as we saw last season, it’s not something Fergie managed to do as we’ve seldom played with someone in the role he flourishes in. He alone won’t solve United’s midfield problems though, the club head into deadline day desperately trying to bring in a couple of central midfielders to add guile, subtly, strength and a presence. As has been well covered, it’s frightening how long this has gone ignored but Moyes made a point of saying he wanted two central midfielders and hopefully we’ll eventually get them.
There seems to be a clamour to fit a United defeat to a pre-determined narrative. The response, particularly from our own fans is predictable and always over the top. There is a middle ground too, not every defeat is ‘the worst ever performance’ and sometimes you have to praise the opposition too. It’s worth reminding those who claim that it was “awful” that we’ve won at Anfield in more recent years playing worse than that.
Liverpool’s early goal ended up deciding the result but United weren’t without chances. Van Persie had early chances – an overhead kick and what seemed a tap-in at the back post; Welbeck had a couple of half chances and then in the second half Young saw a goal-bound effort blocked; Nani a fizzing drive saved; and van Persie couldn’t find the target after being played in by Hernandez. Not only did United create those opportunities but they restricted an admittedly defensive Liverpool to a few long range efforts.
There were other plus points too. There was some fight to United with four bookings and some ballsy tackles. Andre Marriner may have been inconsistent with his decisions and bookings but United tried to be physical. Tom Cleverley once again was one of the better players – fighting a hard midfield battle particularly as his partner, Carrick, had a rare off game. Valencia looked sharp and strong at right back when he replaced the injured Jones and although irrationally unpopular, Young put some excellent crosses in and provided nice balance to the left hand side of the team. On the other flank, Giggs’ position and role were confusing as he tended to drift in-field and it was a surprise he wasn’t subbed off earlier than 73 minutes.
United probably deserved a draw today and on reflection some may acknowledge that the performance wasn’t as bad as a defeat at Liverpool suggests. Moyes told the media that he was happy with the performance and gave some sound-bites about being able to see why we’re champions – nothing more than diversionary tactics one imagines. In general, defeats and draws have never been met with any kind of rational thoughts from United fans and this season more than any other the negativity and outright nonsensical moaning will be greater than before because there’s a new manager. The international break probably therefore comes at a good time – when Palace visit Old Trafford in two weeks the likes of Nani, Young, Hernandez and Kagawa will all be fitter whilst hopefully some midfield signings will be added.