Talking Points: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United (FA Cup)

Authors: Doron and Nik

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United travelled west to Liverpool for a 4th round FA Cup game at rivals Liverpool. With injuries yet again hitting the side hard, they lined up in a 4-5-1 without key creative players Rooney or Nani. Rafael returned at right back whilst Carrick was joined in the middle by the oldies, Giggs and Scholes. Welbeck was asked to lead the line and at the back, De Gea was brought in at a ground he did well at last time out. Liverpool matched United’s formation with Carroll leading their attack and Carragher sitting in front of the back four.

Below, we discuss the talking points and invite Liverpool fans as well as United fans to join in the discussion.

Carroll and Welbeck isolated

For the most part, Carroll’s selection ahead of Bellamy seemed a strange one. He was isolated, and was only found once from a cross from wide, with Downing playing as an inverted winger on the right hand side. United dealt with his threat superbly, until of course the last minute. Smalling adopted his usual tactic of following the centre forward ‘out’. He kept in close vicinity to Carroll, pressed the space and tried to keep his back to goal. Evans, when called upon, often won the aerial duel with the big Englishman; his height often betrays his aerial ability and has the anticipation and agility required for these types of battles. The Kuyt winner was strange in that it was the first time in the match that Evans lost the duel with Carroll, but given the poor communication between the back four at that point, Carroll was given far too much space to manoeuvre. Perhaps a symptom of poor concentration late on in a frantic game, the defending was of the proverbial ‘schoolboy’ sort. Smalling starts too far right, Evans is pulled towards Carroll, and Evra makes the covering run just a fraction of second too late. De Gea may well have narrowed the angle to a greater extent too for Kuyt’s shot.

For United, it was a frustrating afternoon given their superior possession. Rooney’s industry was hugely missed, and thus the gap between Welbeck and the midfield was far too large, despite Giggs and Park doing their best to link the play. Giggs’ swap with Park on 30 mins seemed to have the desired effect of United keeping width on the left with an already congested middle, and Park able to work in between the lines and get closer to Welbeck. But despite the wonderfully taken goal (and a fantastic assist from Rafael who was superb throughout), the team didn’t create enough in the final third. Valencia was kept reasonably quiet, especially in the second half, especially given Jose Enrique’s instruction to stay deep; and with a similar scenario on the opposite side of the field, where Evra was sitting in and keeping the defensive shape, United’s usual threat from wide areas remained negligible. If just one of Young or Nani had been available, they would surely have been called upon relatively early from the bench.

Carragher struggles, Scholes dictates

Carragher struggled with pace of the game and was second best to every ball. Selected in the ‘Lucas position’ to presumably counter the (pre-empted) deep lying Rooney, the Liverpudlian was finding it hard to track Giggs’ runs from deep and Scholes’ clever movement. Liverpool’s fluid midfield didn’t help however, with Gerrard pushing on and Henderson interchanging positions with Maxi. When attacks broke down, United found it far too easy to spot the gaps on the counter. Carragher looked flustered on the ball, and lacking the energy to play in such a vital position.

Scholes sought to capitalise, and conducted proceedings with aplomb – 97% pass completion in first half, completing 75 (nearly 3 times as many as Gerrard). And he wasn’t just stationed near the centre either, Scholes and Carrick both took turns in getting forward to support the attack. When Scholes was found in deep positions, his tackling and intercepting was good too. United’s midfield controlled possession and took the game to Liverpool once they had gone one goal down. But it is what you do with the possession once you have it, and Welbeck’s isolation, and Valencia’s diminishing influence in the game proved too much for the Manchester side, as both sides seemed to be settling for a draw and a replay at Old Trafford.

Dalglish’s subs make impact

Dalglish must take credit for turning the game in their favour, roughly around the hour-mark. On 62 mins Kuyt replaced the hapless Carragher, and Adam came on for Maxi. This allowed Kuyt to drift in from the right to support the previously isolated Carroll as Liverpool pretty much maintained the 4-3-3 shape. Then on 72 mins, Bellamy came on for Gerrard, and the set up was basically a 4-4-2, with Downing going left and Carroll working more closely with another centre forward. United had coped well until this point, always having an extra man, and both fullbacks remaining largely un-ambitious. But now they had two extra problems: Bellamy moving horizontally across the field and Kuyt playing a slightly more central right midfield position. Liverpool’s backline moved forward (with United’s concomitantly retreating) and they took a greater control of the midfield, with Adam getting on the ball. That said, Ferguson didn’t help matters in replacing Schloles. United lost the momentum, and Carrick, who didn’t have his best game, was left stranded in the centre.

De Gea

When you find that you’re having to regularly defend a player, regardless of what you think, there’s probably a problem. De Gea was on the end of a lot of harsh criticism yesterday – a game where he had little to do and actually was relatively assured on most crosses. Agger’s goal though was the perfect example of David getting nowhere near where he should have been. He seemed pre-occupied with Andy Carroll rather than the ball and ended up neither going to claim the corner nor staying on his line.

The real crime in that goal though was that Agger was easily able to head the ball towards the goal anyway. For all the blue United shirts around him, none of them jumped to challenger his header and the only player whose feet did leave the ground was Agger. An avoidable goal both from the defenders and De Gea.

Oddly the goal that worried me a bit was the Kuyt’s winner. De Gea seems to have a strange habit of going down to make a save with his feet in front of him. It not only means he doesn’t spread himself as wide as possible but it’s not a very flexible position to be in if he has to get up quickly and certainly doesn’t look like a balanced pose. There is a time to use that kind of save and it’s normally when coming off your line to make yourself appear ‘big’, as perfected by Peter Schmeichel. When rooted to your line though, it doesn’t seem to really do much – it’s not as if Kuyt found the corner of the net, it was a savable shot.

League focus

Defeats are never good but this will allow United to focus on the league. Ferguson has already said that if he has a big enough pool of available players then he’ll rotate the team for the upcoming games against Ajax. With so many players out injured, fewer games is probably a good thing. On the subject of injuries, it looks like Young, Anderson and Cleverley are both close to returns whilst Ferdinand, Rooney and Nani’s injuries appear to be less serious than initially feared. Players are slowly returning and lord knows United are due some luck in that department.


United’s FA Cup campaign is over after something of a dull affair at Anfield. Despite dominating and controlling the game, United (and Liverpool) had few ideas in the final third of the pitch.

Liverpool took the lead through Daniel Agger’s unchallenged header from a corner. Fingers were pointed in De Gea’s direction as he failed to decide whether to come or stay for the ball but the United defenders were equally as culpable for not challenging Agger. United could have actually taken the lead – a surging run in-field by Valencia ended with a powerful dipping shot hitting the post with Reina beaten.

United did go in level at half time, Rafael won the ball inside the Liverpool half and cut the ball back perfectly for Park to clinically fire the ball past Reina. Through Scholes, United had controlled long spells of the game with Gerrard in particular playing a very peripheral role. After an hour, Dalglish brought on Kuyt and Adam and Liverpool started to see more possession.

The winning goal came late on in the tie – a long ball was headed on by Carroll and fell kindly into the path of Kuyt who’d been left totally free by Evra. Kuyt took the ball into the area unchallenged and fired past De Gea. The goal came too late for United to respond and Liverpool face Brighton next in the cup. Stoke are the visitors to Old Trafford on Tuesday as attention shifts back to the league and the title race again.

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13 Comments on Talking Points: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United (FA Cup)

  1. I agree with your comment on Rafael. He has been great since returning, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. That said, I’m troubled by the Smalling Evans partnership. I do believe Evans comes in for too much unfair criticism, and he has been much better this year. Smalling is a revelation. Even with the slip against Arsenal, he owned the defensive third, and was as imperious in the air as Vida can be. My problem is that when Smalling and Evans play together, we can be vulnerable in the air defensivelyagainat bigger teams. We need a partner for Smalling with the size and strength if a Vidic. Without that size and strength, we can be bullied. We aren’t the most physically imposing team, and need a little steel to dominate the league.
    I hope Phil Jones can be that player, but need to be convinced. Neven Subotic might fit the mold. And there is a young German (whose name escapes me) that looks good too.

  2. Good read, I’m glad I stumbled across it.
    Opinion is divided on whether it was a deliberate rope a dope trick by Kenny.
    I’m not convinced, but agree the subs changed the game.
    Rafael was very impressive for you, and with Valencia it’s a potent flank.

  3. Your lot did look a bit more composed on the ball but I do believe you were well dealt with on the whole by the liverpool game plan. Kelly for Liverpool impressed. Giggs was kept quiet by and large and that really helped to stifle your supply. Enrique gave the first goal to you – clinically taken.
    Biggest puzzle was selecting Carrol. I would have started with Kuyt and Bellamy… I guess the Man City game left a bit of a hangover, maybe accounting for a rather subdued Gerrard.

  4. It seemed to me that SAF out-managed himself – why didn’t he instruct TheLads to keep feeding the ball to the right where Antonio Valencia and Rafael Da Silva were always dangerous. Instead, the ball was continually played to the left and there was no joy there (for whatever reason although Ryan Giggs had one of his less impressive matches and Patrice Evra needs a “foil” to best exploit his boundless (errr, “almost boundless”) energy.

    When Chicharito came on, he led the line and DannyTheLad went out wide-left but nothing came of that change.

    Michael Carrick NEVER plays well when partnered with Paul Scholes; Carrick is just too deferential to TheGingerNinja. In days-gone-by, this deference was understandable but nowadays, Scholes’ legs are gone, even if his control and imagination are still in proper-working-order. I watched Scholes closely and he really didn’t run very much; he largely kept himself to the area that Carrick usually patrols – in front of the back four – with the result that UTD’s central defensive zone was solid and compact in open play, at the expense of much attacking impetus.

    David De Gea was “flappy” throughout the match; his confidence seems under-whelming and that isn’t a good thing. He needs to bulk up, too. There has been lots of discussion about his “mistake” on the first goal – and justifiably so – but why was Daniel Agger so free ? Why was MIchael Carrick flat-footed ? Why were Evans and BigManSmalling unable to clear Carroll and Skrtel out of the way to give De Gea a chance to get to that cross ? The commentators seem to place the “blame” for that first goal at De Gea’s door but, really, it was a team-mistake – same thing goes for their second goal, which is well-described in the article.

    Overall, though – in a year-of-the-injuries and a time of transition – I’m rather more impressed with the ability of this team to have been able to stay close to ManShitty in the EPL. What worries me most is that SAF’s planned “replacements” – Pogba and Morrison – seem to be either over-hyped or under-whelming; whatever the truth of that may be, persisting with Giggs and Scholes and Park is NOT the way forward.

  5. I had a bad feeling going into this match with Rooney and Nani likely to be missing but despite losing I was surprised about the flow of the match. I really did expect Liverpool to get into us but for the most part it didn’t really happen.

    I thought Carroll did reasonably well, Wellbeck struggled for the most due to being too isolated and not astute enough to hold the ball up better.

    I don’t personally think taking Scholes off was the problem or what changed the game for us. Yes, he was very impressive but it was more a case of the fact it was Hernandez who came on for Scholes rather than Berba. Hernandez tendency to play right at the top, off the shoulder isolated the midfield from the attack even further. Had maybe Berba come on in a deeper position we may well have retained possession better, the fact was towards the end Liverpool were having too much possession and while it wasn’t the reason why they scored, it certainly effected our ability to score or kill the game.

    Agreed that De Gea was more culpable for the second goal then the former. He needed better support from his defenders for the first and he seems to be coming easy prey for those who want to criticism. I also did consider it strange he was recalled for this game, not due to his ability but more his confidence and just thought it would have sensible to bring back in a lower profile game to build him up again.

  6. fergie’s finished. he should read more books about tacticts or something or maybe he just like redknapp fucking barely literate:D, anyway we were again terrible, couldn’t beat very poor lpool side – no creativity whatsoever, defence and keeper you can’t trust. as english say fucking bolloks:)

  7. Generally agree with the article, but not sure about your comments on Carragher. Clearly as a defender he isn’t as comfortable in midfield, but Liverpool’s game plan only required that he occupy the space in front of Wellbeck, and he did that well to the effect that Danny was isolated.

    Dalglish changed it for the last 15-20 minutes with Liverpool coming out of their shell at that point. It worked for them, but could only do so because they were still in the game. Sir Alex has said he doesn’t know how we lost, but it’s pretty clear to me, we lost because we didn’t create enough chances despite having the lion’s share of the possession.

    Question marks remain about our ability to break down massed defences with one central player up front, whether we play 4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1.

  8. @ minimal: Fergie, manager of the team second in the league by three points, is finished because he lost a cup game he likely isn’t much worried about? Righto.

    As for De Gea, I don’t think being left out of the team for Lindegaard on a few occasions has done him much good as at the point when he was dropped/rested more often was when he was starting to look pretty solid.

  9. of course it’s not because only this game – he brought glazers here, after selling ronaldo we are very average, fergie don’t adresses our weaknesses about which everybody talks, he’s became aparody of himself fucking old man time to retire and give this job of rebuilding united to somebody else because fergie looks like he doesn’t care, and by the way if you forgot we crashed out of all competitions this year especialy champions league (total disgrace exit and fergie was clueless why), anyway he’s became deluded ,and it’s time for him to go. we are stagnated for good 3 years now(after ronaldo departure).and yes fergies handling of berbatov is disgrace too. why he let in completely out of form chicharito instead of berbatov?! he’s just fucking crazy

  10. “We dominated the game, controlled much of it and even had the Anfield camp admitting we were the better team. Although I certainly want to see improved defending because we rather handed Liverpool their two goals on a plate. But overall we played some delightful stuff and producing to that standard on another day would normally see you coming up with a win.” – fergies words for example – total delusion, yes we dominated possesion but created nothing and in second half not even come close to goal with all that possesion. i wonder maybe fergie thinks united fans are stupid

  11. got to say i agree with most of the article but i cant believe no one has picked up the fact that both carrol and kyut were both offside from rienas goal kick so liverpool were lucky to get away with a win.

  12. @nameonthetrophy – my bad just looked it up and you can’t be offside from a goalkick i didn’t know this so i hold my hands up there and take it back.

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