Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford to get a firm grip on the second spot in the Premier League. A brace from Marcus Rashford gave the home side a cushioning lead before half-time. Liverpool did try to come back in the second half with help from Eric Bailly, but United defended well in later stages to close down the space and the game. We will analyse the games tactically and talk about the game-changing moments in an analytical way.
The game began with Manchester United not sitting very deep as anticipated by many. They of course when Liverpool had possession but ready to attack via route one football whenever David de Gea got the pass. The keeper had one thing in mind to nullify Liverpool’s potent strength of high-press and play it long towards Romelu Lukaku. To be honest, Liverpool were quite slow in possession with almost all of the front three very well marshaled by United’s defence and midfield.
The above image depicts the situation around the first goal. De Gea didn’t even bother to play to either of the centre-backs and just lumped it towards Lukaku. The striker then physically won the aerial battle against Dejan Lovren. Now, the right back Trent Alexander Arnold was caught cold with Rashford making an out-to-in run behind him. Van Dijk got drawn by a possible run by Alexis Sanchez. So, as a result there was a huge space left behind and Rashford made no mistake in tucking that inside far post after swiveling inside. It can be said that the initial challenge should have been won by Lovren but Arnold’s non-movement towards protecting the space left by the Croatian was equally calamitous. Clearly a lack of communication or understanding.
Now, there was that first mistake efficiently pounced upon by United. But, Liverpool’s defence were not done then. Again, a similar long ball towards Lukaku, Lovren lost the aerial battle against the Belgian. This time the ball fell to Juan Mata to ran at Van Dijk, the Dutchman did well to clear the initial danger but the second ball fell into the feet of Rashford, who stroke the ball home via a slight wicked deflection off Alexander-Arnold. Again, a goal which could have been prevented if you analyse this in Liverpool’s perspective. Well, if you give two goals away at Old Trafford against a Mourinho team, you rarely have a chance to come back in the second half.
Post half-time, Jurgen Klopp might have made few changes to make his attack function better. Throughout the whole game, Mohamed Salah was neutralised and Sadio Mane was just looking for the ball from anywhere. One big reason to it was both wide forwards being very narrow for the 90 minutes and did managed themselves to get a little wider, hog the touchline and create space for others.
If we look at the heat-maps of both Mane and Salah, there is an indication of how central they were in the game. We all saw United defending deep in numbers and packing that central giving no room to these players. So post half-time, they both could have played as wingers and drawn Young and Valencia out to meet them. This could have created space in between fullback and centre-back, from where likes of Adam Lallana and Liverpool fullbacks would have functioned.
Instead they kept on playing with a narrow shape and it almost played into Manchester United’s hands. Likes of Young who almost man-marked Salah just had an easy job of making sure the Egyptian doesn’t get onto his left foot. Chris Smalling helped him out because of the position Salah was taking more often than not.
Valencia was always not even bothered about Mane’s movements. The Senegalese was too central at times, picking the ball from number 8 position and driving into the central crowd. It didn’t help his team much, he also misplaced many passes and was little leggy in his movements. For the own goal, he for once acted as a winger and created the opportunity. If only both wide men could have done that regularly to stretch the United back-line.
In midfield, likes of James Milner and Emre Can were sloppy when it came to quickly winning the second ball and keep the attack going. They misplaced many passes along with Oxlade Chamberlain who also struggled. Liverpool overall had an 83% pass success rate in a game where they had over 70% possession. Not good enough if you are trying to haul back a two-goal deficit against a deep-defending side. The first thing is quick passing to dislodge the defensive structure, Liverpool were clearly opposite in it.
Sloppy and leggy might be two words which can be used to describe that Liverpool performance. Still, despite not playing even close to their 100%, the Reds were not far behind in pulling the game back to 2-2. But, if mistakes continue to halt them back, then title dreams might not stay awake for fans unless changes are done, especially at the back and midfield. In addition, the front three might have an off day you never know, so Klopp must have better back-up to replace them when needed. With all due respect, likes of Dominic Solanke and Danny Ings won’t bring much change while coming on to tilt the game. They are too far behind the quality of Salah, Firmino and Mane.