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Adaptive full-backs and faulty Liverpool formation hand Manchester United big win

  • Louis van Gaal's players respond better to his formation to ride out Brendan Rodgers's men
Diwakar R
Modified 15 Dec 2014, 01:01 IST
Phil Jones of Manchester United wrestles for the ball with Adam Lallana of Liverpool

The last time Liverpool came to Old Trafford, they handed their illustrious opponent a thrashing after getting off to a blistering start. Fast forward 7 months, and Liverpool tried to start the game in much the same way, albeit with significant changes in personnel.

However, as the result indicates, things did not exactly pan out and they came out of the game with a resounding loss. While the scoreline suggests a drubbing, it was a mediocre United team which came out with a win. Let’s take a look at the tactics, formation and personnel decisions which shaped the game.

Both teams used three defenders at the back but there were some major differences in the way this was executed.

Both teams forced to field players in unfamiliar positions

Manchester united, keeping up with a theme which Van Gaal has been repeatedly pursuing since the World cup, lined up with three at the back. Due to the ongoing defensive injury crisis, it was a new back three comprised of Phil Jones, Johnny Evans and Michael Carrick who started in defense because of a last minute injury to Marcos Rojo.

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of forward James Wilson, as there was a vacancy in midfield due to Carrick’s move into defense. This resulted in a reshuffled formation with Mata starting nominally in front of Fellaini and constantly drifting into the same spots as Wayne Rooney who played as the number 10.

Brendan Rodgers continued tinkering with his teamsheet as he continued his search for a winning formula. He dropped the inconsistent Simon Mignolet for Brad Jones in goal. The Liverpool formation could be described as a striker-less lop-sided 3-4-3.

While Alberto Moreno on the left was eager to bomb forward to provide the much needed width, Jordan Henderson, who started at right back was not so comfortable going forward, sorely depriving Liverpool of attacking threat down that flank. Additionally, the more adventurous Johnson was forced off after 26 minutes and was replaced by Kolo Toure, further reducing the impetus from the right.

Raheem Sterling started as a lone striker with a brief to drift as he pleased to find space. The constant switching between Lallana and Sterling drew the United defense out of position and a few great chances were created from that flank. Steven Gerrard returned to the midfield anchor role with Joe Allen picked alongside him, in a change from the ultra-defensive shield of Lucas and Allen from the last game.

The formations

United decimate Liverpool after soaking initial wave of attacks

Liverpool started the game brightly like many games last season, by implementing a high press and attacking at pace. However the lack of the correct personnel (Suarez and Sturridge), a subdued right flank and pedestrian passing out of defense meant that they could not take advantage by scoring. Sterling, Lallana and Coutinho constantly harassed the defense by their energetic defensive play resulting in yellow cards for Fellaini, Evans and Jones.

Credit must be given to the United defense, especially the 2 wingers playing as right backs as they curbed their natural attacking instincts and showed good defensive discipline to ride out the initial wave of Liverpool attacks. The match turned on its head when De Gea saved on a great chance for Sterling and United scored on a quick counter from the right flank.

Sterling was played on goal by stellar approach work by Lallana, but failed to convert as he shot too close to De Gea. United were able to recover from this and the ball found its way to Valencia on the right. Due to Moreno’s positioning on that play, Valencia was able to run up the pitch uncontested where Joe Allen drifted to the left and was duly nutmegged.

Rooney, aided by some lax marking by Coutinho made a run upfield where he completed proceedings with a stellar finish. United had taken the lead by sitting compact and some great keeping.

Having the lead, United were able to settle in and even though they were outnumbered in midfield, had the higher possession as Lallana and Allen faded away from the game. The second goal also came from the flanks. After a slick passing move from the back, Young easily got past Henderson and delivered a cross for Mata to tap in. The goal was controversial as the linesman failed to spot that Mata was in a clear offside position.

Liverpool looked jaded at this point with the midfield failing to impose itself.

Brendan Rodgers shook things up at half time by introducing Mario Balotelli, as the lack of a focal point in attack was not working well. Even with a two goal lead, United were displaying jitters as Liverpool chased the game. Jonny Evans gifted the ball to Sterling on a weak back pass 5 minutes into the half.

De Gea, once again demonstrating his claim for being the league’s best stopper, foiled Sterling with a brilliant fingertips save. Mario Balotelli, playing for the first time since November, had two wonderful opportunities only to be foiled by the outstanding De Gea. No other player has had such a big impact on a team’s win percentage this year.

With Liverpool chasing the game and United happy to counter attack, it was only a matter of time before the resultant acres of space was exploited with Van Persie scoring the third to seal the game.

It was a scrappy game, entertaining to watch, but shaped heavily by some curious tactical and personnel decisions.

Published 15 Dec 2014, 00:31 IST
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