The biggest match of the weekend was at Anfield, where Liverpool took on Manchester United in a game that was expected to offer a pointer of the future of the two clubs. In that regard, it delivered providing a perfect contrast of the present and near-future prospects of the two most successful Premier League clubs. Sir Alex Ferguson had retired having achieved his mission of knocking Liverpool off their perch. However, watching on his former charges struggle and later own conceding a “Fergie-time goal” must have hurt him as it did every United fan.

Some matches provide little to glean from teams, but this derby had plenty to learn about each player, squad, and manager among other things. Here are a couple of talking points from the match.

  1. This Liverpool Team Struggles Against Wingbacks

Unlike the earlier derby match at Old Trafford, where United surprised everyone with their graft and ability to stick to a game plan and nullify Liverpool, here the result as it happened was expected. United was without its best midfielder this season in McTominay and their top scorer Marcus Rashford.

However, for the first ten minutes, they were organized. They even fashioned their chances and but generally managed to exist instead of being blown away. That is thanks in part due to Liverpool’s profligacy in front of goal, and to a more significant role, Manchester United’s formation which was the only crucial thing the team and its manager got right.

By now it is evident that Liverpool’s most creative players are Trent Alexander-Arnold, Robertson and Roberto Firmino. By using a 3-4–2 with Perreira in the hole, United were able to get enough bodies on the flanks and still protect their center from supporting midfielders and the one-twos Firmino plays with either Mane or Salah.

United gave Robertson his worst game of the season so far, and even cross merchant Trent only had the corner assist as his impactful contribution. He was limited to two key passes and one successful dribble, while Robertson despite having the highest number of touches than any Liverpool player had one key pass the whole match. The two still had the highest number of crosses across the entire game with nine each, but only three for Trent and one for Robertson were accurate.

Manchester United’s Formation against Liverpool at Anfield. (Image via Google)

With their supply from the flanks neutered in no small extent, Liverpool had control, and better possession but could not dominate for long periods. Their usual patterns of play were missing, unlike their past game against Tottenham.

  1. Liverpool are Giving Set-piece Mastery and Long Ball Passing a Renaissance

For a long time, using long balls and depending on set pieces to score has long been derided in England as evidence of a lack of quality and skill. Yet this Liverpool side finds itself in the odd company of the likes of Burnley as long ball specialists. The difference with the Clarets is that Liverpool trains for them and do it with intent and not playing a percentage game. They have the best targets ahead of them in Salah and Mane with Firmino playing the bait for center backs with his movement.

This tactic comes in handy when skipping the opposition press or when launching a quick counter. From last season, Liverpool’s use of long balls has only increased dwarfing figures posted by the rest of the big six. In this game, for example, De Gea (12), Matic (7) and Maguire (5) had the most long-ball passes for United. Of their attempts. Only three from De Gea and two apiece for Matic and Maguire were accurate. On the other hand, Allison (17), Trent (12) and Virgil van Dijk (11) topped the charts for Liverpool with Allison and Trent having six accurate attempts each, while Virgil van Dijk had 4. The Allison assist for Salah in the dying seconds of the game perfectly sums up this team’s threat on the long ball, and Solskjaer admitted as much.

Van Dijk’s header that undid any semblance of a United game plan was the tenth goal Liverpool were scoring from a set-piece in the league this season. It helps to have the boot of Trent doing most of the deliveries, but Robertson and Salah are all equally adept at dead ball situations. More importantly, though, is the evidence of practice and patterns with every player knowing the position they should be in and the role to play.

Contrast that with the confusion or lack of clear strategy United have every time there is a set-piece or any of the top six sides. The organization of set pieces affects both ends. It is hard to imagine Liverpool conceding any of the set-piece goals Manchester United or Chelsea did at the weekend.

Not working to achieve mastery of set pieces is not only inviting chaos and missing out on opportunities, but it is also unprofessional amounting to an abdication of duty.

  1. Manchester United’s Lack of Cohesion and a Clear Game Plan

Only against Norwich have united played the attacking football and exerted assured dominance on a team in a manner that fans, manager and even the players imagine being “The United Way”. In many matches, fans have been treated to a football medley ranging from side to side passing, to attempts at counterattacking that most of the time lack the final pass or shot quality. There has also been aimless long balls, desperate defending and crosses that never find any target in the box.

Coaches Voice analysis of how United’s lack of final pass quality harmed their counterattacking chances

The first impressions of Solskjaer’s reign were that he was looking to build a team quick on the break hence the jettisoning of Romelu Lukaku in favor of the current pacey front line. Unfortunately, that has not materialized in terms of success on the field. Against teams which seat back or whenever United have possession from open play, they cannot break down defenses and instead suffer against counterattacks. Against the top six, only Manchester City once and Chelsea twice have fallen victims to United’s counterattacks, and you can argue there were mitigating factors in both games.

At Anfield, the lack of identity or strategy was evident to all. A counterattacking team failed to create any chance on the break while the few it had all game came from patient buildup. United as a team is in an identity crisis that could undo any positives of their season.

Speaking of positives, the only player who could have left with his shoulder’s high was Fred. He had the most touches of any player in the field for both teams. He led United in all crucial areas including making the most tackles and interceptions, completing the most dribbles and passes as well as crosses and creating the most chances. As a fact, he completed most passes than any other United player attempted, save for Matic. In this game, his team let him down.

Manchester United’s best player on the pitch. Image via Twitter
  1. Ed Woodward’s Incompetence and Solskjaer’s Failings

As pointed out earlier, this was going to be a test. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed to show a semblance of the project he was building and why he should be trusted to oversee it. Granted, the number of goals conceded was not embarrassing, but the performance was.

Solskjaer was left looking up to Liverpool and using their players as a model to his own. The gap between the two teams is immense, and his inability to get the team producing quality performances even for a full ninety minutes brings his position under scrutiny. Equally, or even more culpable is Ed Woodward who has somehow managed to assemble the most highly paid squad in the league, which at the same time has such a shortage of quality options in numerous key positions and also backup options.

  1. Liverpool are Unstoppable

Liverpool is embarking on a recording-breaking run in their current trot to the EPL title. Win against West Ham, and they would manage to have beaten every other team at least once in the same season. They are also five games away from setting the record of the most consecutive wins in the EPL and are also seven games away from setting the record for consecutive clean sheets.

They ended the weekend 16 points ahead of Manchester City in second place with a game in hand. Not even in Ligue 1 and nowhere else in Europe’s top leagues to the leaders have such an advantage.

More importantly, though, this team has an array of arsenals in strategy and have the good fortune of their key players being fit and firing. They are unstoppable in their match back to their perch 29 years later.


Game statistics courtesy of


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