Match in a sentence
It was a game of two halves that saw Manchester United dictate the first half, and Liverpool change their shape in the second half, to nearly earn a draw.
- Sir Alex Ferguson’s men lined up in a 4-4-2 with Danny Welbeck just behind Robin Van Persie, leaving Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa on the flanks. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand also started together because Jonny Evans was unavailable due to injury.
- Brendan Rodgers opted for a 4-3-3 with a front three consisting of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Stewart Downing. Andre Wisdom was handed a start at right back and Daniel Sturridge started on the bench.
- In the first half, Liverpool was having trouble getting into United’s final third and getting service into Luis Suarez. Liverpool was sitting in a 4-1-4-1 without the ball and Suarez found himself isolated around the United backline, who calmly dealt with the Uruguayan striker.
- Along with lack of movement off the ball, United pressed Liverpool high up the pitch, which prevented Liverpool from playing out of the back with ease. It disrupted Liverpool’s attempt to play their fluid possession based football, and it forced them into several errors in their own third of the field.
- United took the lead in the 19th minute when Patrice Evra drilled a ball into the box that Van Persie hit first time past Pepe Reina.
- United could have been up by a few goals at half, but surprisingly only led by one. It’s not often that a two man midfield dominate a midfield three, but Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley were able to do that in the first half. Joe Allen was unable to close down Carrick, Steven Gerrard was sitting too deep and it gave Cleverley the license to roam and complete passes at ease.
- Kagawa was also an important asset to Carrick and Cleverley because he’d often drift into central areas to provide a passing outlet for Carrick and Cleverley to dictate the game. Whenever Allen got near Carrick, Kagawa or the unmarked Cleverley were available outlets for the United midfielder. Carrick is at his best when he’s allowed time on the ball to spread passes around the field and Rodgers’ tactics benefitted Carrick.
- Rodgers changed Liverpool’s shape at half time and he went with a 4-2-3-1 introducing Sturridge for Lucas. Suarez played behind Sturridge and Gerrard and Allen were the two holding midfielders.
- United doubled their lead courtesy of some poor marking from Glen Johnson, which allowed Evra’s header to bounce off Vidic and past Pepe Reina.
- Minutes later we saw one of the effects of Rodgers’ tactical change. Gerrard dispossessed Michael Carrick and he took a shot that David De Gea stopped, but his rebound fell to Sturridge who scored his first Premier League goal for Liverpool. Liverpool was now applying pressure to Cleverley and Carrick and they struggled to dictate the tempo of the match.
- The change also allowed Suarez to become more involved in the game. He was able to pick up the ball in between the lines or in the midfield and run at the United defenders. With Sturridge pegging United deeper, it opened up space for Suarez that forced Carrick and Cleverley to sit deeper as well. Not only did it benefit Suarez, but also Gerrard was able to stamp his mark on the game.
- The Sturridge and Suarez combination looked promising, as they were able to combine and pick each other out on several occasions. Unfortunately Liverpool was unable to find an equalizer through the two strikers. Ferguson noticed Suarez’ influence in the second half and brought on Phil Jones to monitor his movement and the space he was presented.
- Rodgers got his tactics wrong in the first half, but made the required changes in the second half to nearly earn his side a valuable point. United were superior in the first half, but were unable to impose themselves in the second half as they looked nervous in the final 30 minutes of the match. Jose Mourinho was in the Old Trafford stands watching this clash, and I can assure you he left with a smile on his face. Nevertheless, United remain seven points clear at the top as they travel to White Hart Lane next week to play an in-form Spurs side that beat them at Old Trafford earlier this season.