Monday, 7 March 2011

United vs Liverpool - Post Match Post Mortem

As days out at Anfield go, it is hard to imagine many that could be worse. A damaging loss, a bad injury to our most creative player, more refereeing decisions going against us and to be honest, out fought and out thought by a Liverpool team that are struggling to finish in the top six this season.

Here are my main talking points:

1) United midfield - This is a subject covered many times before both by myself and various others. Yesterday added further fuel to this argument. Manchester United need a midfield general, an enforcer for want of a better description. Being honest, the midfield is the most important area of the pitch as it is where the game is usually won or lost. Control of this area is of paramount importance if you want to impose your style of play on the opposition and to set yourself up for a chance of victory. 

On Tuesday at Stamford Bridge in the first half, Carrick and Scholes gave us that control and therefore a platform to boss the game. Countless times they won the ball and then distributed it to the wide areas to keep Chelsea on the back foot as our full backs pushed on and made life difficult for their counterparts. This control  evaporated as the home team upped the tempo and began to move the ball quicker with higher intensity.

At Anfield, we were outnumbered in the centre and were never able to get that control which then earns you the right to dictate play from all areas. It was a massive blow pre-match to not be able to select Darren Fletcher from the start due to illness. He has a remarkable record against Liverpool where in the last seven games, if he starts United have won and if he is absent we have lost (stat courtesy of Doron Salomon). A partnership of Carrick and Fletcher would have given us a better chance to control that midfield battleground utilising the Scotsman's energy with the Englishman's guile and craft. As it turned out, Liverpool's extra man in this area was decisive. It could also be argued that with a depleted back line, an extra body in midfield would have helped United protect a defence that had Wes Brown deputising for the injured Ferdinand in only his third league start.

A summer purchase of a player in the mold of a Keane or an Ince is a must as this would allow us to play in a more attacking style in the big away games knowing this player will be stationed in front of our back line adding an extra layer of protection. In the days of the two players mentioned, it could be said that sometimes we had won half of the battle before play commenced due to the sheer aura that these two exhibited.

2) Nani - We all know that it was a horrendous "tackle" by Carragher and one that deserved a straight red card yet my worry is more for the mental state of Nani once he returns. If there is no major damage apart from the deep flesh wound then hopefully after some stitches and a few weeks rest, he will be back sooner rather than later. Not surprisingly this assault had a major impact on the Portuguese winger in the aftermath demonstrated by his clear distress at the injury and I expect some of this was the realisation that if his leg had got stuck in the turf that his career could have been in danger. That very thought is difficult for us mere mortals to empathise with. His mental state will need to be monitored by the medical staff at Old Trafford but I am sure that his determination to succeed at the club will prevail and very soon we will see the player back as good as ever.

The mental state is a subject that perhaps is more relevant to Antonio Valencia who is due back shortly after a horrific injury against Rangers in September. I would imagine that we will see the Ecuadorian return to full sharpness next season after a full stint of pre-season training under his belt. There are plenty of examples of players that have never been the same again following a serious injury but it is hoped that this is not the case with the much missed Valencia.

3) Mistakes - Usually in my post match reviews, I will analyse the goals and try to show something different in how they were scored. From yesterday, it is clear that the Liverpool goals all resulted from mistakes on the part of our players. The first came as a result of Suarez being allowed to weave his way by our defenders who were scared to make a tackle in case it gave away a penalty. The second Kuyt goal came directly from Nani's poor defensive header as he looked to flick his head to ease the ball away from danger. It seemed to come off the side of his head and it inadvertently diverted itself into the path of the lurking Mr Kuyt. 

The final Liverpool goal resulted from Giggs and Berbatov breaking up in the wall allowing a clear path through as shown by the white arrow below. Also notice how Kuyt is already anticipating a possible fumble from Van Der Sar as all good strikers are taught.
The parting of the White Sea?
4) Hernandez movement - One thing overlooked from yesterday's debacle was the quality of Javier Hernandez's consolation header. I would advise United fans to watch it back as the move that precedes it is sheer quality with the scorer being heavily involved in the build up before making a dart towards the six yard box.

In the picture below, you can see Hernandez on the edge of the box circled and about to anticipate the cross.
Penalty box predator strikes again
His fantastic movement has got him ahead of Gerrard and free to head home.
A desire to score has seen the Little Pea make his move to the 6 yard box for a consolation goal
Regular readers would have seen my Wigan analysis where I outlined his exceptional movement in just three seconds and here he has done it again. This lad is clearly very special and will develop as times goes on. I would like to see him given a regular spot in the side as he is the penalty box predator we lack with Rooney and Berbatov both favouring link-up play outside the box.

5) Rooney on the left - for me this is a tactic that just does not work. The main reason for this is that he is so one footed. Watch him in any game and he does everything with his right. This means that when he plays on the left, defenders know that without fail he will cut in on his right foot which makes it so much easier to defend against. My main gripe with this is that surely in his career that someone has stressed to him the importance of having two good feet. Clearly one is going to be the dominant foot for any footballer but why are there so few two footed players these days? Ronaldo was one and certainly Nani is another but I would love to hear names of others that can genuinely call themselves two footed. Is this a British disease and sign of poor youth training? Apart from Rooney, you could name the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Giggs as high quality players but all are most definitely one footed. I am sure there are numerous other UK players in the same boat.

6) Rafael - We all love his enthusiasm but it is bordering on impetuous and naive. The high boot in the lead up to the Lucas incident by Maxi should have resulted in a red card but the way he followed through was reckless and could have led to stricter retribution for the young Brazilian. Maybe these high pressure atmospheres are too much for him at the moment but he will learn and will surely develop into one of the best full backs around.

It is pleasing to see that United have a clear week with which to prepare for the FA Cup tie against Arsenal. A siege mentality has been adopted and will be nurtured increasingly in the weeks to come. It can only be hoped that this team learn from their mistakes and can rise up again as a third successive loss on Saturday could be fatal in our chances of lifting silverware come the end of the season.

Tweet bits - these are some of the thoughts of my twitter followers
"I thought Fergie was brave to go 442 at the start. However you need a winner in CM and Fletcher had to be one of them. Defence were okay, front 6 weren't though.  Midfield too deep, strikers had nothing to feed on. After a great first half last week we fell flat today. holtandyr

Hernandez is going to be a star for us. Rooney needs to knuckle down and be a team player and Berba deffo better option up front with an in-form Rooney playing behind him - suziewoo11

We have been poor all season away. With the exception of Arsenal away thats it now for major away challengespaulsrkendal

Carrick and Fletcher haven't been consistent enough all season, too many wayward passes and not enough tackles. Hate to be doom and gloom but today could be the day we lose our grip on the title. Arsenal must be loving this - spaceystyle

Please leave any comments below or contact me via Twitter - all comments are read and I will try to respond to as many as possible. 


  1. Great Blog with many valid points, I agree completely about the lack of a midfield general. Even though I think the re-intorduction of Valencia will be great seen as he was playing really well before his injury, it still leaves us with a lack of someone who will tackle in midfield, we all know if scholes tackles it normally results in a card haha but at least he can switch play as quick as a flash to give other players the opportunity to take advantage of the situation.
    Really hope we can get back to winning ways and fergie has thrown the book at them or boot either way....!

  2. Great post wise words and valuable analusis! Conratulations!

  3. Great review as usual, Completely agree with your point on bringing in a midfield general, who has the ability to control the game and leave creative players the job of creating chances.Hernandez surely has a bright future at OT, the boy has got a good footballing brain together to go with his pace and finishing skills,Lacking of a decent left winger is the reason why rooney is forced to play left where he is not able to perform at his level best there by welcoming criticising from Utd fans.Finally on Nani and Valencia, i really hope their injuries wont play in their mind when they make a return,with both of them fully fit,we dont have to worry abt the right wing position for next 5-6 years. Cheers

  4. Wonderful as always! I really enjoy to read this. Keep it up! GGMU

  5. Thanks to all of you for your comments - much appreciated.

  6. Good analysis and agree our midfield is not good enough when playing top teams. Giggs and Scholes are legends and not sure how long they can keep going. We really need to reinforce our midfield in the summer! Looking forward for next game to bounce back in style!

  7. Re: The midfield I disagree about Carrick's guile and craft. Carrick has shown very little of that since we got beat by Barca in Rome. He shows no willingness to go forward (even a pass forward would be an improvement) He has become a holding midfield who can't really tackle and is happy just laying the ball off sideways and not looking forward. Whether that is as a result of him begin under orders to stay deep of just lack of confidence in his own game i don't know. if we are to play 3 in midfield, which today's convention suggests is the way to go against the best then we are 2 short. Scholes cabn't do 90 minutes against the best and Carrick just isn't good enough for me. Of course the big question is who? Realistically who will sign for us. The two best that come to mind wouldn't come, Essien or De Rossi.
    My fear is that we will win the Premiership this season and Fergie/ the board will think things are okay because we won the title. But the reality is that without major surgery to our midfield we will be struggling for top 4 next season. That may sound dramatic but I firmly believe that without it we are in trouble.
    There is of course another route fergie could go down and that is throwing in Pogba and Tunnicliff. Yes they might not be ready yet, but they might show the hungry and energy that is lacking. A lot of people thought the class of 92 weren't ready but hunger and desire can mask lack of experience. Youth has always been the United way so way not follow it now.