Manchester United picked up the three points in fortuitous fashion on an emotional day at Anfield. The tribute to Hillsborough pre-match was well orchestrated by all concerned and it appeared that United, rather than their rivals, were affected by the occasion. The first half in particular was as spineless as it was inept. Constant mis-placed passes and seemingly very little fight left the Reds on the back foot with the only compensation being that the teams went in at half time on level terms. The same cannot be said for the makeup of the sides following Shelvey’s red card for a reckless two footed lunge on Evans. Although the Irishman could also have been cautioned by Halsey for his part, his eyes never left the ball and the Liverpool midfielder caught him dangerously at shin height and with little regard for his opponent’s safety.
For once, Ferguson acted on the embarrassment he had witnessed before him by withdrawing the ineffectual Nani and replacing him with the pass master Scholes. Giggs moved away from his central midfield berth to a left sided role and United improved but it was the home side that looked the more dangerous culminating with a Gerrard goal at the Kop end after the aforementioned Welshman lost his man. The shock at losing to a side with a numerical disadvantage seemed to galvanise United out of their comatose slumber. A cute chest pass from Kagawa was curled beautifully left footed past the despairing dive of Reina by Rafael on a rare sortie from right back to bring the teams level.
The winner came courtesy of the penalty spot after Valencia was upended by an on-rushing Johnson. After a delay of almost five minutes, van Persie coolly slotted past Reina to convert United’s first penalty out of the last four attempts.
The rest of the game passed without too much alarm to fire United to second in the table with twelve points from their first five games. Winning matches while playing poorly is said to be the hallmark of Champions. One can only pray that the fluidity and verve will reappear in the Reds play before long as a busy and demanding schedule of fixtures is upon us.
Below, the Can They Score team give their thoughts on the match against Liverpool focussing on the various areas of the team assessing the positives and negatives to arise from the match. Please feel free to add your comments on the players and the performance in the comments section below.
Lindegaard was restored to the side after De Gea’s appearance in the midweek Champions League fixture against Galatasaray. Seemingly, the Dane is the boss’ number one between the sticks at the moment after the Spaniard was harshly dropped after his failure to claim a cross against Fulham. Lindegaard gave a very assured display at Anfield. He was commanding when called upon and made a string of decent stops to repel the home side. I particularly liked his save from Suarez in the second half where not only did he display a strong wrist to keep the initial shot out but also diverted the ball away from goal before picking it up and starting off another attack.
An area of weakness that has been picked up by fans where De Gea clearly has the edge is in his distribution and general ability with the ball at his feet. Yesterday, the Dane was pretty much faultless in this area justifying the managers faith. It remains to be seen whether Ferguson continues to employ his recent policy of rotation with the goalkeepers moving forward. With the defence still coming to terms with different personnel each week, it can hardly help them to settle when they do not know who will be the custodian behind them. It is hard to think of a club who has enjoyed success with such a policy and it brings back adverse memories for United fans of the spectacle of Howard and Carroll a few years back. A first team debut for Sam Johnstone is a distinct possibility for this week’s League Cup match versus Newcastle at Old Trafford though the boss made decide to give De Gea another run out to keep him active.
Back to back clean sheets vs Wigan and Galatasaray could have suggested that the Manchester United fans were brimming with confidence about their club’s defence but as soon as news filtered through that Captain Nemanja Vidic was being “rested”, worried thoughts started emerging all around social networking sites. However, they soon realised that Manchester United played the majority of last season without their captain and a central partnership of Ferdinand and Evans managed to bloom fantastically, with Jonny Evans being lauded as having his best season yet at the club.
Shelvey’s right foot clearly going for the ball…
This was the first time since last season that the pair started together and it was evident that none of that chemistry had been lost. Rio Ferdinand may have been the standout man, timing challenges perfectly to stop “diving Olympic champion” Luis Suarez cleanly time and time again, but the entire defence must be praised for great awareness and timing of the challenge during a game where the team was on the back foot more often than not. Even Patrice Evra, prone to dire performances over the past year or so, provided a decent enough performance to silence those calling for (so far) “one-match wonder” Alexander Büttner to replace the France international. Faced with explosive newcomer Sterling, Evra dealt with the youngster as best he could and didn’t allow Sterling to influence the game as much as he did against Manchester City.
However, special praise must be given to everyone’s favourite Brazilian right back, Rafael Da Silva. Even though he was “chipped” in the build up to Steven Gerrard’s goal, he made amends five minutes later with a wonderful left footed, inside of the post-hitting curler to level the score, and the passion he has for the club showed in his celebration. Rafael seems to be finally coming to terms with English football and this showed in his first half performance where he controlled Manchester United’s right flank, helping out a near invisible Antonio Valencia on more than one occasion. It is rare that a Manchester United right-back manages to pass the ball more than their right-winger throughout a game but such was the anonymousness of the Ecuadorian during the first half. Let’s hope that this newfound maturity in the little Brazilian’s game keeps growing as the season goes on, allowing Manchester United to rest on their laurels, confident that they now potentially possess a new great number 2.
Let’s be crystal clear about this – Ferguson got it wrong. For all the excitement over the prospect of a fluid, modern approach this was very much a duplicate of last season. Kagawa was expected to play the deep attacking role, with our principal source of attack coming from the wings. For all our desire to see something adventurous this was a logical decision; in each of our away games this term our teething problems with a new system left us vulnerable. At Southampton, victory was plundered thanks to a switch to the traditional approach and presumably Ferguson expected a similar outcome here.
Giggs’ only worthwhile contribution to the game
All well and good, except for one thing – the selection of Ryan Giggs. How many times must we concede control of the midfield and be punished accordingly before our manager recognises that, legend as he is, Giggs is unfit for purpose as a central midfielder. Playing him in a duo is suicide. We saw it at St James Park last season and we were fortunate to get away with it here. He is ponderous and wasteful in possession, and defensively limited. Not only does Giggs fail to shine centrally but he has an adverse effect on those around him. Valencia and Nani were starved of service (although that doesn’t excuse their wretched first half displays). Kagawa’s intelligent positioning was wasted as the required pass to him was either poorly executed, delayed or never considered. Most damaging of all was the impact on Michael Carrick. His midweek goal was a reminder that he is so much more than a midfield anchor – yet at times yesterday he appeared to be doing the work of three/four men. The brilliant movement of Suarez, combined with the assertive display of Gerrard, left our number 16 overloaded and fire fighting for the majority of the game. Scholes’ introduction helped – although it was far from the ‘game changer’ that some would like to claim. The whole scenario served to underline what we all ready know – for all our attacking options until we develop an effective combination in central midfield we will continue to come up short. Thank God we were only playing Liverpool.
Despite a four minute delay which would allow self doubt to spread viciously through van Persie’s veins, the Dutchman converted the decisive kick and ended a remarkable sequence of penalty misses. Isolated for the duration of the first half, Robin unsurprisingly struggled to get into the game as Rio Ferdinand repeatedly rushed the long balls over his head. However, this frustration fuelled the Dutchman to track back, tackle and show that he’s not afraid to do the dirty work- even if it did result in a somewhat unwarranted yellow card.
A familiar sight this season. RVP now has 5 goals to his tally in the PL for Manchester United.
Behind the PL’s top scorer, Shinji Kagawa had an unremarkable day at the office despite an assist and a high pass completion rate.He made a few eye catching early errors but his overall performance was solid and one of the key team errors may have been their aversion to getting the Japanese international more involved. Lively on the ball when given the opportunity in the second half, Kagawa did well once moving to the left, when Giggs moved central, but was marshalled effectively by the physical presence of Kelly. However, its a sign of just how quickly he has adapted that opposition defences are already paying extra close attention to him, closing him down rapidly and roughing him up with their physical presence. Once he adapts to this treatment, expect him to cause Liverpool bigger problems next time around.
Coming on with just a few minutes remaining collectively, Hernandez stretched the legs of the ageing Jamie Carragher and I’d expect him to start on Wednesday whilst Welbeck showed some silky skills to retain possession in the dire embers of the game. Overall, an unspectacular but effective forward display from the four of them.
Liverpool started off in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1-formation where the play was to be controlled through the middle. The selection of Shelvey, Gerrard and Allen, three passers of the ball, made it so that Liverpool controlled the early goings of the game. Combined with flair from young Raheem Sterling and work-ethic from Fabio Borini, it looked to be Liverpool’s afternoon with Luis Suárez twisting and turning between enemy lines as much as he liked.
The aspect of the game changed when Jonjo Shelvey was dismissed. Allen and Shelvey had been switching between sitting deep and blcking off United’s distribution to Shinji Kagawa, but were now forced to bring Gerrard deeper. Despite having an array of chances in the first half, Liverpool saw themselves on the lacking end in terms of momentum at the half.
Despite falling short of personnel, Liverpool came out with all guns blazing and took the lead through their skipper early on in the second half. Having replaced Borini with the young Suso took away some of their defensive edge. This left their wide backs open to being doubled, which happened moments later as Rafael scored in such fashion you’d only expect of a Brazilian rightback. The introduction of Jordan Henderson saw Liverpool regain control of the middle, but were left unprotected on the wings with Suso moving in behind Suárez. After some confusion between Agger and Johnson, Antonio Valencia looked more like an NFL running back than a winger at Man United as he sprinted away from them both. The situation eventually left Liverpool trailing by two with Van Persie slotting home from the penalty won by the mentioned Ecuadorian.
Liverpool tried pressing and were successful in terms of forcing United to commit stupid errors. The lack of precision up front, and maybe even the kin of the referee, made it so that Liverpool’s battle was a losing one. They will feel robbed as they deserved at least a point, but even the most biased United fan will admit that Liverpool are seemingly on the right path. With yet another goal under his belt, RvP is already the Premier League’s top scorer and is a Premier League betting favourite to finish top of the pile this season.
I am a 21 year old half-French, half-English Manchester United fan living in France but studying Russian and Spanish at University in England. Thrown into the world of football at the tender age of 7, it has fascinated me ever since. I have no affiliation with Manchester yet have proudly supported United for 13 years.