Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool, 13th January 2013

United were the better team without fully controlling the match for the first 50 minutes or so. Some great interplay between Welbeck, Kagawa and Cleverley released the ball out to Evra on the left, who crossed sharply for Van Persie to put away the first goal. A rugby tackle on Welbeck by Skrtel in the second half resulted in a free kick, from which Van Persie crossed for Evra to score with a header, via deflection off Vidic’s forehead (so it’s Vidic’s goal, then). Liverpool gradually improved as the game wore on and imposed themselves on United, who became extremely ponderous with the ball. One such phase saw United players failing to clear the ball properly just in front of the penalty area, losing possession and Gerrard getting off a shot. It was parried by De Gea into the path of Sturridge, who put it away to make it 2–1. United were hanging on in the end, Ferguson looking furiously into his watch, but Liverpool couldn’t find the equalizer (Sturridge missing a great chance) and the home side took the three points.

  • With playmaker Kagawa (who had a fine game) cutting in from the left and Welbeck dropping off Van Persie, United played a lot narrower than usual. Often in the first half Cleverley would play very close to Kagawa, resulting in some marvelous passing exchanges in the middle of the park. This on the other hand left a lot of space on Liverpool’s right flank they could have exploited, but the ball was rarely played out to there. On the opposite side, Raheem Sterling, Liverpool’s most penetrative player other than Luis Suarez, was the left winger, but Rafael – uncharacteristically – rarely ventured forward and Ashley Young is a decent defensive winger, meaning very few opportunities were created from there in the first half.

  • Brendan Rodgers should be given credit for taking off Lucas and putting on Daniel Sturridge at the start of the second half. Obviously not content with settling for a face-saving defeat, Rodgers made an attacking move, and a bold one at that given the lack of control Liverpool showed in the middle of the park. Sturridge looked dangerous, linking well with Suarez and driving the United centre-halves back. As a direct consequence of Sturridge’s introduction, the United back line was pushed deeper, and the home side couldn’t impose as much control and possession as in the first half.

  • The final 30 minutes were the worst I have seen United play this season. With Liverpool imposing themselves through the middle, with Suarez and Sturridge running directly against the defenders, and Liverpool narrowing the space between defence and midfield considerably, United lost composure, dithering ineffectively on the ball for too long in their own half or lumping balls hopefully over to Van Persie, who toiled thanklessly alone.

  • United players, Valencia in particular, looked very jaded after the Christmas fixtures, and the FA Cup replay against West Ham won’t help matters. Thankfully most of the players are back fit from injury, and I expect to see a lot more of Nani and Anderson in the coming games.

  • Danny Welbeck is a player of many talents, and always looks useful on the pitch, especially with his approach play. However, when he’s running on goal with the ball at his feet, few players are less lethal. A sort of anti-Ronaldo (Brazilian). He always seems to struggle to get the ball in front of him, and judging by his ungainly swaying when in possession, doesn’t seem to be in full control of his body half the time. When you’re competing for the first team striker’s position with players of the calibre of Rooney, Van Persie and Chicharito, you need to be more of a genuine goal-scoring threat.

  • The first game with Vidic and Ferdinand starting together since September 2012 went almost without a hitch in the first half. Liverpool played into their hands by playing Suarez up front on his own, and the Uruguayan was isolated and eaten up by the veteran duo. However, when Sturridge came on, Ferdinand and Vidic were increasingly on the back foot, driven back by the Liverpool forwards’ pace and directness. Even with Carrick in front of the back four, the dynamism of Sturridge and Suarez caused lots of problems, forcing Alex Ferguson to send on Phil Jones as a secondary shield. That calmed the match down, and allowed United to kill the game off without conceding a last-minute equalizer.

  • Rodgers will take a lot of encouragement from Liverpool’s second half performance. The Suarez-Sturridge partnership looks highly promising, and the manner in which the defence and midfield increasingly succeeded in compressing the play into the United half is an encouraging recipe for future success.

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