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Tactics Board- Another roll over Liverpool

Tactics BoardManchester United [3] vs [1] Liverpool
Old Trafford – 12 September 2015

Both Manchester United and Liverpool came into this derby game with questions. United lost to Swansea 2-1, before the international break. They’ve floundered in a domestic season in which sterile possession has been the norm, a lack of striking options and £38 million spent on a 19-year old striker with 52 Ligue 1 appearances to his name. Liverpool came in with their own problems, a lack of incision in attack and a confused identity as their fans wait to see if Brendan Rodgers could find the form that led them to second in the league 2 seasons ago.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1)
United made 3 changes to the side that lost to Swansea City at the end of August. David De Gea came into the side after signing a new 4-year contract, protected by the back 4 that has started every game this season: Darmian, Smalling, Blind, and Shaw. They played a double pivot of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick, with the Englishman pushing Morgan Schneiderlin to the bench. Marouane Fellaini started as the lone striker, replacing Wayne Rooney who suffered a hamstring injury after playing with the England National Team, while an unchanged 3 of Mata, Herrera, and Memphis lined up behind him.

Liverpool (4-1-4-1)
Brendan Rodgers made was forced into one change to the team that lost 3-0 to West Ham. First choice keeper Simon Mignolet lined up behind an unchanged back line of center-backs Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren, with newly acquisitions Joe Gomez at left-back and Nathaniel Clyne at right-back. Lucas Leiva played as the holding midfielder, with James Milner and Emre Can ahead of him in midfield. Roberto Firmino played wide right, with Danny Ings starting on the left in place of the suspended Philippe Coutinho. Christian Benteke cut a solitary figure up front on his own.

Starting Line-up for Manchester United vs Liverpool

Starting Line-up for Manchester United vs Liverpool


  • A poor first half from both sides, with Liverpool sitting deep defensively and MUFC too slow to break them down.
  • Manchester United continued with a slow build-up, nobody trying to get behind the opponent’s defense, and no pace to their passing.
  • Liverpool struggled against a well-organized United press, making numerous errors while attempting to pass out of the back.
  • Benteke was isolated up front, causing Liverpool to struggle to relieve pressure.
  • Ashley Young’s introduction added more impetus and width to United’s attack.

A first half of very little

Average Positions of Manchester United

Average Positions of Manchester United

The first half of this game was a completely forgettable affair, with Liverpool content to defend deep and Manchester United’s passing too slow to break down Liverpool’s low block. Liverpool sat with 5 men in the midfield, and were in close contact with the defensive line. This prevented Manchester United’s midfield from having space to operate, and playing Marouane Fellaini didn’t help the cause. Much like Wayne Rooney, he constantly came short for the ball, so Liverpool’s defensive line was able to push up.

The Red Devils didn’t come out with a line-up to play to Fellaini’s strengths. Neither Memphis, nor Mata, are known for their crossing ability, and while they put in 14 crosses in the first half, only one of them was successful. The only real width in United’s attack was provided by the fullbacks.

MUFC Crosses vs Firmino's Tackles

MUFC Crosses vs Firmino’s Tackles

With Liverpool sitting so deep, they struggled to relieve pressure as Christian Benteke was isolated up top. Liverpool has been able to counter attack this season through the pace of Philippe Coutinho on the left side and Roberto Firmino on the right. Unfortunately for them, Coutinho was missing after his red card against West Ham, while Roberto Firmino was pressed back by Luke Shaw’s runs down his flank. The defensive work that Firmino was forced into was apparent by the fact that he had the most tackles (9) in the game.

Stirred to life
With both teams struggling in the first half, it was Louis Van Gaal who made a change at half-time. He took out Memphis Depay and brought on Ashley Young. This substitution brought two changes to Manchester United’s attack. First, Ashley Young is a better crosser of the ball and was more willing to run at his defender then Memphis had been in the first half. This let United get more use out of Fellaini’s aerial ability.

The second change was in the final third. Memphis tends to start wide, near the touchline, but as he moves up into the final third, he moves into a more central location. Playing as an inside forward, in the mould of Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben, this is why he is such a goal-scoring threat. He doesn’t have the skills of an out-and-out winger, able to go down the touchline and put a cross in from the byline. Instead, he starts wide but comes in field onto his strong right foot. While Ashley Young plays as an inverted winger on the left side, he is still able to go down the touchline to put in a cross with his left foot. Memphis doesn’t do this. He prefers combinations, short passes, and shooting. When he does cross, it comes from deep on his right foot.

Difference between Memphis and Ashley Young's attacking positions.

Difference between Memphis and Ashley Young’s attacking positions.

Ashley Young also helped to stretch the Liverpool defense. With Memphis, United would frequently have Mata, Fellaini, Herrera, and Memphis operating in the central area of the pitch. This made it simple for Lucas, Skrtel, and Lovren to mark 4 players. Now, Ashley Young stayed wide on the left and this was more difficult for Liverpool to defend. Ashley Young’s work out wide led to the free-kick that produced the Red Devils first goal.

In the 65th minute, Anthony Martial was introduced for Juan Mata. The young Frenchman played as the striker, with Marouane Fellaini slotting in behind him in his more typical attacking midfielder role while Ander Herrera became the nominal right-winger, but, like Mata, he spent most of his time in the middle of the pitch.

A woeful Liverpool
Liverpool continued to struggle to get up the pitch, with their only opportunities coming when they were able to hit it up to Benteke. While Benteke is strong in the air, and does well holding play up, he had very little support and his first pass was always back into the midfield and this allowed Manchester United to get behind the ball.

Benteke Received

Another problem that Liverpool struggled with involved Emre Can. It seemed like he wasn’t on the same page as the rest of the team, as they would drop off deep defensively but the German would try to press high up the pitch. This was ineffective, as it was an individual press with no support. This meant that Manchester United was easily able to pass around it, and Liverpool was left with a hole in the midfield that Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger were able to exploit.


This came consisted of a first half that is best forgotten, as both teams showed very little. Liverpool had no attacking impetus, while Manchester United’s pace of attack was much too slow to disorganize the Liverpool low block. The game changed in the second half with the introduction of a more typical winger in Ashley Young, as he was much better equipped to exploit Fellaini’s height. His width also opened space in the middle of the pitch for Mata and Herrera. While Memphis has shown flashes so far this season, playing him with Juan Mata on the opposite flank leads United to have too many bodies in the middle of the pitch.

While Manchester United improved in the second half, Liverpool didn’t. They were able to get 1 goal through a momentary piece of brilliance by Christian Benteke off a set piece, but they never showed any real threat on the attack. A lack of creativity in the middle of the park, plus the absence of Coutinho, meant that they were never going to be able to overcome a much improved United defense.

Comments are always welcome!

By Joe Schurhammer (@RangeRooney)