How Liverpool Can Beat Manchester United

On the eve of Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford we thought we’d have a quick look at the sort of things the Reds will need to do if they want to get one over on the old foe. With Luis Van Gaal coming under a little bit of pressure for the first time in his Manchester United managerial career and Brendan Rodgers keen to bounce back from a disappointing home defeat to West Ham, what can the Northern Irishman do to get one over on his Dutch counterpart?

Go To Two Up Top

By Delval Loïc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Delval Loïc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It seems obvious in the aftermath of Liverpool’s first four fixtures of their Premier League campaign, but putting a striker alongside Christian Benteke could work wonders for the attack. There are several reasons why this is a good idea, not least of which is that Daniel Sturridge has returned to full training recently after his operation and will have to fit into the team sooner or later. Would it not be a good idea to have a team set up that he could pretty much just walk in to?

Another reason is that Benteke is winning a huge amount of what’s being kicked up to him but he’s not always keeping the ball. Why not? Because there’s no real support for him in the attack.

According to @whoscored on Twitter Benteke’s won 40/61 of te balls that are pumped up to him – or about two thirds – yet Liverpool are only retaining possession in around 25 out of 54 of those occasions – or less than half.

At Aston Villa Benteke formed an excellent partnership with Gabby Agbonlahor as the big target man won the ball and his speedy strike partner then collected it and caused the opposition defence no end of trouble.

On top of that even the best central defenders don’t like to be one on one with a top quality striker, so the more that Liverpool can give United’s defence something to think about the better off they’ll be. If Rodgers continues to play one up top and then wants to put Sturridge on for the last 20 minutes of the match – presuming he’s fit enough to be on the bench – then he’ll either have to remove Benteke in order to fit the returning England striker on to the pitch or else change his formation completely to accommodate both.

Go For The Jugular

This is not a separate idea to going two up top, but rather an addition. Liverpool haven’t impressed so far this season. Whether it be in the disappointing 1-0 win over Stoke that was the curtain raiser to the new campaign or the equally unimpressive 1-0 in the first home game of the new Premier League season, even in victory Liverpool haven’t look like the entertaining team we all grew to love in 2013 – 2014.

Here’s a look at the stats that matter in the games so far:

Opposition Stoke Bournemouth Arsenal West Ham
Liverpool Possession 53% 55% 34% 63%
Attempts On Goal 8 18 15 13
Attempts On Target 3 2 8 1
Attempts Conceded (On Target) 7 (1) 13 (2) 19 (5) 12 (5)
Goals Scored 1 1 0 0
Goals Conceded 0 0 0 3

As you can see from the table above, in the opening four games of the season Liverpool have managed 54 shots on goal. That doesn’t sound too bad, yet when you dig deeper and discover that of those 54 on 14 have been on target things become a little bit more worrying.

Rightly or wrongly Brendan Rodgers is already under more pressure than he perhaps should be considering that Liverpool have won two, drawn one and lost one of their first four fixtures. Given those games included matches away to Stoke and Arsenal – two teams the Reds conceded ten against in the corresponding matches last season – many fans would have taken seven points from the twelve available before a ball was kicked.

Yet the malaise displayed against West Ham seemed to many to be a continuation of Liverpool’s poor performances against lesser opposition from last time out. Home defeats to Crystal Palace and Manchester United at the end of the campaign combined with away losses to Stoke, Arsenal, Hull and Swansea left many feeling Rodgers had lost the players and needed to be replaced.

The results were disappointing but the performances were also a cause of real worry for many. Liverpool looked lacklustre last time out, not offering anything like the attacking prowess that made the title tilt of the season before so exciting. Many fans, then, are concerned that Liverpool’s start to this season is no better than their end to last season – and that needs to change.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

Rodgers needs to cut loose tomorrow, sending the team out to attack Manchester United’s vulnerable defence. Swansea City showed, in United’s last game before the international break, that if you put the Red Devils under some pressure they will make mistakes. Despite taking the lead against the Swans Louis Van Gaal’s team never looked entirely convincing and they seemed even more liable to an error after Gary Monk switched to two up top, pushing Andre Ayew alongside Bafetimbi Gomis.

A 4-4-2 diamond formation will ask questions of Van Gaal’s team that they may not have the answers to. With Henderson likely to miss the game due to injury Coutinho out due suspension Rodgers could choose to offer the defence some protection by starting Lucas and give the attack some options by bringing Lallana back into the fold. Would this be a winning team?

Mignolet

Clyne Skrtel Sakho Moreno

Lucas

Milner                         Firmino

Lallana

Ings              Benteke

Bring Back Sakho

Rodgers has spent his pre match press conference talking up Dejan Lovren and suggesting that the beleaguered centre back will keep his place at Old Trafford. It wouldn’t be the first time that the Northern Irishman has given the press one impression of his starting XI whilst going for a different one when it came to game time, though.

The reality is that Lovren is not good enough for Liverpool Football Club and Rodgers is running the risk of costing himself his job if he insists on blindly sticking by the Croatian when he’s got a significantly better player in Mamadou Sakho sat on the bench.

joncandy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

joncandy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

After the game against Liverpool at Anfield Slaven Bilic, who had chosen Lovren when he was the manager of his national team, suggested that the defender is at his best when he is able to concentrate on his own game. He said, “When he’s concentrated and thinking only about his own game, not about the left-back or whoever is alongside him, there are very few centre-halves who are better than him”.

The problem is, though, that Joe Gomez has impressed since his arrival at Anfield and Rodgers seems intent on continuing to play the youngster at left back. It’s understandable that the manager might want to keep faith with Gomez, yet it means that he’s got Lovren playing on the left side of the central pair and a right footed centre back playing at left back. This not only limits the width Liverpool can use going forward but it also means that Lovren has to help out his young colleague – especially in a game as important and volatile as the North West derby between the two most successful teams in English football.

Bilic knows Lovren well and has declared that he’s at his best when he’s not having to think about anyone else, yet with Gomez on the pitch he’ll naturally have to think about him for vast periods of the game. Sakho, meanwhile, is not only a top notch defender but was also the youngest captain in the history of Paris St. Germain, so it’s reasonably fair to assume that he knows how to help other players and talk to them during important moments of the match.

If Rodgers bites the bullet and brings Sakho back in he’ll not only make Liverpool’s defence stronger and help his teenage makeshift left back out a little bit, he’ll also do one of the things his detractors are crying out for him to do. Of course the Liverpool manager should never bow to public pressure just to get people off his back, but with some members of the Liverpool support willing to spend money to fly a flag criticizing Rodgers over the top of Anfield it’s far to say he could do with all of the help he can get.

Turn The Screw On LvG

Louis Van Gaal has so far got away with the fact that Manchester United haven’t played very good football because he returned them to the holy grail of the Champion’s League at the first time of asking. The players themselves are reportedly unhappy with his methods, with a delegation being sent to the manager to ask him allow them to be a bit freer in training and to express themselves on the pitch.

Likewise supporters groups are starting to question when they will see a style of play more commonly associated with Manchester United under the current regime. Like them or despise them, there’s no question that the Red Devils played brilliant attacking football under Alex Ferguson. The same can’t be said for the Dutch maestro who has stifled that side of their game and is yet to make use of the attacking talent at his disposal.

Laszlo Szirtesi / shutterstock.com

Laszlo Szirtesi / shutterstock.com

It feels as though there is a small amount of critical kindle being built underneath the manager’s hot seat at Old Trafford and it will only take a small spark to see it ignite. After all he has spent a quarter of a billion pounds since taking over from David Moyes and the fans are yet to see any discernible difference in their style of play on the pitch.

If Liverpool can get off to a good start as they did in the game against Arsenal at The Emirates and put United under some significant pressure then the fans might start to turn against the manager and the players. At the very least it might silence a crowd that saves its noise from the rest of the season for the game against Liverpool. There can be no question that United are vulnerable, not only in this game but in their position in the top four itself. Turn the screw early on and panic may well set in amongst those both on and off the pitch, and there’s very little to suggest that they’ll know how to respond.

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