Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Liverpool 4-0 Manchester United: Talking points as Liverpool walk on to maintain title challenge and hamper United top four hopes

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Liverpool thrashed Manchester United for the second time this season on Tuesday evening. Luis Diaz broke the deadlock less than five minutes in and Mohamed Salah doubled the home team’s lead in the 22nd. Sadio Mane was on target in the 68th, and Salah added his second to set the final score at 4-0 five minutes before the end.

Rivalry put aside in face of tragedy

Cristiano Ronaldo was absent from the match through personal tragedy – he and his girlfriend were expecting twins, a boy and a girl, but the boy, sadly, didn’t make it.

Many Liverpool fans expressed their condolences to the United star via social media before the game, and with seven minutes of the match played (in reference to Ronaldo’s shirt number), the whole of Anfield applauded in support for the 37-year-old and his family at this difficult time. The home supporters added a booming rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” into the gesture.

Some things are obviously more important than football and the solidarity shown to Ronaldo and his family is a fine example of sportsmanship and rival respect that should be present in the game always.

United toothless, Liverpool in charge

The stats from the game and the final score truly reflect everything seen between the first and the final whistle, and there’s very little need to add anything. Liverpool had 72% possession and took eight shots, five on target of which four obviously ended up in the net, compared to United’s total of one for the whole game.

There were moments when the visitors looked so helpless powerless to compete that it was difficult not to feel pity for their predicament. They had a couple of good passes from deep and one really good chance from which the only shot came, but Alisson Becker was quick off his line to deny Marcus Rashford.

But there was no plan visible in their game. The players mostly didn’t know what to do with the ball, how to  keep possession and move forward. There was no purpose in what they were doing. One could, perhaps, say that they were possibly affected by the tragedy which hit their teammate, but the fact that there have been performances like this one throughout the season tells a different story.

Arranging his team in what was likely supposed to be a mixture of a 5-3-2 and 3-5-2 shapes, with Anthony Elanga and Rashford upfront, Ralf Rangnick probably went for a defence-first approach with long balls for the fast forwards to chase in behind Liverpool’s high defence.

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The man who once again pulled the strings from the middle of the park and enabled Liverpool to look so composed was Thiago Alcantara. He and Fabinho are proving quite a partnership, and with Jordan Henderson throwing in his admirable commitment and work rate in both directions, there was no real battle between the two boxes. With Paul Pogba making way for Jesse Lingard through injury after 10 minutes, Lingard and Nemanja Matic appeared pretty much out of their depth.

Liverpool attack

One thing that can be taken as a mitigating factor from a United perspective, up to a point, was the quality of Liverpool. By contrast, the Reds kept the ball, moved forward and tested United’s defence with unforgivable ease. Roberto Firmino, who has been known to pose a nightmare for United in the past, missed the match through a minor foot injury, but his absence wasn’t felt at all with Diaz complementing Mane and Salah in attack incredibly well. Further more, no United defender will have been happy with seeing Diogo Jota entering the fray after 70 minutes.

Liverpool frequently attack down flanks, which goes some way in explaining the fact that Trent Alexander-Arnold leads the Premier League in assists and Andy Robertson is not far behind. However, it was all about the forwards this time.

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It was Salah who assisted Diaz’s opener. It was Mane who brilliantly assisted Salah for the second goal, and it was Diaz who provided the assist for Mane’s goal. Jota’s contribution came in the form of the assist for Salah’s second, Liverpool’s fourth goal. So basically, three out of  the four forwards who played ended up on the scoresheet; all four produced assists. As happy as he surely was for his teammates, the injured Firmino was probably a bit disappointed not to have gotten in on the act.

A look ahead

For United, there’s nothing left but to try and forget the humiliations suffered at the hands of Liverpool this season as quickly as possible and move on. They’re still in the race for the top four, sitting sixth with 54 points, but things don’t look too promising at this point. Arsenal in fifth have the same tally and two games in hand, while Spurs in fourth have 57 points and one game in hand. It’s definitely starting to look as if the 20-time English champions won’t be playing in the Champions League next term.

It’s not easy to understand all the mistakes United have made in the transfer market in the last six years. The signings of Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Daniel James, Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles, Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo have cost the club more than €800 million. While there is still time for the likes of Sancho and Van de Beek, only Bruno Fernandes and, to an extent, Ronaldo, can be said to have justified the money invested in their services without too much cause for debate.

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Obviously, the recruitment process needs to be reorganized in a smart way to avoid unnecessary waste of funds in the future and bring in players who can really contribute in a competitive way.

The latest piece of news is that United are on the verge of completing the appointment of Ajax boss Erik ten Hag as the new man to lead the team, with Rangnick set to take over another role in the club hierarchy. Rangnick has already announced severe changes to the squad this summer, and there can be no doubt that the process of reinstating the club to the paths of former glory will be a long and difficult one, requiring a lot of patience from the supporters. After all, that’s what Liverpool did since Klopp arrived in October 2015, and the results are there for everyone to see.

As for Liverpool, their quest for the so-called ‘quadruple’ this season goes on, and this victory has at least temporarily placed them at the top of the Premier League table, two points ahead of defending champions Manchester City who face Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday evening. They’ve also booked a place in the FA Cup final and the Champions League semifinals, and they’re already won the Carabao Cup.

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Klopp and his players continue to stress that they don’t think about that and that it’s not very likely that they’ll be able to win all four trophies, but the fans continue to dream about it just as persistently. United didn’t prove much of a hurdle on their way and Everton, their other great historic rival, aren’t likely to give them much trouble either this weekend.

Leaving future projections aside, one thing is perfectly clear: Liverpool are way ahead of Manchester United at the moment, in every aspect.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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