Whilst all the talk so far this week has been about anything other than the football, i’m looking forward to the game finally getting underway. Here is a look at the game from an entirely tactical point of view, and where the game might be won and lost based on their showings so far this season.
It would be probably be fair to say that neither side have really got going yet. This is mainly due to the fact that both sides have been struggling to get to grips with new systems that their respective managers have tried to implement. United’s points tally is superior due to a certain Robin Van Persie snatching a victory at Southampton, as well their strength in depth in the striking departments. Liverpool have been typically wasteful with the plethora of chances that they have created so far in their games this season.
Liverpool have just started to show signs in their last couple of games that they are starting to adapt to Rodgers way of playing, especially in the second half of their game at the Stadium of Light. But as i’ve noted in recent weeks, they still seem to be lacking a tackler and tactician in midfield, which has meant that players who operate between the lines have caused them problems.
Sir Alex Ferguson has showcased a 4-2-3-1 formation in recent weeks, looking to bring the best out of new-boys Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie. The Red Devils have not really caught fire under this style however. Van Persie bailed them out after struggling for long periods against Southampton and other than their game against Wigan last week, their only other points have come after a narrow 3-2 win against Fulham.
With and Without the Ball
This game will feature the two players who have been most impressive in possession this season in the Premier League, Joe Allen and Michael Carrick. Both players have been operating in deep positions for their sides, managing the game and looking to dictate possession. They both completed over 100 passes in their games against Sunderland and Southampton respectively.
The players that operate alongside them in midfield could prove to be as crucial on Sunday however. Neither side have any issues keeping the ball, but winning it back could prove difficult. Liverpool have looked to press high up the pitch in an attempt to win the ball back in dangerous areas, a tactic that has had varying degree’s of success so far. Against City, the Liverpool midfield dominated after hassling their City counterparts off the ball and out of possession. But against Arsenal’s craftier midfielders they were made to pay, with Cazorla and Podolski exploiting the gaps between the pressing midfielders and back four.
Liverpool will be aware that in players like Shinji Kagawa and Paul Scholes, United also have the talent that can exploit the space made by such a high pressing style. Kagawa was excellent in United’s first game at Everton, but has failed to strike up an understanding with Van Persie as of yet.
If Scholes and Carrick can get the ball to him on the half turn tomorrow, then he should have plenty of space to operate in. How he handles the red hot atmosphere should tell Ferguson a lot about the temperament of the Japanese international.
For all Liverpool’s possession in central positions against Sunderland, it was in the wide areas that they posed the biggest goal scoring threat. Glen Johnson and Raheem Sterling posed plenty of problems from the left and right flanks respectively. I would expect Sterling to play from the right hand side again. It is no secret that United were in the market for a left-bak this summer and with Sterling on fire, I can see him causing problems for either Evra or Buttner.
Glen Johnson was excellent going forward against Sunderland, but was exposed defensively down the left hand side, with Suarez drifting away from the wing and leaving the England full-back isolated. I would expect Borini to operate mainly from the left hand side tomorrow due to his superior work rate. One of United’s major threats will come from last seasons player of the year, right winger Antonio Valencia. If he is allowed to get crosses into the box like he has so far this campaign, you have to fancy Van Persie to get on the end of at least one of them. Rodgers must demand an improvement from his wide players in the defensive areas, otherwise United will punish them.
Against Southampton, the changes made by United late on ultimately won them the game. With Chicarito, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck likely to be on the bench, there are options for Alex Ferguson if he wants to take advantage of a stretched game, which often happens late on in these high tempo encounters. Unfortunately for Brendan Rodgers, he does not have the same quality waiting in reserve. Downing has done well coming off the bench, but there is no standout option for The Reds in the striking department if Rodgers needs a goal.
How do you see the game going? Which areas will be crucial in determining the result?
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