5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool
1. Ferguson got his tactics and team selection spot on
Not for the first time this season, the boss got his tactics and team selection spot on. He always seems to get it right in the big games, doesn’t he?
The back four pretty much picked itself. If fit, Jonny Evans would have more than likely partnered Vidic in central-defence, but with the Northern Irishman picking up a knock on Saturday, Ferguson opted for the old-guard. One of the advantages of partnering Ferdinand and Vidic is their ability to organise. At times this season we’ve looked prone to conceding goals from set-pieces, but not on Saturday.
In big games, our two central-midfielders are, without doubt, the first two names on the team-sheet. Carrick and Cleverley have struck-up a very good partnership this season and seem to compliment each other perfectly.
Kagawa was deployed on the left of midfield rather than the number ten role he thrived in at Dortmund. Nevertheless, his constant pressing and demanding of the ball was pleasing to see. He drifted into central areas to find space and linked-up very well with Cleverley. Maybe that’s where Sir Alex sees the Japanese midfielder featuring going forward? If so, we’ll be sacrificing width, as Kagawa will always look to come inside.
Many were surprised to see Welbeck start ahead of Chicharito. In hindsight, though, it was a wise move. Welbeck’s endless pressing of Liverpool’s back five was key to our success in the first half. The Mancunian put in a man of the match winning performance – according to Sky Sports – and was a constant thorn in Liverpool’s side.
The introduction of Sturridge saw Suarez find space more frequently. To counter-act this, Sir Alex brought Jones on to sit in front of the back four and man-mark the Uruguayan – and to good effect. Although Liverpool created chances towards the end of the game, they fell to Sturridge, and not the more prolific Suarez.
2. Better overall defensively but still must cut-out silly errors
Overall, this was a better defensive display, however, their goal could have so easily been prevented. Fingers were pointed at Dde Gea as Sturridge followed up Gerrard’s parried shot to score, but it was actually a very good initial save by the Spaniard.
We need to be more alert in situations like that, especially considering Newcastle scored an identical goal three weeks previous. How often do you see a defender hovering over his goalkeeper after making a save, just in case he spills it? Quite often, which is why it’s important we protect de Gea and not get caught flat-footed. Liverpool gained confidence after scoring and could have quite easily gone on to snatch an equaliser. Luckily for us, we held on.
3. Nani’s return is long overdue
Sunday’s game saw Nani return to the squad. The Portuguese winger has been sidelined since November with a hamstring injury and although he didn’t feature against Liverpool, his return is a timely bonus. Valencia has been a shadow of his former self lately and with Young suffering a slight strain to his knee, Nani will be welcomed back with open arms*.
*Okay, maybe not open arms for some of you, but we have missed him believe it or not.
For me, he’s the best we have in terms of going past opponents. With Valencia’s dip in form, it would have been ideal to bring Nani in, should he have been available. Without that option, Sir Alex has had to stick with the Ecuadorian, despite his poor performances. Nani certainly divides opinion around Old Trafford. Is he inconsistent? Yes. Does he often frustrate fans with his decision making? Yes. On his day though, he’s unplayable.
4. The title race is nowhere near over
Our win forced the pressure back on City, who faced a tricky away trip at Arsenal. They managed to win fairly comfortably, largely thanks to the dismissal of Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. Their 0-2 win saw the newly acquired ten-point lead return to seven. We go to White Hart Lane on Sunday to face a team that has already beaten us this season. By kick-off, City could be just four points adrift, as they play Fulham at home the day before. Despite the gap, this title race is far from over. We managed to throw away an eight-point lead last season and until it’s mathematically impossible for them to catch us this time around, let’s not count our chickens just yet.
5. Having strength in depth is crucial
Just when the list of injuries looked to have been screwed up and thrown in the bin, two more arise, as both Vidic and Young picked up injuries on Sunday. It’s unsure as to whether the pair will be available for next weekend’s trip to Spurs, but they’ll almost certainly miss the FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday evening.
If Vidic and Young are to miss Wednesday’s game, it’s a good job we’re able to welcome back the likes of Rooney, Nani and Anderson. All should feature against West Ham, which once again proves how vital it is to have strength in depth.
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