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Manchester United arrived at Anfield on Thursday night to face fierce rivals Liverpool for the first time ever in European competition. Liverpool started strongly and an all-too-common lapse in concentration from Memphis gifted the Merseyside club a penalty to take the lead.
A tactical switch to 3 at the back at half time saw Manchester United improve but another mistake, this time from Michael Carrick, gifted Liverpool a second goal and that is how it finished. Here are 5 things we learned from a disappointing defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s men.
1) Dave Saves (again)
Once more David De Gea was the difference between a defeat and utter humiliation for the Reds. The Spaniard really has been a rock for a couple of seasons now and how United have needed him to be.
In truth, none of the saves were absolutely spectacular, but again the former Atletico man was called upon far too often to spare the blushes of his teammates and he stood up to challenge. Real Madrid are almost certain to come circling again in the summer and, regrettably, the club may well lose someone who has arguably their best and most consistent player.
2) Feeble First Half
Manchester United have made an unwanted habit this season of staying in the dressing room for the first half and on Thursday night the Reds didn’t get going in the first 45 minutes. Liverpool pressed high up the pitch and did make things difficult but it is nothing that should have been a surprise to Louis van Gaal’s men.
Klopp has instilled a very specific way of playing and the in-your-face pressure should have been dealt with better. United looked lethargic and pedestrian, devoid of any fight or craft. This was Manchester United against Liverpool at Anfield in a European competition and from the manager and the coaching staff down to the players the club simply didn’t deliver what is expected of the club.
3) Lack of Leadership
As in recent weeks, Juan Mata was entrusted with the captain’s armband and it was he who led the players onto the pitch. The Spaniard is a creative, technically gifted player; but he is not a leader. Looking through the United ranks at present is a who’s who of good footballers with very little competitive edge and it is having a big effect on the pitch.
Gone are the leaders that were brought up not to accept anything less than victory, that would play with urgency and abandon when behind. Finding players with that winning mentality coupled with genuine top class ability is a difficult task, but one that United will have to finally get right in the summer if they have ambitions to remain a truly top club.
Liverpool played with cohesion and purpose on Thursday evening. Their players have bought into their manager’s style and, whilst inconsistent, there are tangible signs of progress. In stark contrast, Manchester United continue to regress.
Paul Scholes was very forthright in his opinions following the defeat that his former club had an identity that worked for 20 years, one that has now been removed and replaced by stagnant, impotent possession.
The squad is imbalanced and muddled with no real direction of the style of players to suit a certain philosophy of playing. Nearly 3 seasons on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure and the club continue to move further away from where they started. Another upheaval surely looms in the summer but this time it must be calculated and cohesive.
5) Salvaging the Season
At 2 goals down the tie is by no means over, but it’s hard to make a case that, at present, this United side are capable of a performance to turn it around. With an in-form West Ham United coming to Old Trafford on Sunday in the FA cup and a daunting trip to the Etihad to face Manchester City on the horizon, any hopes of silverware or a place in next season’s Champions’ League may vanish in the coming weeks.
The inconsistency is very frustrating but in a sense provides the only tangible hope; perhaps in one of these games the real United will turn up. If not, another dismal campaign will have slipped by without the Reds really landing a punch and surely big changes must come.