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Manchester United arrived at Anfield on the back of a poor run of results and desperately in need of confidence. It was far from a vintage display but Louis van Gaal maintained his good record against the club from Merseyside as Wayne Rooney pounced to smash home after Marouane Fellaini’s header had come back off the bar.
The performance was largely a case of ‘same-old’ in many respects with United looking rigid but resolute and in the end it was enough; here are five things we learned from a narrow victory against Jurgen Klopp’s side.
1) Rejuvenated Rooney?
Wayne Rooney made it onto the score sheet for the fourth game in a row and has shown tangible improvement in recent weeks since being dropped from the starting line-up. There’s no doubt that United’s captain polarises opinion for a number of reasons but in recent weeks the former Everton man looks energised.
Rooney has put in a number of poor displays not just this season but stretching back over last season as well but his importance to the side in a leadership capacity is invaluable. Manchester United have arguably looked at their most potent when the ball is moved forwards quickly to their talisman; hopefully the good form will continue.
2) Schneiderlin Solidity
Morgan Schneiderlin has been inexplicably left out of a number of big away matches this season but one only has to look to the stats to see that the Frenchman makes a big difference when he is in the side. Put simply; when the former Southampton man plays, United rarely lose.
Critics will argue that the defensive midfielder does not do enough in possession but Schneiderlin is arguably not that type of player, and wasn’t bought to be. He provides real solidity in the middle of the park and plays things simple. With Wayne Rooney hitting form and Anthony Martial continuing to impress perhaps it is time to drop the more attack-minded Ander Herrera back alongside Schneiderlin, with the aforementioned strikers ahead of them.
Fans have been crying out for a better balance to the side and perhaps that would bring more potency going forwards without sacrificing the defensive solidity that again was evident against Liverpool.
3) De Gea Dominance
Louis van Gaal seemed reluctant to praise David de Gea after the game and in fairness the Spaniard didn’t make any saves that you would not expect him to make; perhaps he is a victim of his own quality. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that the fateful fax machine furore has worked very much in the club’s favour.
Against Liverpool, once more De Gea was commanding and dominant behind a defence that has been ever-changing. With Real Madrid set to endure a transfer ban Manchester United will hope that they can hold on to the former Atletico man for some time to come.
4) System Shift?
There have been signs in recent weeks of a more attacking, cavalier approach. Against Liverpool, however, Manchester United struggled largely to find any rhythm and it was far from a fluid display. A noticeable change has been that Juan Mata has found himself on the bench for the last two Premier League fixtures, replaced by Jesse Lingard.
There certainly appears to be more of an emphasis on pace and a threat on the counter-attack (demonstrated wonderfully by Lingard’s goal against Newcastle). At Anfield any real threat on the break largely failed to materialised but once more Anthony Martial proved the most fruitful outlet playing from the left.
Wide-areas in general are a problem in the squad and if the shift to a more pacey, counter-attacking system is to continue it would not be a surprise to see the club attempt to strengthen in those areas before the end of the month.
5) Campaign Perspective
Following the victory at Anfield, Louis van Gaal bullishly claimed that the Reds were back in the title race. Perspective please; this was far from a convincing performance with the Dutchman’s side arguably very fortunate to escape with all three points.
One look at the table and to Manchester United’s recent results and no-one should be under any illusion as to the tough battle that the Reds face just to secure a place in Europe’s elite next season. Is it possible to win the title from this position? Yes, but is it likely? Absolutely not; Manchester United are still a world away from looking like a top side.
It is hoped that in the coming months more adventure and progression is shown in the development of what is still very much a club in transition.