A Liverpool/Manchester United game is not one for the feint-hearted. With the history, traditions and rivalry this fixture is steeped in, we often forget that it’s all about the game as much as it is about the occasion.
These games never fail to entertain or anger but this season will be slightly different. With Sir Alex Ferguson no longer bringing a United side to Anfield, it is up to David Moyes to produce a game plan suitable to beating a Liverpool side that have started the season brightly.
To begin with, to get an impression of how the game may pan out, below are the two teams’ tactical set-ups according to how I think each team will look to play. Even by just looking at the visual, it is evident that Liverpool will base their play around possession and dominating the midfield. On the other hand, Manchester United will look to use their attacking panache to put Liverpool to the sword, relying on heavy wing-play to get behind the Liverpool defence and by-pass the overloaded midfield.
With the ball, United should look to spread the play and try to take Liverpool out of their compact shape by taking players like Henderson and Lucas into the wide-areas could help create space for Wayne Rooney to drop into deep positions and cause problems.
Using Danny Welbeck on the left, it’d be another dimension to the United attack but it is also important that Antonio Valencia is more confident when going forward. Without the ball, United must be compact themselves and suffocate the midfield space where Liverpool are at their best.
Michael Carrick will again be vital for United. His midfield position will often be deep and he will sit in front of the back four. However due to the way Liverpool will close down the ball, it is important that the attacking players come toward the ball to try bring their markers with them. For instance if Rooney was to come deeper, Skrtel or Agger may follow him, which would open up space for Welbeck to make an inside-run in to.
In the attacking phase, it is important United try to isolate the Liverpool full-backs. Valencia must run directly at Enrique and Welbeck needs to keep Johnson on his toes. This is even more important when going back defensively as the Liverpool full-backs must be tracked at all points. With Coutinho and Aspas playing fairly narrow, the overlapping full-backs provide Liverpool width and it is therefore important avenues of passes are cut off towards them so they cannot get in behind Jones and Evra.
Tomorrow, the play will be extremely narrow at times and the midfield will be very populated. The short-passing game will be emphasised but expect Carrick to try and pick out Welbeck with long balls over the Liverpool defence. However, the easiest route would be to break the Liverpool lines between the trio of Henderson, Lucas and Gerrard.
This can be done by dropping Rooney onto Gerrard and playing Van Persie a few yards deeper which would mean Skrtel and Agger have no-one to directly mark.
Defensively, United must be very aware of the potent attack Liverpool have. At times, Vidic and Ferdinand will not have anyone to mark as Sturridge will drop off and Aspas and Coutinho will also cut in. It is important the midfield runs of Henderson and Gerrard are tracked.
A weakness United have is within the space marked between the defence and midfield. With the movement Liverpool possess and the intelligence in which they make attacking runs, it’s imperative that the gap between midfield and defence is as small as possible. However, if United play too high, Sturridge can break the offside trap and exploit the lack of pace the centre-backs have.
This game will be a fascinating game because Liverpool have started the season very well and will be confident of a win. If United can be as tactically disciplined as they were against Chelsea, I can see chances being created and United stealing the win.
However, I see this game ending in a draw, simply because the two sides will cancel each other out on the day.