Assessing Manchester United’s win at Liverpool and the enigma of ‘winning ugly’

by Sam Peoples

The 2015-16 Premier League season has been a rough one for Manchester United and their fans.

The club currently sits in fifth place in the table, with just 28 goals scored in 22 games, seven points adrift of Arsenal at the summit.

Despite their struggles, the Reds managed to defeat Liverpool at Anfield by a scoreline of 1-0, even though they were vastly outplayed for the majority of the game.

Louis van Gaal 5

Man United only retained 46.6% ball possession and could muster just seven shots to Liverpool’s 19. Although United started the game brightly, Liverpool went on to control the flow of the game; Louis van Gaal‘s men were unable to penetrate and create chances, and also looked extremely ragged on the defensive side of things.

If it weren’t for Liverpool’s poor finishing and David de Gea‘s stellar display, United would have undoubtedly gone into the interval behind.

Although United played better in the second half, it still must be said that Wayne Rooney‘s goal was against the run of play, in true ‘smash and grab’ fashion. Eventually, the whistle sounded at full-time, and United left Anfield with a vital, though probably undeserved, three points.

There are two vastly different reactions that can come out of United’s win at Anfield.

First, there will be fans and pundits that remain completely unimpressed with van Gaal’s men, attributing the three points to Liverpool’s glaring deficiencies in terms of finishing, De Gea’s performance, and a heavy dose of luck.

Wayne Rooney 5

This school of thought is simple, common, and not necessarily incorrect. On Sunday, United played poorly once again, and despite their win, the failings of van Gaal’s “philosophy” were clear to see. Yes, United won the match, but it’s probably not sustainable or realistic for them to continue to play so poorly and get all three points.

On the other hand, there will be people that argue that United’s win epitomised ‘winning ugly’ and showed the determination necessary to truly be a top team. Sir Alex Ferguson‘s teams at United were known for their expansive, attacking football, but there were many occasions where his men did not play well yet still managed to salvage three points. Winning in spite of playing well has come to be viewed as a trait of the best teams, and thus there can certainly be some positives taken from United’s victory.

However, while ‘winning ugly’ can be impressive and demonstrative of a team’s heart and determination, it is not easy or convenient, and usually not sustainable. United cannot expect every team to finish as poorly as Liverpool, just as they cannot expect to score against the run of play every game.

At the same time, there is reason for at least some encouragement following United’s win. The Reds beat one of their bitter rivals, now sit just two points off the top four, and hopefully can use this victory as a launchpad for better results.

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson

Ultimately, it is unfair to strip United of all credit for their win, but it’s also misguided to completely romanticise the grit and determination of their performance, with no regard for their glaring problems.

It’s possible, then, for United and their fans to appreciate and enjoy the win, while also realising the need for better performances in the future.

United won at Anfield, but there is a lot of work still left to do.

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