16 Conclusions on United 0-3 Liverpool

Another test for David Moyes, and another spectacular failure. Just how much longer can he stay so obviously out of his depth without losing his job..?

Last Updated: 17/03/14 at 09:30 Post Comment

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* Without dismissing the quality of the Premier League's top two before the Sunday lunch-time match at Old Trafford, there was a clear argument for suggesting that this was the biggest match of the Premier League season so far. In a sport that continuously demands a narrative, Liverpool's resurgence under Brendan Rodgers and United's regression aided, at least partly, by the arrival and performance of David Moyes, are the two biggest 'stories' of this PL season, of that there is no doubt.

This, therefore, was to act as a marker, a line in the sand of just how excited Liverpool supporters should allow themselves to get, and how concerned United fans could reasonably be ahead of a mammoth test of character against Olympiakos in midweek.


* Another test for David Moyes, then, and another spectacular failure. Every time his United tenure shows even the slightest sign of progression or improvement, there follows such an incredible fall from any possible grace that he is left at a lower ebb than from which he started.

This was, as Moyes himself admitted before the match, "the biggest game in the country" and, once again, Moyes demonstrated that he lacks the inspirational quality to belong on such a stage. His United side were downright rotten, sluggish in the extreme and devoid of all evident confidence, despite consecutive league victories.

Furthermore, this was their strongest side. Both new signings (Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini) started, and both looked well off the necessary pace, Mata in particular almost completely unable to get into the match as a creative force. Robin van Persie continued to look a shadow of the player seen under Alex Ferguson last season, and Adnan Januzaj also failed to impact upon the match. The latter pair had fewer touches than any other outfield players during the first half.

So why no changes at half-time, or even until 15 minutes from the end? Why no proactive move to try and alter the pattern of a match that was drifting dangerously out of their grasp? Instead, limp inactivity once again, and the sad conclusion that this a manager utterly out of his depth (which we suspected a long, long time ago). If a Manchester United manager can't rouse his team for Liverpool at home, when will he motivate them to perform?

So, for how long is such a disease allowed to spread? If every step forward is almost immediately followed by two steps backward, nicely finished off by tripping over your lace and smashing your face against the pavement, how long until you decide to make the change?


* It would be churlish, however, not to fully congratulate Liverpool, who in truth did not even have to play at their best to be successful. The only real surprise in the starting XI was the continued selection of Joe Allen instead of Lucas, who would surely have given more cover to the defence, but as soon as the game began, Rodgers' strategy became clear.

Much like against Southampton, Liverpool set up in midfield with a diamond shape. Steven Gerrard continued at the base of that, with Jordan Henderson and Allen ahead of him and Raheem Sterling in the slightly unfamiliar place behind the two strikers, although with licence to roam.

In that specified role, Allen becomes the obvious choice over Lucas, with Rodgers evidently feeling that his side had nothing to fear, no need for added protection and no reason to sit back and invite Manchester United pressure. He was proved gloriously right.


* Were it almost any other opponent, David Moyes could have been excused for resting players ahead of Wednesday's second leg, but to do so against Liverpool would have seemed close to surrender against the worst possible opposition.

In fact, this was arguably United at full-strength for one of the first times this season, one of Moyes' strongest arguments for his team's lacklustre performances. Marouane Fellaini was selected alongside Michael Carrick with Phil Jones dropping into central defence, whilst the new front four of Mata, Januzaj, Van Persie and Wayne Rooney all started.

Whether that constituted a risk ahead of potentially 120 minutes against Olympiakos (a scenario United would surely take at two goals down?) remains to be seen, but Moyes will now have little hesitation in dropping any of the shower that turned in such a poor showing against Liverpool.

In any case, Moyes effectively had no choice. He has far too little in the goodwill bank with supporters to mark a match against Liverpool as a secondary priority, particularly given their opponents' title hopes. Liverpool may well be showing signs of climbing back up onto the perch, but that doesn't mean giving them a leg up.


* Liverpool effectively started akin to the home team. The work rate of Sterling (perhaps more so than Philippe Coutinho, whom he replaced in the change to the win at St Mary's) helped them to harry and hassle Manchester United high up the pitch, and when mistakes were forced, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan were more than happy to help support the attack - Johnson had the first shot on target of the match.

The other obvious conclusion from the early stages was just how much space Henderson and Allen were able to find in their 'sides of the diamond' positions. Deep enough to avoid the pressure of Carrick and Fellaini, the pair were able to collect the ball from Steven Gerrard or the full-backs before turning and looking to pick a pass.

That allowed the away side to not only dictate the tempo of the play but also create chances. Both Daniel Sturridge and Allen will have been disappointed with their scuffed efforts following neat interplay.


* Luis Suarez is rightly criticised for diving, but football still has a problem regarding players choosing not to go down when clipped. Only four minutes had been played when Marouane Fellaini clearly touched the heels of the Uruguayan, who surprisingly stayed on his feet, and no penalty was given by Mark Clattenburg. If Suarez goes down, is the official more likely to award it? I'd argue that evidence indicates yes, a backward and damaging status quo.

As an aside, the following is taken from the Football Assocation Laws of the Game: "A player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences... using offensive, insulting or abusive language."

Although Suarez may well have been unfortunate not to have been given his penalty, if screaming "F*ck off. F*ck off" in the direction of Mark Clattenburg doesn't constitute offensive language then it would be useful to get an exact explanation of what does from the Professional Game Match Officials or the Football Association. Football can preach about its Respect campaign until it is sore of throat, but until it is actually acted upon, nothing will change. Suarez is by no means the only high-profile protagonist, merely the latest.


* Sometimes handballs can be the most difficult decisions for a referee to make, football's greyest area, but the way Rafael moved his hand towards the ball left Mark Clattenburg no option.

And yet still the official managed to make a massive balls-up of the situation. It might seem to be a double punishment, but the rules surely indicate that if Rafael stopped Suarez having a shot on goal, he should have at least been booked for his offence? Having just committed a woeful tackle on Gerrard further down the pitch, the Brazilian should have been sent off.

It's a cliché, but there is little doubt at all that had Rafael not already have been booked, he would have received a first yellow card. Poor (again) from Clattenburg.


* Phil Jones has aspirations of being an international defender, and part of Manchester United's future. If both of those hopes are to be realised, he needs to cut out the sort of stupid challenge in the area that gave away the second penalty.

It wasn't a brutal tackle, but was ridiculously clumsy and gave Joe Allen the option to go down after feeling the shove. The Welshman was running away from goal and had chested it towards the touchline, making the decision even more odd.

Do that in Brazil, and Jones will soon find his England future hanging in the balance.


* "Our fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in. And when I see that it makes it difficult for me to come to those spaces as well. So that forces me to adjust my runs, based on the position of my fellow players. And unfortunately, they're often playing in my zones. I think that's a shame."

Those words that tumbled out of the mouth of Robin van Persie to Dutch TV station NOS following the first-leg defeat to Olympiakos may have initiated rumours of disharmony in the Dutch forward, but after his reassuring midweek words as to his Manchester United future, Van Persie seemed to be finally granted his wish.

Rather than playing Rooney and RVP as a strike partnership, David Moyes instead operated a 4-2-3-1 formation with the Dutchman on his own up front, with a trio of Januzaj, Rooney and Mata in behind. Unfortunately, Van Persie was again poor, failing to hit the target with any of his four shots and looking an increasingly disconsolate figure under David Moyes.

"The truth is I'm very happy here at this club. I signed for four years and I'd be delighted to stay even longer, beyond the next two years I have left on my contract. This is how I feel."

Van Persie's quotes may rather stick in the throat of United fans this evening. Too much more of this form, and the decision might be taken away from the hands (or feet) of the Dutchman.


* In fact, a great comparison can be made between Van Persie and Suarez, who for large parts of the game actually underperformed, cutting a frustrated figure himself after twice slipping over in promising positions and failing to win fouls when he felt himself wronged.

The crucial difference between the two, however, is determination and work rate. Whilst Van Persie seemed uninterested in chasing down lost causes in pursuit of possession, Suarez never once allowed Evra, Rafael, Vidic or Jones any time on the ball to compose themselves.

So often in football, you gain your reward for such commitment. Suarez did little to create his chance late on, but when it fell nicely to him from a mis-hit shot from Sturridge, he steered the ball past David De Gea. When RVP's chance arrived, he steered a header comfortably wide from eight yards out. The performance of both strikers very nicely summed up.


* The goals, much deserved for Liverpool's attacking play despite coming from set-pieces, simply played perfectly into their hands. Gone was the necessity to pour forward, instead able to invite United upon them in order to then counter-attack at pace.

More often than not during the second half, Sturridge, Sterling or Suarez found themselves with space out wide, and the only criticism of Liverpool was their inability to fully punish their opponents, and pile more humiliation on Moyes and United.

Conversely, that also probably acts as the biggest blow to United fans - it could so easily have been worse. This had a similar feel to it as the 6-1 home defeat to Manchester City two-and-a-half years ago, where United were guilty of huge naivety by refusing to accept that a game was lost, sucking up the defeat and taking a 2-0 loss.

Instead, there were two further occasions on which penalties could have been awarded, Steven Gerrard missed from the spot and both Sturridge and Suarez also missed chances to seal the game as it became stretched. If they'd have lost by six would Moyes have chucked in the towel?


* Nemanja Vidic may have engineered a reputation as a phenomenally tough central defender both in the Premier League and Champions League, but he has signed off his Manchester United career against Liverpool in rather typical fashion, his fourth red card against the same opponent.

In fact, Vidic was unfortunate to be dismissed, Sturridge seemingly diving by the look of the replays, and the Serbian showed his anger when leaving the field. However, why on earth dive in in such a situation? It gave Clattenburg a decision to make (apologies for the dreadful cliché), and it is easy to see why the official would think contact had been made.

Before the match, Paul Merson was highly critical of Vidic's regression over the last couple of years. Merson is a pundit I would often be loath to agree with, but Vidic's now-perennial struggles against players with pace (see too his previous failures against Fernando Torres in this fixture) make him an occasional liability for United right now.

The worry for David Moyes is that he might still be the best of a bad lot, particularly judging by the way in which Victor Anichebe was able to outmuscle Chris Smalling and Jones at the Hawthorns last weekend.


* "Their league position suggests they are ahead of us and they possibly do come here as favourites. Liverpool are having a very good season and we will have to do everything we possibly can to beat them."

Quite what the United faithful thought of Moyes' admission that Liverpool were favourites for the match at Old Trafford is unclear. Obviously it may well have been a tactic to relieve the pressure upon his players whilst increasing the psychological burden on those of Liverpool, but it would seem a bizarre thing for a Manchester United manager to concede.

As Wayne Rooney said in the build-up to the game, "To see City doing well, and particularly Liverpool, is really difficult. It's not nice when we know we are capable of being up there challenging and we haven't been doing that this season." Every single United supporter presumably shares that opinion, and therefore probably didn't particularly appreciate Moyes hammering that point home, especially given that he is a large factor in Liverpool beginning this fixture with a double-digit point lead for the first time since 1991.

Still, at least Moyes got one thing right this week: Liverpool were deserved favourites.


* "The vast majority of Manchester United fans don't want Liverpool to win this league."

Pretty sure Graeme Souness has won the 'No sh*t Sherlock' award for the season.


* "I just don't think it's good to compare because David took over the champions and a club that was winning titles. I took over a team that was eighth. So it's incomparable in terms of where both of us are at. If I came into here and we were winning titles then maybe it is a different comparison."

Brendan Rodgers may not appear ready to make comparisons between the job that he and Moyes are doing, but I'm not so shy. Since arriving in 2012, Rodgers has spent a net sum of £71million at Anfield, whilst Moyes has spent £68million net since joining United last summer. Liverpool have gone from finishing 28 points behind Manchester United at the end of last season to sitting 14 points ahead of them with nine matches to go.

There is an argument to say that Brendan Rodgers is performing better than any other manager in the Premier League. Links with Barcelona in the Sunday gossip columns may still seem slightly ambitious, but this is a manager right at the top of his game. He is also, which never fails to surprise me, the third youngest manager in the Premier League.

Given Chelsea and Manchester City's requirement to travel to Anfield in the league, this is a Liverpool side right in the mix of the title race.


* Finally, where to now for United?

The reaction of the supporters at the end of the match (staying beyond the final whistle to chant their support) was hugely positive, but these were songs of love for their club and its proud recent history, not the manager as an individual.

It would take the brassiest of brass balls to suggest that Moyes is still the right man for the job. He has been shown up to be out of his depth on almost every level, and the United hierarchy must be seriously questioning whether they trust him to spend the money that will so clearly be available in the summer.

There is a multitude of alternative options - Louis Van Gaal, Frank De Boer, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte or Diego Simeone would all surely offer an improvement on the current farce.

So, hands up who's brave enough to tell Alex Ferguson that he got it horribly and hideously wrong?

Daniel Storey - he's on the Twitter.

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