16 Conclusions on Man Utd 4-3 Liverpool: Ten Hag consequences, Klopp’s mistakes, Amad madness

Ian Watson
Bruno Fernandes celebrates Manchester United's win over Liverpool.

If Erik ten Hag is not the right manager for Manchester United, then even a mental, last-gasp win over Liverpool should not alter that. Especially since Liverpool blew it…


1) Just a ridiculous game of football, on a quite ridiculous FA Cup weekend. Coventry did a madness at Wolves on Saturday and Chelsea were gloriously shambolic while eventually beating Leicester. But this, as much as we will attempt to dissect it in the next 2400 words, was f***ing mental.


2) But what does it all mean?

Before kick-off, which feels like 427 hours ago now, the result however it came about was viewed as most consequential for Erik ten Hag. Win or bust, basically.

United won and, Christ, Ten Hag ought to enjoy it. At the very least, this triumph kicks the can down the road a bit further before Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his acolytes have to be seen to reach any decisions over the manager.

But to put any great emphasis on this game while making long-term decisions is the kind of mistake United have made before. The only outcome that could have pushed the dial on Ten Hag was a heavy, miserable defeat. This, though, certainly offers the Dutchman and his players a platform to make the best of what, so far, has been a bad season.

Ratcliffe, Sir Dave Brailsford and co are surely too savvy not to see the shades of grey. If United attain a Champions League spot or win the FA Cup, Ten Hag would be no more or less suited to the job than if they finish a place lower or again fall narrowly short in the Wembley final. What they will have seen, however, is that these players haven’t given up on Ten Hag in the way they have on others before him.


3) For Liverpool, that’s a Quad gone.

Sure, it stings now and the manner of this defeat will enrage Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool have lost a game they should have won – convincingly – because they shot themselves in the foot. Twice.

Klopp and Liverpool fans wanted it all before they part in a couple of months but if they had been forced to pick their pots in order of preference, the Premier League and Europa League – the final potentially Klopp’s final game – would have pushed the FA Cup into third.

Still, such a line of thought requires far more perspective than Klopp and the Liverpool fans will possess so soon after first letting United off the hook, then caving in to their biggest rivals – historically, if not competitively of late.


4) United have balls. Who knew?

It became a contest of character and in that measure, Liverpool would have been the clear and obvious favourites.

But United showed the kind of spirit and spark so often lacking at Old Trafford. They could have gone under at various points and on other occasions they probably would have. The five-minute frenzy at the end of regulation time came as a shock to us all because, in the 40 minutes after half-time, the Red Devils were typically passive and seemingly content to avoid a shoeing.

Did Harry Maguire and Antony spark that spirit? However it came, it will have been as much a surprise to Ten Hag as the rest of us. United seized on Liverpool’s sloppiness and ground out a place at Wembley while playing for most of extra-time with Bruno Fernandes at centre-back and Antony at left-back.

Liverpool’s attack may have had an off-day but United don’t come through extra-time, all the while reacting to going behind to a deflection, with that set-up without considerable cojones. They simply have to show them more often.


5) Perhaps United have been hiding the courage they showed at the end in the same place they have been keeping the intensity with which they started.

Old Trafford – all but the 9,000 Liverpool fans in the Scoreboard End – buzzed off United’s zip through the early exchanges and their 10th-minute lead was thoroughly deserved. Had Scott McTominay scored again instead of shooting straight at Caoimhin Kelleher just after the half-hour, United could reasonably argue it was justified based on the flow of the game.

In the context of what we have come to expect from United, that is a stat as ridiculous as the game it concerns. However much we try to break down United’s failings, sometimes it is just as simple as effort and intensity, neither of which were absent here.


6) That said, the McTominay let-off seemed to wake Liverpool from their slumber. Because for all United’s huff and puff, there remained a nagging feeling that their early successes were as much a consequence of the Reds’ uncharacteristic languor as their own intensity.

Liverpool had opportunities to break during that first half hour with which they were wasteful. As the half wore on, the Reds started to find the spaces behind Kobbie Mainoo and McTominay as United struggled to maintain the discipline in shape that prompted their promising start.

Including added-time during which Mo Salah turned the scoreline around, the game appeared to shift on its axis in the quarter of an hour between Kelleher’s save and the break. Liverpool recovered their own zip and passes started to penetrate. If the first 15 minutes offered United so much hope, the third sector saw a familiar sense of dread enter the mindset and, once again, the fear became humiliation, not defeat.


7) The second half, for all but the final five minutes, saw Liverpool easily seize the ascendency. Perhaps it was too easy because it is impossible to reason with some of the decision-making, especially in the final third, beyond simple lapses in concentration.

Klopp paid tribute to United for taking a gamble and going one-versus-one at the back for much of the second period – especially since the one seemed so often to be their most creative forward player. One instance, though, summed up Liverpool’s sloppiness when they blew a five-versus-two led by Cody Gakpo.

The Liverpool sub bobbled a pass into another of Klopp’s changes, Harvey Elliott. No matter, Elliott retained plenty of time and multiple options. So Klopp was apoplectic to see the youngster pick out Diogo Dalot instead of a team-mate.


8) At that point United were sleepwalking out of the FA Cup. Perhaps buoyed, though, by Liverpool’s refusal to tuck them in and turn out the lights on their season, suddenly they roused themselves as the clock ticked down. Amad’s introduction on 85 minutes cannot be a coincidence.

The Ivorian has had the hump over his lack of opportunities this season, to the point of deleting all references to his club on his Instagram account. His entrance was a Hail Mary from Ten Hag, with the winger replacing centre-back Raphael Varane but Amad offered a level of intensity in his pressing and dribbling that suggests he recognised that this might be his last throw of the dice too.

He seized on Nunez’s sloppiness to begin the move that swiftly led to Marcus Rashford’s extra-time leveller and generally looked the most likely to make something happen even before he did.

Why Liverpool left themselves so open to the counter-attack on the 120th-minute corner, Klopp will have to fathom, but Alejandro Garnacho’s one-on-one quickly become a numbers-up attack for United when Amad powered up alongside. Garnacho seemed to get the timing of his pass right but the weight was sub-optimal, perhaps a conscious move to prompt a return.

Instead, Amad picked the far bottom corner with a shot that prioritised precision over power. If Kelleher looked to be beaten easily, it is because he pushed off his right foot to dive left – fair judgement with a driven shot, but the Liverpool stand-in might wish he had opted to step into his dive instead given how the ball seemed to take an age to reach its target.

Off came Amad’s shirt which, at the risk of p*ssing in his punch, the winger must regret. After this performance and that winning goal, Ten Hag could hardly ignore him at Brentford next week. Now suspended, he’ll have to.

Amad Diallo won the game and was sent off for Manchester United after taking off his shirt in celebration

9) Antony was an even more unlikely hero for United.

“A problematic situation” was how Ten Hag described the Brazilian’s predicament, which was a nice way of saying he’s finished. How apt then that it was Ten Hag’s man who did more than most to save his manager with a rare swing of his right foot before filling in as an emergency left-back for the entirety of extra-time.

Is he really finished then? Antony is one of a few at United who have to use this performance as a springboard for redemption. If he requires inspiration, he need only look at the other half of Ten Hag’s double substitution: Harry Maguire. The defender, similar to Antony, was meme fodder, a punchline. He, once again though, was evidence that it is possible to come back from the dead at Old Trafford.


10) Football without tactics is fun.

Maybe this is what United have been doing wrong along: worrying about shape and patterns when, evidently, they struggle with such fundamentals. That was out of the window in extra-time, when United played on the fly.

There’s no other way to describe what transpired, with a limping Fernandes at centre-back; Antony at left-back; Christian Eriksen as a lone pivot; and a frenzied front five.

Ten Hag deserves credit for such flexibility. United’s madness wasn’t born entirely out of necessity – other shapes were available that would have allowed for square pegs in similarly-shaped holes. Instead, Ten Hag embraced the chaos by pulling his two most composed passers – Eriksen and Fernandes – as deep as possible to find the holes Liverpool were leaving.


11) Another conscious move by United was to focus their threat down their left side. More than half of their attacks came via the left third.

Salah’s reluctance, instructed or otherwise, to run back allowed United to expose Joe Gomez, especially early on, evidenced when Wan-Bissaka found himself on the end of Mainoo’s cut-back. Mainoo was constantly looking to combine with Rashford, while Garnacho drifted from the opposite side to get involved in overloading the left flank.

The first goal came from such a move. Liverpool contributed to their own downfall by losing focus and allowing United to turn them with a simple quick free-kick. The Reds were out of shape, with Jarell Quansah overcovering Gomez, giving Garnacho the space to drift behind. His shot was parried by Kelleher but McTominay slammed home the loose ball.

Gomez, having a splendid season, was struggling to cope before Liverpool seized some control. After half-time, Ten Hag let Garnacho loose on the left and the Argentina winger gave Gomez and Conor Bradley a hard time.

Trent Alexander-Arnold should brace for similar bombardment with Liverpool’s return to Old Trafford in the Premier League poised to coincide with the defender’s comeback from injury.


12) Dare we question Klopp?

The Liverpool boss rightly hammered his players’ decisions but his don’t stand up to intense scrutiny after a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Whether by luck or judgement, Ten Hag’s changes worked better than Klopp’s. United’s, in different ways, all helped the hosts reclaim a foothold in a game they looked beaten while Liverpool’s failed to remedy their sloppiness. If anything, they contributed to the problem.

If there was a game for Salah to play 90 minutes, it was today, not Thursday while Liverpool were putting Sparta Prague to the sword. Luis Diaz looked spent long before he was finally replaced, while Elliott and Gakpo’s introduction did nothing to bring order where Liverpool needed it.


13) Boy, Rashford needed that equaliser. Had Liverpool seen out the game at 3-2 as they should, the spotlight on the United striker would have been even more uncomfortably intense than it has been.

Sweeping home McTominay’s pass was Rashford’s second attempt at finding Kelleher’s left-hand corner. The other was the last kick of regulation time which rolled the wrong side of the post, giving Liverpool back one of the lifelines they themselves had dished out.

Rashford required consolation from Benni McCarthy and Steve McClaren before extra-time commenced, but that miss was not his only contribution worthy of scrutiny.

The United academy graduate has been affronted by doubts over his commitment to his boyhood club, prompted by some actions that seem to speak louder than his written words. Rashford would have had a hard time defending his defending in the build up to Liverpool’s first goal, inspired by Quansah’s burst forward beyond the pretend press of the United striker.


14) Should Bruno Fernandes have been sent off?



15) Stewing on a daft defeat is an odd sensation for Liverpool these days, something they will have to do for a fortnight.

You can spin the timing of an international break whichever way you like after a defeat such as this. Players always relish the opportunity to right their wrongs as quickly as possible but Klopp will perhaps tell us that a break might do his squad some good until enough time has passed to switch focus to the unnecessary travelling and demands his overworked stars are facing.

The Reds have ridden the crest of a wave in recent months, powered in part by the emotion around Klopp’s impending departure. This, of course does not have to mean a wipeout but it must be rendered a blip – a p*ss-boilingly daft one – and nothing more by the time they next return to action against Brighton. They also faced the Seagulls after a similarly stupid defeat to Spurs in September. The one point they claimed then won’t do at Anfield in a fortnight.


16) Amad has already been described as Ten Hag’s Mark Robins, and now the United boss faces the actual Mark Robins in the semi-final in his guise as Coventry’s manager.

The narrative is as undeniable as the draw is kind to United. Consecutive final appearances must beckon against City or Chelsea. If so, United cannot go to Wembley with Ten Hag’s future hinging on the outcome. Serious football clubs don’t work like that. But this quarter-final victory offers Ten Hag renewed hope where before it was dissipating.

Read more: Ten Hag hails Man Utd performance as ‘best of our whole season’ as young trio picked out for praise