Having spent the whole of last week in excited anticipation about what was dubbed by Sir Alex himself as “the biggest game in football,” it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect an affair of epic proportions.
Instead, a team sheet surfaced around an hour before kickoff, that, dare I say it, looked as though United were happy to play for a draw at Anfield, with Rooney, Hernandez, Nani and Valencia all starting on the bench. Many would suggest that it would have been naive for Sir Alex to have played his full attacking squad because of how open United have looked in recent games coupled with the fact that they play in Europe midweek, followed by the fiercest of rivals, Manchester City at Old Trafford on Sunday but treating Liverpool with that much caution in 2011 is entirely unnecessary.
The general consensus of opinion surrounding the controversial team selection seemed to be that Sir Alex was setting up his side to keep the game tight and ‘nick’ a goal late on if the opportunity arose. These tactics included keeping a man on Charlie Adam throughout the game. The game started with United being extremely wasteful in possession and losing the ball in unpressured situations in the midfield on numerous occasions and although there were five senior players in the midfield, Liverpool were getting too many opportunities which could have been due to the absence of Rooney’s combative spirit and ability to bridge the gap between the midfield and Welbeck. In this game, the best form of defence should have been attack and wasn’t. Because of this lack of pressure it put too much strain on United’s defence and Liverpool made the break through with a Steven Gerrard free kick, when Ryan Giggs moved out of the wall after Rio Ferdinand sneezed on Charlie Adam (there was contact).
Sir Alex brought Rooney and Nani on for Park and Young, followed shortly by Hernandez on for Jones which instantly changed the game for the better allowing United to take the game to the Liverpool backline. United began to use the wings more effectively and forced a succession of corners. A Nani corner kick flicked on by Welbeck and netted by Javier Hernandez spared a few blushes and uncomfortable questions on team selection, even though the corner was taken by a substitute and netted by a substitute. Quite ironic.
Sir Alex’s team selection represented the history of the occasion and paid far too much respect to Liverpool’s current and available players. Had he started two of Rooney, Nani or Hernandez and not focussed on treating Charlie Adam like Iniesta, the game could have been won comfortably. Instead, the selection allowed a mediocre Liverpool team in a transitional period to gain confidence and control a game that should have been beyond the ability of their current squad. You won’t hear any cries for Sir Alex to lose his job over it and of course, that would be ridiculous but it has to be said, he had a bad day at the office and fans should have the right to voice their opinion in a constructive manner. After all, If Mancini had put out a similar team in such a high profile game, would you be one of the fans that criticised the negative tactics? Just a thought.
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