Date: 2nd September 2013 at 4:17am
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Sturridge with the winning goal

Sturridge with the winning goal

David Moyes has had a tough start to life at Old Trafford. With constant talk of transfers, and early games against Chelsea and, this week, away to Liverpool, it has been something of a baptism of fire for the former Everton manager. 

Games between Liverpool and Manchester United are always a big occasion, this particular weekend holding more meaning for the home crowd with the marking of Bill Shankly’s 100th birthday. The big news heading into the game was speculation regarding Wayne Rooney’s inclusion in the game. Rumours had circulated prior to the match that he had sustained a cut to his head in a training ground incident, but United kept quiet until game time. As kick off loomed, suspicions were confirmed as Rooney was nowhere to be seen in the squad.

Moyes started with De Gea in goal, with Ferdinand and Vidic in front of him. Evra was at left back and Jones at right. In midfield, the midfield partnership of Cleverley and Carrick continued, with the wings occupied by Young and Giggs. Up front stood Van Persie and Welbeck.

The game got off to a quick start as the home side pushed forward and won a corner in the opening exchanges. The corner was won when Sturridge fired on a loose ball, but was blocked by Ferdinand. The corner kick flew in, Agger rising to meet the ball with Sturridge within a yard of goal got his end on the end of it to steer it home and give his side the early lead.

United responded, piling on the pressure themselves, Van Persie going close with an overhead kick soon after. However, the visitors were frustrated in their attempts to get back into the game, rarely troubling Mignolet as Liverpool organised well behind the ball as the game entered a stagnant phase for the last 20 minutes of the half. Indeed the half was more notable for the way they went about picking up yellow cards, as Carrick, Cleverley and Van Persie all went into the referee’s book. It should also be noted that Jones after falling awkwardly when challenging for the ball with Coutinho, went off injured, with Antonio Valencia coming on to replace him.

The second half saw United pick up the pace as they went in search of an equaliser. The visitors dominated possession from the early going and pushed forward with greater intent. However, the hosts maintained their shape and were proving difficult to break down. Whenever United were in possession they had men behind the ball and closed down the opposition, barely allowing them room to breathe. Despite this, United kept going forward, using width to force through an opportunity, but despite this struggled to create clear cut chances. Nani, having come on for Giggs, came close with a powerful shot from 25 yards out, but Mignolet was well matched to it, saving and pushing the ball out of harm’s way.

The best opportunity fell to Van Persie though, as substitute Hernandez played him through on goal into a narrow angle, but the Dutchman could not find the target. As the game neared it’s conclusion, Liverpool began to hold the ball more, at first trying to catch United on the break before being content with seeing out the final minutes in possession. There was time to test De Gea again, Sterling fired a stinging shot his way, but the Spaniard tipped it over. And so Liverpool saw out the game 1-0, in a game that failed to test both goalkeepers often, but was well handled by the hosts in defending their early lead. Those who had backed United with the bwin premier league betting site would have been left very disappointed. Here are five things that may be taken from the game.

1) Liverpool organised well after gaining the lead

For all the complaints people may have of United’s performance on Sunday, credit must also go the way of Liverpool for the way they set out.After gaining an early lead they simply managed to frustrate United for the rest of the game. Like United, they did not trouble De Gea that often, as the game seemed to get bogged down in midfield, but what they did was maintain their shape and hassle United into making mistakes. It felt as though every time Carrick or Cleverley were on the ball, someone was there to close them down and give them little room to breathe and when United pushed forward, they got back in numbers to defend and leave little space for creating chances. It was telling that, despite enjoying more possession, particularly in the second half, United finished the game with the same number of shots on target as Liverpool, and had fewer shots overall. Welbeck may have had an argument for a penalty in the first half, and some might argue a draw would have been a fair reflection of the game, but ultimately United failed to create and never looked like they bring the game level.

With regards to the goal, one could argue it was a soft one to concede, with Agger easily beating everyone to the ball, although Sturridge did well to react to it and quickly steer the ball at goal. It left the impression that United could, and should, have defended the set piece better.

2) United looked blunt going forward

For all the possession United enjoyed, in the final third, they looked toothless. The service to Van Persie was poor, particularly coming from the wings, Young’s crossing, for example, rarely found it’s mark. Passes went to waste and the side struggled to force their way through the back line. Nani got a good shot away from distance and Van Persie should have done better when played in by Hernandez. Welbeck looked threatening at times, but could be guilty of holding on to the ball too long before shooting. Carrick and Cleverley looked unable to assert themselves in the middle of the park as they found themselves closed down easily.

Indeed, the frustration was evident at times, as Van Persie picked up a booking late in the first half after losing the ball and tackling late in response. In fact it could be argued Cleverley and Carrick were hindered by their respective bookings, limiting the tenacity with which they could play, although I make no complaint for getting booked for the tackles they committed.

3) Giggs should not be starting games

The respect and adoration United fans have for Giggs’ career is limitless, but one has to admit that at this point he should not be starting games, particularly big occasions such as this. On the right wing he frustrated, misplacing passes and naturally lacking the pace getting forward, with Valencia looking more potent coming on at right back, who strung together more passes and pushed forward with greater purpose. Giggs has his place in the side with his experience and can have an impact off the bench, but United have other options they should be turning to at this point.

4) Why is Kagawa not playing?

It is understandable if a player is not fully match fit then he will not feature much at the start of the season. However, Kagawa has not seen any match time over the last 3 games. The midfielder struggled in his first season at the club, often playing out of position out wide. However, for all the complaints about United’s midfield, it is clear they have a talented player waiting for a chance to shine and yet has not been given a chance to feature. Players like Kagawa have the potential to change games when brought on, and with Rooney out, United could have called upon him to add something different when they were struggling.

5) Rooney’s injury and the issue of transfer activity

On the news of Rooney sustaining an injury to the head in training, some wondered whether it was some veiled signal that he was on his way. This was likely simply coincidence and a genuinely unfortunate incidence, but does highlight the important he still holds to the side, especially with the lack of any additions this Summer.

In the aftermath of the game, the general feeling was that it was a game in which United’s shortcomings in midfield were highlighted. The failure to add to the squad this year after huge change to the staff is comparable to the mistakes made by City last year. Of course, panic buying and random signings for the sake of it will do nothing to improve the side either, but after a Summer in which United’s handling of the transfer window and targeting of signings has been followed and criticised widely, fans may grow frustrated with what could be seen as a failing to improve the side when the availability of players was clear.

At this stage of the season it would be ridiculous to panic about the start made, given United’s started relatively slowly last season, but in my opinion the chance to improve the squad was there and should have been capitalised on, or at least handled differently. Speculation has now made the club look desperate to add in what is an already inflated market. Of course, by the time this is published and read, the situation may have changed and United may have completed some business. However, failure to add coupled with any rough patches that may be encountered in the season will give the media, fans and neutral observers plenty of reason to pile on the pressure on Moyes as well as chief executive Ed Woodward.