Liverpool 2 - 0 Manchester United – How the Europa first leg went completely one way

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - Liverpool FC

Liverpool 2 - 0 Manchester United – How the Europa first leg went completely one way

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Arun S Kaimal


When Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United reached Anfield on Thursday evening, they might have hoped for another ‘smash and grab’ victory against the Reds from Merseyside. In early January, the Red Devils had left Anfield with a 0-1 win and three points, with Wayne Rooney scoring from their first shot on target 12 minutes from time. After 90 minutes of football in the Europa League, Manchester United once again left the Merseyside thanking their luck – lucky to have avoided a defeat any more embarrassing. They were lucky also to have had David De Gea at the goal mouth, saving them again and again this night.


Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Simon Mignolet (GK), Nathaniel Clyne, Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge

After a last-minute victory against Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Sunday, Liverpool proved their ability to come back from tough positions even after going down to ten men. The match against Manchester United was the most anticipated tie of the Europa League this week, and Jurgen Klopp welcomed back Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho into the XI, to make his favourite 4-2-3-1 formation.

Emre Can and Jordan Henderson sat in front of the back four, with the German dropping back to the central defence sometimes to spread the ball around. Lallana and Coutinho took their positions on the right and left respectively while Firmino was just behind Daniel Sturridge.

Manchester United (4-1-4-1): David De Gea (GK), Guillermo Varela, Danny Blind, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata, Morgan Schneiderlin, Marcus Rashford, Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial

Marcus Rashford was the new sensation last time, when Man United played in the Europa League. Two goals in his Europa League debut against Midtjylland followed by two in his Premier League debut against Arsenal made him the ‘next big thing’. However, the lad, who looked like a natural goalscorer, was shoved to the right side of a four in the midfield for their trip to Anfield.

Fellaini, Mata and Memphis Depay formed the rest of the midfield with Martial at the top of the attack.

1. Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana running the show

Liverpool’s attacks usually start from their attacking midfielders, and that was exactly what happened last night. Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana ran the show from the midfield with only Schneiderlin left to run after the trio. In fact, Rashford and Depay spent most of the time running back to keep a hold on Coutinho and Lallana, rather than bombing forward for their own attack.

So it wasn’t a surprise that Firmino’s pass led to the penalty that paved the way for Sturridge’s penalty. After finding himself in space, the Brazilian passed it to Clyne, who was running into the box, and a pull back from Depay on the right back made the referee point to the spot. Although it first looked as if the contact was just outside the box, replays dismissed doubts with Clyne just managing to enter the box before Depay pulled him down.

2. From 4-1-4-1 to 3-4-1-2 – Louis van Gaal’s philosophy

The home side ran the show in the first half with only David De Gea standing between them and the goal. A 1-0 lead at half time was not the right reflection of Liverpool’s dominance with the Spaniard denying Coutinho, Lallana and Sturridge several times from close range.

After starting with the 4-1-4-1 formation, Louis van Gaal threw his system in the dustbin at half-time and introduced veteran midfielder Micheal Carrick in place of Rashford to move to a 3-4-1-2 formation. Smalling and Rojo took the right and left centre back positions while Carrick slotted in between them to make it a three-man defence. Blind and Varela were pushed up as wingbacks, with Mata behind Martial and Depay in the attack.

The strategy from the Dutchman looked good at the start of the half, with Man United controlling the ball much better than their awful display in the first half. A three-man defence also rattled Liverpool’s plans with Coutinho and Lallana running into the defenders for the first fifteen minutes of the second half.

Although it proved to be unsuccessful at the end, with Carrick playing a part in Liverpool’s second goal, the Dutchman’s change of formation helped Man United gain some much-needed possession in the second half.

3. Carrick’s mistake and one-touch goal for Firmino

Seeing his side slowly losing the momentum in the second forty-five, Klopp brought in Joe Allen in place of Sturridge in the 64th minute. Liverpool pushed Firmino into the striker position with Henderson moving to the right.

And the change in personnel worked in the home side’s favour in the 73rd minute with Firmino doubling the score after a mistake from Carrick. A poor touch from the veteran in the box gave Lallana a chance to get the ball, and he passed it to Firmino for a first-time finish beating David De Gea.

The match ended 2-0 in favour of the home side, but it could have been much worse for the Red Devils if it wasn’t for their goalkeeper. One shot on target, zero corners and six saves from De Gea – just a few stats from the match, and these numbers would continue to haunt Van Gaal until both teams meet once again in the second leg at Old Trafford next week.  

(Also, take a look at our Managers XI - 2015/16 Premier League Managers XI - Who would make the team?)

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