Liverpool – Manchester United: Seven Heaven As United Taught A Lesson (7-0)

Come at the king, you best not miss. Hoping to end the recent Anfield drubbings, Manchester United entered Sunday’s premier fixture in high spirits. But a cautious approach and problems down the channels failed to throw down the gauntlet for Liverpool to punish their opponents.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.

We decided to make this article free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.

It was a win over Liverpool that Erik ten Hag first laid his mark on Man United. No Maguire, no Ronaldo: out with the old and in with a new spine. 

This had stretched Liverpool’s winless start to the season to three games, but their season had yet to take off to the heights of previous campaigns. Jürgen Klopp’s team are still yet to truly spark but three wins out of four games, with clean sheets in all these games, could be the foundations for a pushback into the top four positions

Ten points ahead of them were Manchester United, who found themselves in a much greater stride. Lifting the Carabao Cup is a good benchmark for their success, but United have the potential to go far in other domestic competitions too. Ten Hag has honed in on the 4-2-3-1 system but had shown he is not afraid to make the tactical tweaks too to gain an advantage. 

Klopp made three changes from the team that defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers in the week. Andrew Robertson, Jordan Henderson and Cody Gakpo all came into the team. Roberto Firmino, who is leaving the club in the summer, was on the bench.

Six changes were made to the United team that beat West Ham in the FA Cup. Lisandro Martínez, Raphaël Varane, Luke Shaw, Fred, Casemiro and Marcus Rashford all came back into the team.

A more cautious United approach

A lot can be analyzed in the selection of a match-orientated coach like Ten Hag. He assembled his forwards in a different manner, with Bruno Fernandes on the left, Wout Weghorst in the ten position and Rashford positioned upfront. This changes the way that United presses because Fernandes has been relied upon to target the opposition center-backs off the ball, but was tasked with shielding the ball out wide to Trent Alexander-Arnold and only covering the center-back when the ball was on the far side.

7th minute: Man United were slightly passive in their 4-2-3-1 formation, but Fred’s reactivity saw this change as he pushed high on Jordan Henderson.

United’s pressing intensity was also not as high as we have seen this season, and as the first half developed, Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konaté were afforded time to build passing sequences from the back. As Weghorst occupied Fabinho, this led to Fred being more reactive to press higher on Jordan Henderson – who was positioned on the left side of the double pivot in this match. As Fred pushed forward, this created space for Cody Gakpo to move out of the central area and into the position behind him, which helped progress the ball forward for Liverpool.

Man United did have certain situations where their press was engaged, but Liverpool showcased that they could move the ball up the field very quickly through wide rotations. Harvey Elliott could pull Casemiro towards the right side and an underlapping run from Alexander-Arnold got Andrew Robertson in the box on the far side.

21st minute: Wide pattern that played through Man United’s situational press. Alexander-Arnold’s inside run was connected by Salah’s wall pass.

Liverpool also made a large amount of progress on earlier transitions in the game. Robertson was a key component, mostly due to the fact he was in the most available space. When the ball was on the far side, United was not entirely strict in covering the switch to the left and in situations where Robertson won the ball back on the left, Fred was still occupied by Henderson or trying to cover the right-back space when Diogo Dalot had committed himself forward.

Overtop to Rashford countered by Gakpo

United had conceded a lot of the possession in the first period. On the ball, they were a lot more direct to their forwards and tried to find Marcus Rashford as high up the pitch as possible. This involved a lot of baiting from Martínez and Varane, to try and engage Liverpool’s press high up the field, before the long ball towards the left.

Ten Hag’s team capitalized on this well just before the half-hour mark, when David De Gea’s high ball found Luke Shaw just beyond the halfway line. Fred made an aggressive run towards the left which created extra space for Rashford to run through between Van Dijk and Robertson. However, his connection on the ball was not as effective as the move.

Antony also carried a threat behind the last line, on the occasion, but the long ball to Rashford was United’s trump card when it came to chance creation. United had almost finished the half restoring some momentum, having engaged in passing moves and winning the ball back in profitable areas, but Liverpool exploited their opponents out wide to open the scoring.

As Dalot was forced to cover Robertson, it resulted in a lot of room for Fred to try and recover with Gakpo free on the left. Robertson moved inside and Fred was not grounded to cover Gakpo, whose touch back inside created separation from Varane and curled the ball into the bottom corner of the goal.

42nd minute: Buildup to Liverpool’s first goal. Pressing problems down the right side was exposed by Liverpool’s left side as Robertson moved the ball inside and Fred failed to recover the right-back space in time against Gakpo.

Second half onslaught

Liverpool did not take too much time to take the game away from Man United. A minute in, Luke Shaw’s lax pass to Elliott sparked the hosts into action, even if the build was quite sloppy. Fabinho flicked the ball over into Salah’s path but it was Elliott who got the second bite of the cherry to assist Darwin Núñez from close range.

Soon came the third goal from a classic Liverpool counterattack. Gakpo carried and slid the ball through to Salah on the right. He stepped in and out to throw off Martínez before he returned the favor to Gakpo, who had completely avoided the attention of Shaw who had also recovered. He dinked the ball over De Gea from close range to add his second of the game.

From this point, United had succumbed to Liverpool’s directness and failed to kill the tempo of the attacks that the hosts were building. The right side of Liverpool had clicked into gear, with Harvey Elliott being the bridge between midfield and attack, followed by Alexander-Arnold wrapping runs on the outside and Salah tucking inside.

Nonetheless, it is their vintage moves on the counterattack that has been Klopp’s best source of attacks at the moment. Liverpool’s fourth came with a hint of fortune, two passes deflecting off Martínez, but nothing could take away the thunderous shot from Salah on the half volley, which smacked the underside of the crossbar and in.

65th minute: Buildup to Liverpool’s fourth goal, a prime example of the counterattacking scenarios that Liverpool builds themselves into.

The fifth goal came from a different source. Alexander-Arnold’s indirect free-kick was flicked away by defenders at the back post, but little pressure was applied on Henderson in the second phase. Núñez rosed at the front to flick the ball with the back of his head and into the far corner of the goal.

Liverpool’s goal frenzy was not entirely shot-heavy, but they continuously found the right spaces to punish an unrecognisable United team. The buildup from Ten Hag’s team had diminished from this point and the number of times they cheaply gave away possession was reminiscent of old habits that still linger around this team.

The sixth goal also came in a slightly fortuitous fashion, but the amount of space Elliott was found in had summed up their performance. A lateral pass from Alexander-Arnold to substitute James Milner had Alejandro Garnacho and Marcel Sabitzer stepping up, whereas Tyrell Malacia was tucked inside of the box on Salah. Elliott was free to receive on the touchline and drive, and as Shaw cleared straight into Roberto Firmino’s legs, the ball landed in front of Salah for an easy finish in front of the goal.

Further misery was piled on as Malacia attempted to press Stefan Bajčetić and Salah was left free on the outside. Salah poked Firmino in, who had time to set himself and slide the ball through De Gea’s legs.


Rarely does a seven-goal victory reflect on the expected goals, but Liverpool was insanely dominant in the second period. Their recent success stems from their ability to work on the counterattack a lot more, areas where new additions Gakpo and Núñez can work a rhythm. The result puts them three points away from fourth-placed Tottenham, and with a game in hand too.

Having lost just once since the return from the World Cup, it’s a big blow for United’s ambitions this campaign. How United would manage the physical aspects of key players, Casemiro and Varane for example would be an important factor with European competition and the FA Cup still to contend for. But how quickly Ten Hag gets them to recover would be a big test of his metal, with a squad that is quite shallow.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.

Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP