Manchester United vs Liverpool – Will LVG hand the game to Brendan?

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This weekend’s box office match is the showdown between the two most successful teams in the history of the English game. Sir Alex’s Ferguson’s enduring legacy was how he successfully knocked Liverpool off their perch. Yet the post-Fergie era hints at a similar fate for United as the one that befell their northern rivals. Both teams started this season with very high expectations. Manchester United embarks on their second season with LVG at the helm and a fan base that expects results after a number of high profile signings. Liverpool on the other hand appear to have perhaps learnt their lesson from previous transfer windows and have brought in a number of potential “signing of the season” candidates. This weekend’s clash is about much more than just the 3 points. It is about bragging rights and a long term rivalry – The question now is not about who is better equipped to win this match, but who will tactically nullify the opposition and come out on top? The answer to this question lies in the hands of the Manchester United manager.
LVG has a reputation as one of the most stubborn managers in world football, to the extent that he comes across as tactically inflexible. In his first season with Manchester United he insisted on a 5-3-2 formation that yielded no results. This season he is taking a similar approach, not with his formation – notably a better 4-2-3-1 – but with his choice of personnel. He did not address the centre-back issue that Manchester United is clearly suffering from and is out to prove that the signing of Schweinsteiger was the right choice for a midfield enforcer. If he sticks with this way of thinking, Brendan Rodgers will have a ready-made recipe to beat United on Saturday.

Why was Liverpool the better side against Arsenal and on the end of mauling against West Ham?

This season, Liverpool is adopting a new attacking approach. Their attacking players are predominantly playing through the middle in a tight and compact midfield setup. The wing play that is occasionally provided comes mainly from their attacking wing backs, Clyne and Gomez. This makes it very difficult to attack them through the middle as Liverpool will most likely come on top in the midfield battle with six players placed centrally. Against Arsenal, they started the match with three midfield work horses and completely dominated the first half. In the second half Liverpool retreated and Arsenal started stretching the game and exposing the flanks. They could not really hurt Liverpool because of their style and mentality that places too much emphasis on passing. This ‘one extra pass’ philosophy of Arsene Wenger’s football allowed Liverpool the time to retreat and reposition themselves defensively.
Against West Ham, Bilic’s tactics were simple. Overcrowd their half of the pitch and play on super-fast counter attacks to hit Liverpool when they are out of position. This is why most of the goals came from defensive school boy errors – there was so much going on and players were out of position – so the errors had to come.

How can Rodgers exploit LVG’s choices?

With Coutinho’s suspension and the availability of Martial, LVG has the tools and with it a great opportunity to comfortably beat Liverpool. On Saturday, he will most likely stick to the formation and player choices that he has gone with all season. This will play directly into the hands of Liverpool.
The midfield pair of Schweinsteiger/Carrik and Schneiderlin are not ideal for a game like this. Schweisteiger will go down in history as one of the greats of the game. At the age of thirty-one he is a player of a similar mould to Michael Carrick. Though a better visionary than the “English Pirlo”, he still lacks the pace and energy to handle the dynamic midfield trio of Can, Henderson and Milner. When Paul Scholes was brought back from retirement, he dominated most games against lesser opposition but in the big games, he really did struggle and they generally ran circles around him. Schweinsteiger and Carrick will be a similar case this season. LVG should instead consider the powerful and capable midfield pair of Herrera and Schneiderlin. LVG also has the opportunity to play two pacey and tricky wingers in Depay and Martial but again he will probably use Mata on the left flank allowing Liverpool to nullify his threat down the flank due to his lack of pace. If that is the case he would also not be able to cut through the very crowded middle.

United’s weakest link goes against Liverpool’s strongest

LVG’s insistence to find a place for his Dutch compatriot Daley Blind is baffling to say the least. He is definitely not of the calibre to merit a starting position in a team with United’s aspirations and should be seen as a back-up player. Playing him out of position as a centre back is unfair to Blind himself and the rest of the United team, not to mention the United fan base. Against Swansea, Gomis bullied him out of the park all game long and the prospect of him lining up against Benteke has the potential to signal the end of his Old Trafford career. LVG is the one who splashed the cash on Rojo last season, yet he has been kept out of the match-day squads this season.
The analysis in this article is based on the assumption that the two stubborn managers will stick to the way they have lined-up all season. A number of tactical tweaks have been mentioned that would turn the tide in United’s favour such as fast attacking wing play, a dynamic midfield duo, strong centre back pairing and playing Mata in his favoured position. Rodgers also has opportunities to further hurt LVG. If he decides to play Ings up front with Benteke he would be tasked with taking Smalling out of the game and that would allow Benteke to toy with the unfortunate Blind. Their duel is so unfair that Benteke could actually pick him on his shoulder and run around with him.

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