Liverpool’s defensive weaknesses revealed by Manchester United as stuttering start set to become sad

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost the ability to do so. Ralf Rangnick rarely succeeded. Erik ten Hag was certainly not close in his first two competitive games. Then Liverpool came along and made Manchester United look like a good team within minutes. And then a really good one. If Ten Hag and his relentless squad of players were the architects of one of the most surprising home wins in decades at Old Trafford, Liverpool ensured that, as they did in both games last season, one of those sides embarrassedly left the pitch.

Then it was United, 5-0 and 4-0 struggles, that provided perhaps the worst days of a humiliation-strewn campaign. Now it was Liverpool. A new regime at United was set in motion by the incompetence of the old man’s tormentors. A 2022 Premier League defeat leaves them behind United in the table. A stuttering start to the season has become a sad one.

They were emblematic moments, snapshots of a terrible evening. Roberto Firmino missed the ball completely when he could have deflected a volley on goal. Trent Alexander-Arnold, often the best supplier, fired a cross over everyone waiting in the penalty area. James Milner and Virgil van Dijk, usually unflappable characters, seemed to have a constant argument. As Jadon Sancho scored the first goal, a feint just before that sent Milner skidding and Alisson the wrong way. Rather, it summed up how Liverpool lost their compass. It was a role reversal.

United turned Liverpool’s strengths into weaknesses. Or maybe Liverpool did. Alexander-Arnold was left unprotected and looked like a weak link defensively. If it emphasized how Jordan Henderson can excel as an understated, selfless full-back when deployed as the No. 8 at right-back, he instead anchored a heavily transformed midfield. In the biggest game of his career, Harvey Elliott offered less protection but more quality on the ball. First Anthony Elanga and then Marcus Rashford got away from Alexander-Arnold with ease.

And long before the Mancunier bailed the offside trap to score the second goal, it was obvious United’s speedsters were exploiting the space behind Liverpool’s back four. A flagship tactic became a reason for their downfall, but the strategy of deploying a high line of defense relies on factional judgement, on Van Dijk’s authority and on everything working in sync. And on a night when Liverpool lost the chemistry that drove them to greatness, on-pitch relationships crumbled.

It was a miserable reunion for Van Dijk and Joe Gomez. They brought unprecedented frugality to high-risk politics as they were injured just once in 11 games in Liverpool’s title-winning season. However, you can testify that when things go wrong, it can be a difficult proposition. The last time they were the two centre-backs, Liverpool lost 7-2 to Aston Villa. The goal line was smaller here; the pain could have been greater.

James Milner and Virgil van Dijk argue on the pitch

(Getty Images)

They spent too much time chasing United attackers but then Liverpool play catch-up all too often. This was the seventh consecutive league game as they conceded the first goal. They haven’t lost in their last six, but draws against Fulham and Crystal Palace were signs they can’t always mend early damage. At Old Trafford, like Craven Cottage, the first half was abysmal. There were no acts of escapology this time.

Identities can evolve just as teams mature or age, but Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool used to be a flying start specialist. The opponents had to be prepared for an early attack. But for some time they were impersonated by Firmino. Now the chief chugs around in slow motion. Running through the tunnel at half-time, Klopp felt his top speed is now faster than the Brazilian’s. Perhaps his efforts have taken a toll and Firmino has ducked into anonymity. Age is catching up with him, although Milner, five years his senior, has been popping up to set a record as the world’s oldest box-to-box midfielder. Milner is the exception to many rules, but if proposing six 30-somethings was a game, it’s too much, the man closest to his 40’sth Birthday was one of her livelier performers.

There was too little competition for that accolade and if Liverpool United had battered for the man who was to be the future of their attack in the summer race, it was sad to watch. Perhaps Darwin Nunez’s foolish attack on Joachim Andersen was the headbutt that changed Ten Hag’s United career; perhaps that of Lisandro Martinez as well, as the centre-back is football’s most notorious height – a whopping 1.67m tall – and has been spared a clash with a giant. Substitute at half-time at Brentford, he excelled against Liverpool.

A newly formed back four, in which no quartet from 5-0 was in the starting XI, was denied a goal. Mohamed Salah’s goal was his sixth in three games against United, a 10th overall he surpassed Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool record. Yet if Liverpool were able to enjoy the stats their meetings with United produced last season, they were now just a footnote to failure. Liverpool’s defensive weaknesses revealed by Manchester United as stuttering start set to become sad

Fry Electronics Team

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