The inevitability of Manchester United's chaotic openness and Liverpool's waste

For anyone who has followed football for a long time, the events of the second half at Old Trafford yesterday seemed somehow inevitable.

That's simply how football works – when one team absurdly dominates the first half but fails to finish the game off, they always seem to regret it. Sure enough, Manchester United scored with their first shot from 50 yards, then took a 2-1 lead with another excellent goal from nothing.

It meant Liverpool were playing catch-up, which was ironic considering how good they were in the first half. They attempted 15 shots compared to United's zero before half-time and that difference of 15 is the third largest margin of any first half in a Premier League campaign. Liverpool's meeting with Newcastle on New Year's Day was 18-1 in first-half shots, and Manchester City's meeting against Manchester United last month was 18-2. On this basis, it should be no surprise that Liverpool had plenty of shots against Erik ten Hag's side.

Judging by a combination of their recent performances and looking at their starting lineup on paper, United had three clear weaknesses here. The first was on the right flank, where right-winger Alejandro Garnacho is a bit sloppy in defence, Diogo Dalot is tasked with pushing in crossing situations and can leave space at the back, and Willy Kambwala, 19, is talented but raw. Side centre-back.

Here, five minutes later, both Dalot and Kambuala found themselves halfway inside the opposition's half. Andy Robertson passes the ball past them, allowing Darwin Nunez to attack an exposed Harry Maguire.

The second problem is that United's system relies largely on individual marking in midfield, which means that central midfielders have to constantly monitor the movements of their opposing players. To be frank, they are simply unable to do so. Casemiro, in particular, looks increasingly immobile, and on this occasion, after two minutes, he simply couldn't keep up with Dominik Szoboszlai on Liverpool's first chance of the game.

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The third problem is the gaps between the lines. Again, this is partly down to United's midfielders being keen to stick to opponents rather than maintain their fitness. Here, there is too much space between the defense and the midfield, so Luis Diaz can jump into the space to receive a pass from Virgil van Dijk.

When he receives the ball, expecting Dalot to be on his back, the Portuguese right-back is instead in a strange crouched position, effectively signaling to his team-mates that he is caught between following Diaz's run and watching the overlapping Robertson, who has advanced beyond Garnacho – and not for the last time. .

Most of United's problems stem from these issues. Here, as goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher passes the ball to Jarel Quansah, Casemiro and Kobe Maino attempt to stop Liverpool's midfielders, Wataru Endo and Alexis McAllister. This means that they will have to follow them in reverse as well. But Maino turns off, is sucked into the ball, and McAllister runs away from him backwards. Quansah fired the ball at him and if Mac Allister's chest control had been a little better, he would have been able to shoot. This was too easy for Liverpool.

The next interesting incident came just 10 seconds later. Once again, Garnacho is unable to match Robertson's run. The left-back gestures for Mohamed Salah to pass to McAllister, and knowing the angle of the next pass will feed him well over the overlap. Jarnacho tries to cut off the pass but can't.

This demonstrated the problem of the gap between the lines and the mismatch of United's midfielders running – Robertson knows how to feed the ball in front of the United defense rather than in behind. Szoboszlai certainly comes off late in a great shooting position from the spot, but he misses this shot desperately.

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Cuts have consistently caused United problems this season. In the next incident, they got away with it in somewhat ironic fashion, with the problem arising from Kambwala driving forward and then losing the ball, allowing Liverpool to break. Diaz's cutback was intended for Szoboszlai, but was cleared by the recovering Kambwala, who was inadvertently in the right position having been badly out of position in the first place.

Here's another example of Robertson speeding past Garnacho to fire a foul shot from a decent position.

Here are two problems combined – again, too much space between the lines because Aaron Wan-Bissaka, like Dalot on the other side, is caught between tracking a winger inside and tackling another player on his flank. Perhaps Salah should have taken it in his stride and dribbled across the middle, but Robertson was once again free in front of Jarnacho and the pass was too tempting.

In the following incident, a Liverpool player was once again in the space between the lines, but Szoboszlai's pass was slightly misdirected and Maguire could step in and intercept it.

The move would have been the perfect target to highlight all of United's tactical issues. Casemiro and Maino are once again closed high up the pitch, meaning the gap between them and the defenders will be very large. Van Dijk passes the ball forward to Diaz, who plays it close to Robertson.

Robertson is again of course behind Garnacho, who tries to stop him but lacks either anticipation or acceleration. Once again, Robertson knows to play the ball to the edge of the box rather than behind the defense as United's midfield will not recover. They are nowhere to be seen – the five United players pictured here are the four defenders and Garnacho.

Szoboszlai is unable to put the ball in a good shooting position, and the ball eventually goes to Salah – who shoots the ball over the goal off-balance.

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The longer the half went on, the more United's midfielders were unable to return and provide a second line to deal with the cuts. In this counter-attacking situation, Casemiro and Maino are nowhere to be seen again – the four players in the frame are three defenders and Marcus Rashford. Dalot, who made some timely defensive tackles, blocked Diaz's shot.

There are also some examples of utter naivety from United's midfielders. Here, Casemiro passes the ball to Maino and then tries to launch into the attack. Well, fair play for ambition, but then Maino dribbles into traffic, gets himself into difficulty, and loses the ball.

Liverpool end up with multiple runners and space to invade, with Diaz's pass producing a decent effort from Salah on the run.

The only advantage United had in the first half came from a set piece. It's hard to know what their plan is here. Maino is initially close to the scorer Diaz in the corner. But he doesn't seem to be marking him – his actual job is to be a screen for Liverpool's players positioned at the back.

But when a corner kick comes from Robertson, Maino suddenly realizes there is no one to stop him. Liverpool's two threats in that area have already been identified. But he's not marking the ball either, so Nunez races towards the near post to pass the ball and Diaz, who races to the far post, turns the ball into the net.

United's chaos has been matched only by Liverpool's waste. Despite their smart play and the chances they created, only two goals came from a free kick and a penalty kick.

This lack of ruthlessness may cost them the title, but United's continued openness may cost Ten Hag his job.

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