Liverpool sent a message across the northwest at Anfield on Sunday, with their biggest ever competitive win over Manchester United. Jürgen Klopp's side have dominated the rivalry with United for most of his tenure, but they went into this game 10 points behind their opponents and in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification. United, meanwhile, have been so impressive under Erik ten Hag in recent weeks that there still seemed to be an outside chance of them joining Arsenal and Manchester City in the title race.
But with two goals apiece for Cody Gakpo, Darwin Núñez and Mo Salah – who became Liverpool's all-time leading Premier League scorer – and a late Roberto Firmino strike, Liverpool wrapped up an historic win. They also moved to within three points of the top four, with Klopp warning the other teams chasing the Champions League places not to write his team off.
"First half it got a bit wild," said Klopp. "But we scored an incredible goal, what a finish. Second half, start was pretty good and the finish was pretty good. It’s important that we really perform. All top performances. It was perfect. Everybody has to feel us, everybody has to know we are still around. That’s what we have to be from now on."
SHOTS / ON TARGET
ATTACKS INTO AREA
EXPECTED GOALS (XG)
Liverpool used a 4-3-3 shape to begin the match, but soon took up a much more fluid attacking structure. Centre-forward Cody Gakpo dropped into midfield to create a midfield box of four, or to maintain the three when Harvey Elliott moved out to the right to enhance Liverpool’s right-side rotations (below). Darwin Núñez then moved inside from the left to keep a presence through the centre, creating space for left-back Andy Robertson to advance into. As a result, Liverpool often built down their right, before then looking to penetrate into the final third on the left. Whenever United pressed, Liverpool’s back line and goalkeeper made use of the space Robertson had, often clipping the ball out to him to relieve any pressure.
Liverpool lost some momentum in the first half as they struggled to play through United’s block. After starting off with a man-marking system, United changed things up, with Antony defending narrower to cover Jordan Henderson. This allowed Fred to drop with Casemiro and protect the central spaces where Gakpo was looking to receive (below). Marcus Rashford also worked back, leaving Liverpool’s central midfielders frustrated at how little time they had on the ball. As a result, they dropped deeper towards their back line to receive in space. Diogo Dalot was left with responsibility for Robertson, but Liverpool’s left-back crucially got the better of his opponent just before half-time. He played in Gakpo, who had moved wide to find space away from the midfield traffic, before cutting inside to finish superbly and put Liverpool ahead.
Núñez headed in Liverpool’s second early in the second half, with the players on their right side again combining to create a chance for the players on their left. Mo Salah’s runs in behind after Gakpo dropped short helped Liverpool dominate in transition (below), with Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martínez particularly vulnerable early in the second half. Liverpool’s goals continued to flow following regains, with United completely unable to establish the adapted defensive block that had proved effective for most of the first half. Liverpool created good chances on the break and took them, scoring seven goals from just eight shots on target.
With the game realistically over at 4-0, Liverpool controlled possession more. Working around the visitors’ 4-2-3-1 block, they looked to play out to their right side as often as possible. Rotations in the spaces ahead of Shaw were the main target (below), and every time Salah managed to isolate Shaw or Martínez he caused all kinds of problems. The timing of his runs and the passes from Elliott and Trent Alexander-Arnold helped Liverpool break in down the right time and again, and they maintained pressure on their opponents as a result. Their sixth and seventh goals came from moves down the right, as Liverpool completed the rout with goals in the last 10 minutes from Salah and Firmino.
Manchester United were set up by Erik ten Hag in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Bruno Fernandes on the left and Antony on the right. Wout Weghorst played as the number 10 ahead of the double pivot of Casemiro and Fred, with Marcus Rashford up front on his own. In the first half, United’s best route forward was through counter-attacks from their deep block or on transition after a regain in midfield. Rashford’s pace was a threat in behind (below). Fred, Casemiro and Weghorst immediately looked to play him in when they won the ball, while Antony and Fernandes made diagonal runs in support.
United established more consistent periods of possession as the first half wore on. Diogo Dalot pushed forward from right-back, overlapping when Antony dribbled inside. Dalot often moved higher than Luke Shaw, who was concerned about Salah’s threat on the counter-attack, while Fred and Casemiro aimed to lock the hosts inside their penalty area with high positions to win the ball back (below). Weghorst joined Rashford up front when there was a chance to get the ball into the box, with Fernandes inverting into the inside channel or attacking the back-post space when United attacked down the right. Wide deliveries were key for United in the first half, with Fernandes’ header from Dalot’s cross providing United’s first big chance of the game.
United responded to going two goals down by looking to play quickly over Liverpool’s press, targeting the space in behind their high line. This was a good idea as it relieved pressure on their back line and helped move them up the pitch. However, the problem was that the gap between the attackers and the defence became too big (below), with the back line not squeezing up the pitch enough. As a result, winning second balls in midfield or establishing a press was almost impossible. United were left exposed in transition, with Liverpool exploiting the space they left.
Liverpool’s press caused United problems in the second half, with their wingers pressing inwards to block the passes between United’s centre-backs and full-backs. Number eights Henderson and Elliott then left their direct opponent and jumped out to press United’s full-backs, with Gakpo screening passes into Casemiro. This forced United away from the centre, and Liverpool were aggressive along the touchline to lock United in their own half or win the ball back. The hosts were buoyed by their goals, and United faded even further as the second half went on.
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Author: The Coaches' Voice