Today was Liverpool’s season in a microcosm: they played well for part of the game, but lost the points in what they didn’t do for the rest of it. Had they performed at the level they did for half-an-hour of the second half, then they would have had something to show for their performance.
Daniel Sturridge did make a difference when he come off the bench, but he also showed why he’s such a hit-and-miss forward. His goal was the product of good anticipation, but had his decision-making and execution been better, he would almost certainly have helped his side find the second goal they craved. From the three opportunities he had after his goal to test David De Gea, he took none of them – it’s so frustrating to watch.
…And you can second that criticism for Danny Welbeck. He does so much that’s good, but he too frequently lacks composure in the attacking third – had the chances he had in the first-half fallen to Robin van Persie, the game would never have been as close as it was.
Sir Alex Ferguson still hasn’t found the right role for Shinji Kagawa, and the Japanese international doesn’t look comfortable in such a deep position. Finding a niche for him is a priority.
Manchester United lost their footing in the game under the own volition, and their lack of confidence in the defensive aspect of their game is all too apparent. At half-time the hosts should have been three or four up, and they were still utterly dominant in the opening minutes of the second period – but this is not a durable United, it’s a group of players who at the moment aren’t reacting well to being under pressure. As soon as Liverpool scored, you could see the anxiety on the pitch and the inhibition the players started to feel. A world without such attacking riches would be a frightening place for United.
…that’s not the first time Rafael has been guilty of ball-watching and allowing a forward to run beyond him and score. Compare Liverpool’s goal with the one Iker Muniain scored at Old Trafford last season: identical. The Brazilian has many merits to his game, but he has to address his defensive naivety.
Many fingers can be pointed for United’s second goal, because it was far too easy for Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic to drift beyong their makers – ultimately though, the blame lies with the goalkeeper. Watch the sequence of events before the free-kick is actually taken: it’s chaos in the Liverpool box, and that’s a situation which a goalkeeper should be commanding. The wall wasn’t set, the defensive line wasn’t right, and Reina should probably, deflection or not, have kept the ball out anyway. Not great.