Manchester United simply couldn’t handle Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool tactics on Sunday. Here’s how the boss got the better of them.
Liverpool’s primary tactic was the same as it was every week – press them high. The Reds swarmed Manchester United every time they tried to play it out from the back, frequently winning possession.
United failed to move the ball through midfield as a result. Scott McTominay and Fred, for all the running they do, simply aren’t elite passers.
Fred, for instance, misplaced 10 passes in the first half. McTominay failed with three, Harry Maguire with four, and Victor Lindelof eight.
Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate and Jordan Henderson misplaced seven between them by halftime in comparison.
So this was the big one. We pointed out in midweek that Atalanta showed a way to really get at United, even with two defensive midfielders in there.
The ‘secret’ was creating overloads out wide. United use four forwards and then two holding players to cover them. Those holding players, however, need to cover a lot of ground as the forwards don’t track back much.
Thus if you make a lot of movement, you can drag players out of position quite quickly. That certainly happened for the first goal as Mohamed Salah drifted centrally with everyone else. Luke Shaw needed to decide whether to close the Egyptian down or stick with Naby Keita, who popped up on the right.
There was no right option and Liverpool scored.
And then it happened for the second goal. Keita and Salah once again pulled players across, with the ball moving to the overlapping Trent Alexander-Arnold. There was no one left to cover him as Liverpool overloaded the right flank. He crossed for Diogo Jota to score.
Goal number 3? Same again. Keita again moved right (seeing a pattern?) and was able to get the ball across goal without pressure on him. After all, everyone had followed Liverpool’s players into the middle, taking United’s defenders with them.
And, yet again, it happened for the fourth. Keita wasn’t involved for once but Liverpool pushed enough players centrally that they took all of United’s attention. Salah, of all people, found himself without a marker on this occasion.
Playing a midfield two against Liverpool makes sense if the wingres drop back to create a line of four. Fail to do that and the Reds will embarrass you.
We mentioned as much before the game, saying that either United will sit deep or the Reds will run riot. Solskjaer picked the latter.
All of this – the pressing and the overloads – came because Liverpool weren’t afraid to push midfielders forward. Keita, in particular, found space on the right as United failed to cover the width of the pitch.
But Milner, too, did the same. He could have been on the end of Alexander-Arnold’s cross for the second, after all.
This was partly possible because of Roberto Firmino. He was dropping into space between the lines all game long, giving Liverpool an easy pass to get going. Midfielders and the other forwards then swarmed around him.
United simply didn’t have enough to handle that. Their two holding players couldn’t watch Firmino, press Jordan Henderson and track those runners drifting into space.
They certainly couldn’t do all of that as well as covering runs from full-backs. Liverpool just ran riot against a team that allowed them the space they craved.
This was brave from Klopp. His Liverpool tactics worked on the basis that they could take the game to United and get what they wanted.
He backed his players to press consistently and to prevent United being able to capitalise on Liverpool’s midfielders pushing on. After all, get that wrong and there’s a constant counter-attack on.
He backed his midfielders to be smart. That they could roam across the pitch to take up useful positions and quickly get back to prevent attacks.
Klopp even went with Konate on the basis that his physicality would eliminate any chance of the home side going long. He was right, too. United just didn’t try long passes whatsoever, putting up six attacking aerial duels all game.
In comparison, they tried 13 against Atalanta in midweek.
Klopp went brave with his Liverpool tactics against United. He backed an inexperienced player, backed his midfielders to take the game to the hosts and believed the Reds could get what they wanted at Old Trafford.
He was absolutely right, of course. Liverpool were magnificent.