For the first time in 5 years, Manchester United completed a league double over fierce enemies, Liverpool and made the charge to title number 20 even more menacing. As usual, the match also left a lot of talking points.
1. MANCHESTER UNITED LOOKED SMOOTH IN MIDFIELD
Since last season, a lot of complaints from fans of the club have all been about the defects of the team’s midfield. At certain points, the problems have been pace and drive offered by the players and at other times, it has been the inability of the team to dominate games and shut opposition midfields down. However, on Sunday, the Man United midfield showed brilliance, drive, pace and energy to dominate Liverpool in a spell that gave the team the two crucial goals that won the game. While Michael Carrick provided the intelligence to start the attacks from deep, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa showed innovation and pressing ability to control the game and further support Robin Van Persie up the field. It was a commanding performance and for it to come against a Liverpool side that had shown an intense pressing game in recent months, it was very brilliant to see.
2. CARRICK’S IMPORTANCE TO THE TEAM WAS UNDERLINED ONCE AGAIN
In recent seasons, no player has received criticism from the United faithful as Michael Carrick. He has often been called slow and not useful enough to the team but this same player has started in 47 out of 48 games for the team so far. Yesterday, he showed his worth once again maybe, the praise he deserves will come to him. His importance was felt by both teams and with Liverpool being the team that was experiencing the negative effects of Carrick’s passing ability, Brendan Rodgers sought to stop him by dropping Luis Suarez closer to stem his passing and it worked. Carrick could only complete 18 of his 21 attempted passes in the second half. That was a huge fall from his first half output of 38 successful passes out of 46 attempts. One of such passes was a lovely long one that found Rafael whose pass created a moment of panic for Liverpool as Van Persie and Kagawa went close to scoring. By stopping Carrick, Liverpool found a way back into the game and tried very hard to save the game. If that does not tell of Carrick’s value, I wonder what else he must do.
3. SOME PLAYERS MUST IMPROVE
The total team effort against Liverpool was very positive and the celebration from the players at the end of the game showed how important the fixture was to the team. However, even in such a good outing, it was quite clear that some of the players did not really perform well. While Danny Welbeck was praised for his energetic pressing and the width he provided, it was obvious that he did not take the goal-scoring opportunities he had. His pace allowed him to get past Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger on numerous occasions but his decision-making was generally poor. Of course, he has to contend with being shifted wide to accommodate Van Persie in the middle but putting away chances only enhances Welbeck’s chances of getting more playing time.
Another player who showed a few negatives was Brazilian right-back, Rafael. He has been the team’s most vibrant player all season and aside Carrick, he has featured in a lot of games this season. However, in yesterday’s game, his defensive game was slightly below par and it cost the team a goal. Had he been more aware of Sturridge’s presence and pace, his reaction to David De Gea’s attempt at saving Steven Gerrard’s shot would have been sharper. His body language after the ball hit the net even showed an admittance of failing to act responsibly in the event. Following the goal, there were some nervy moments from Rafael such as the attempted clearance that fell to Sturridge but was skied into the stands.
Surely, with the title challenge heating up as the weeks wear on, it is important for the team to keep performing at high levels but more importantly, the individuals must give off their best constantly so that the unit can keep scoring important wins.
Points aside, title race aside, it was a good win over the “eternal enemy”, Liverpool. It completed a double and showed how different the two teams had become since the early 90s. In the context of the title race, it was a crucial win especially as Manchester City managed to win at Arsenal.
Next week, the team faces a tough test at White Hart Lane and that will be as grueling as it gets but if the displays from the team are anything to go by, a good result can be expected.