#MUNLIV: NAIL IN THE COFFIN?

 

A n undeserving win midweek for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who continues to shamelessly grin as he endangers the future of Manchester United by driving with no hands on the steering wheel. At first, his tenure brought welcome relief compared to the draconian regimes of Mourinho and Van Gaal but the players at Old Trafford have become wise to the fact that all Ole offers is good vibes and no substance.

Barcelona are meant to be a club in crisis but I assure you that there is still a structure and DNA to how they play their football. The individual quality has dropped and thus the execution of the 'Barca' way is not perfect but at least there are patterns of play, a sense that the players are being 'trained'. United are on the opposite side of the spectrum. Stacked full of talent but with no sense of identity with or without the ball...

Liverpool come into this game on an unbeaten run and seem to have turned a corner in terms of their mentality as a side. A lot of that is down to their talisman Mo Salah who seems to have miraculously found another gear and is elevating himself to generational great levels, not just that of a world class player. Slowly but surely his influence is beginning to rub off on others in the squad although there is still a long way to go before we can describe anyone else in the Liverpool squad as a world-class operator based on current form.

In terms of selection issues, United need to decide whether Cavani and Ronaldo need to start together. The Ronaldo up front alone experiment just is not working and it is becoming apparent the great man is in need of greater service. Other issues include the Pogba and Bruno conundrum - can United be balanced with them both on the pitch? and does Rashford have the legs to start again after a lung-busting shift in midweek.

For Liverpool, Firmino seems to have recaptured his place as the focal point of the front line. In midfield, Keita's Jekyll and Hyde midweek display against the Rottweilers from Madrid was potentially a coming of age performance or the final straw depending on which way you look at it but should still see him earn a starting spot at Old Trafford. Other than that there are no real selection dilemmas.

Anyway without further do, let us delve into the tactical talking points for Saturday's game!


 
Munliv lineups
EXPECTED LINEUPS...
 

UNITED IN POSSESSION

BUILD UP PHASE

Despite having a centre back pairing of Lindelof and Maguire, United struggle to play out from the back consistently against teams who press relentlessly. Before we go into the coaching, the bigger issue is the managerial selection choices which do not place enough emphasis on press resistance and decision making in key positional areas.

In order to build up effectively, the first step is to have a rock solid diamond as the foundation for the build up phase i.e. Ball playing keeper, two centre backs who split and are progressive with the ball and a midfield pivot who is super reliable in possession, comfortable in tight spaces, able to shift away from pressure and make the right passes to the right people at the right time with the right weight. United do not have a keeper who is elite in possession and they lack a world class holding midfielder.

Without these pieces in place, the impact of coaching can be limited but nevertheless there are many sides out there, take a Brighton for example who are proof that as long as you have the right 'type' of player and coach them appropriately - a consistent and effective build up phase can be achieved, even if it is not on par with your Man City's or Bayern's. The fact United lack the right type of players at Goalkeeper and in midfield, and furthermore the side does not look like it is making the most of 'lesser' players in these positions is telling of Ole's inability to recognise the importance of this issue and resolve it.

Klopp will look to exploit this, just like Rodger's Leicester were able to in their last two encounters against United. As we can see from the picture, Fred played a blind pass without checking over his shoulder. Absolutely criminal for a midfielder in that position and with that level of responsibility for the build up phase. Even if United play a Pogba deeper, these issues will remain as he too has a tendency to make sloppy decisions in his own third.


 
Fred to Trent
UNITED LACK THE PERSONNEL IN MIDFIELD TO BUILD UP SAFELY
 

THE FINAL THIRD

It is easy to get caught up with the hype about Ronaldo - especially when he scores iconic headers in the dying embers like he did against Atalanta. However, these last ditch efforts against tiring legs and minds can't take away from the fact that his presence is being blamed for stifling United's forward play which is currently a shadow of the chemistry shown when Cavani was leading the line last year. Is this a fair criticism?

Personally I think Ronaldo has had a raw deal in the sense that since Madrid he has not really featured for a fully functioning side which allows him to focus on what he does best - score goals. United's attack looks middling because there is not enough attacking quality coming from the full backs, which in turn makes their wingers easier to read and you have a midfield which lacks creativity and progression in possession. Juventus also similarly looked like a dated outfit which no longer had the lustre of yesteryear.

Perhaps Ronaldo's biggest flaw has been signing up to teams with a lot of history but have current sides which will not stand the test of time. In any case, he will be up against a Van Dijk who might be creaking but should still have enough physicality to deal with the threat of Ronaldo. What would make Van Dijk's job harder is playing Ronaldo alongside Cavani. The question is do United have the personnel and tactical ability to pull off a formation which enables the two elder statesman to feature alongside each other from the start.

If the answer is no, then Rashford and Greenwood must be on the ball for United to create anything of note. For Rashford to have any impact against a low block, the influence of Shaw will be significant. For all his flaws this season, Shaw was still instrumental in United's second half performance and his attacking game is still improving. The big question mark is whether Ole will let him off the leash with Mo Salah waiting to pounce...


 
Munliv Utd final third
RASHFORD NEEDS SHAW ON OVERLAP BUT CAN HE LET GO OF SALAH?
 

TRANSITIONAL PHASE

With Rashford back in the side in midweek, United did seem to have the ability to break enemy lines when the opposition was not camped in their own final third. With the passing ability of Fernandes and Greenwood, this is a potent route to goal especially against Liverpool where Trent Alexander-Arnold is bound to have moments where he is out of position. Unfortunately for United, Rashford did pick up a dead leg against Atalanta, so it remains to be seen if he is unleashed from the start.

Sancho lacks that same killer threat in transition which seems to be a shock to Bundesliga fans where he was constantly a menace on the counter. One of the major reasons is that Sancho was a provider in the positive transition, carrying the ball but always with an eye for the killer pass. At United, he doesn't have players like Reus and Haaland... penetrators who are attuned to his game, instead he has an ageing Ronaldo and a Greenwood who is more comfortable with ball to feet these days rather than running in behind. Sancho could probably benefit with linking up with Rashford.


 
Trent Rashford
RASHFORD COULD HAVE THE BEATING OF TRENT
 

LIVERPOOL IN POSSESSION

BUILD UP PHASE

It was shocking how bad Atletico Madrid's press was against Klopp's men in the first 20 minutes of their pulsating midweek encounter. Felix and Griezmann did not know who to press and they just sat off Liverpool's centre backs and gave acres of space to Trent who kept feeding the ball to dangerman Mo Salah. Eventually that supply line was disrupted but it was eerily reminiscent of how Watford allowed Liverpool to stamp their authority on the weekend (against Atletico, Liverpool had 70% possession in the first half and against Watford they enjoyed a mammoth 76% possession).

So should United take the game to Liverpool? Not necessarily - Brentford and Atletico have exposed this Liverpool side without enjoying the lions share of possession. The key is to have periods of aggression and remind Liverpool they are in a game - catch them off guard, rather than to confront them toe to toe. Solskjaer has been able to give Liverpool tough games by adopting this strategy but in their last encounter, United got schooled which suggests Klopp is becoming wise to his tactics.


 
Munliv Liv build up
UNITED NEED TO PRESS PERIODICALLY AND FORCE MATIP TO GET ON THE BALL
 

THE FINAL THIRD

Salah has historically had a problem against the low block and even in the last encounter against United, he only scored when United threw the kitchen sink at Liverpool towards the end and left acres of space open for him to counter into. However it must be said that this season there is a different feel to Salah. It feels as if he has managed to recapture some of the magical elements of his game that were present during his Basle days... a more skilful way of dribbling, taking more risks inside the box and willing to use his weaker foot more.

An elite player who is still finding room in which to improve and not rest on his laurels. Going back to the beginning to add elements to a game which is already world class. It is a pleasure to see and quite frankly he is probably the most dangerous player in world football with Mbappe his only real rival in my opinion. Luke Shaw who has been in appalling form this season is usually a great match up against Salah but this may be the game where Salah finally gets the better of him.


 
Munliv Liv Final Third
UNITED ARE NORMALLY NOT EASY TO BREAK DOWN IN OPEN PLAY BUT SHAW IS IN POOR FORM
 

TRANSITIONAL PHASE

Without Varane in the side, United are potentially vulnerable down the middle on the negative transition. De Gea also does not like to come off his line, so through balls down the middle could be an issue. But do Liverpool have the centre forward to exploit that? Not really. Jota potentially could make use of this but it does seem as though Firmino is back in Klopp's good books.

We have already spoken about Salah's battle with Shaw, but can Mane have the beating of Wan-Bissaka? unlikely in my opinion as the Englishman is probably the only reliable feature of United's defence currently. Most of the goals they have been leaking have been down the left flank. AWB has quietly gone about his work and done relatively well defensively. He has the athleticism to keep up with Mane.


 
sALAH COUNTER
SALAH GETS A RARE OPPORTUNITY WHEN THE GAME IS DEAD AND BURIED
 

THE PYTHAGORAS PERSPECTIVE

It is really difficult to write off Solksjaer's men in these fixtures as they have the capacity to flip the script on its head. Furthermore his limited tactics do tend to come alive in games where they are the underdogs and the odd sequence of quality tends to catch opponents off guard. Its the equivalent of Wilder vs Fury, United may look very raw and agricultural but in the form of Rashford, Ronaldo, Cavani, Greenwood, Fernandes and Pogba... they pack a heavyweight punch that can just connect against anyone's jaw.

As for Liverpool, their mentality seems to be in a better place than last season and whilst they still look a shadow of the team that won the league, it is hard to ignore the way they are grinding their way into title contention. They do not look like a side that will be beaten easily this season.

Prediction… with the game being at Old Trafford, it seems likely that it will be a draw and Ole earns a stay of execution. Based on form - it honestly wouldn't be a surprise if Liverpool and Salah just catch fire, genuinely just a difficult game to call due to the unpredictability of United in big fixtures.


 
 
 
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