By Mihail Vladimirov.
Usually billed as the biggest game of the English football calendar, this clash now pits ninth against the sixth. What’s more, with Liverpool winning only two out of seven league game since the start of December and United winning only one during the same period, it can’t be said both teams’ current position is a quirk of the league table in what is an amazingly surprising season overall. And it’s not only the results, but the way both teams have been performing this season which suggests they are solid, upper mid-table sides who are trying to punch above their weight and get into Top 4 positions.
This game in particular doesn’t have any relevance to how the league table might shape up come May. At least it doesn’t have any direct relevance and the number of games left means this game is not the proverbial six-pointer. However, what makes the game special (obviously apart from being a game between two arch rivals) is the implications it can cause over either side.
Neither team is in a good period results or performance-wise, so a win wouldn’t continue any momentum. And yet, a Liverpool will can cause huge troubles for United, possibly spelling the end of the days of their Dutch manager. A defeat in this fixture and the Red Devils would be officially out of any title battle and instead would be forced to fight tooth and nail to even finish in the Top 4. Meanwhile, a loss would prevent the Anfield team building on the rather impressive Arsenal display and will once again expose their lack of consistency and ability to move beyond the stop-start type of season they are currently having.
A draw won’t be any good for either side but it would certainly be the least damaging result. It would mostly allow the team to get out of this potential season-defining, for the worst, game largely unscathed with the teams ‘living to fight for another day’.
Man Utd’s lack of balance
Amid all the talks of crisis, wasted transfer money, the on-going sacking saga of Van Gaal, the poor form of Rooney et al, all the main talking points regarding United, what is usually going unnoticed is the true reason for all of the Red Devils’ issues. It’s not that the Van Gaal team can’t defend or attack, it’s a case of Man Utd not being able to play good defence and good attack simultaneously. Or in other words – they can defend and attack in equally good ways but only one thing at a time. Which is a sign of lack of a balance, something Liverpool under Klopp’s predecessor were very fond of too.
That lack of balance is obviously a coaching issue, something that the manager needs to address and find the solutions to improve upon. But arguably, it also betrays the horribly imbalanced squad Van Gaal has built and found himself in charge of at the moment; which is a persisting fixture since his appointment in the summer of 2014.
Last season, United had a squad full of holes across all positions, with more ‘names’ than actual ‘players’ available. The team had solid players in all positions, but there was an obvious lack of quality, let alone depth. The constant injuries, especially in the first six months, caused further damage and prevented the manager settling on a formation and style of play or drill the sort of cohesion required for the players in each lines to perform in a true team manner.
With something similar, but in a different way, is how Van Gaal ended up this season. The transfer work done this past summer at least fixed the issues regarding the midfield zone. But despite spending huge sums for two young forwards (Depay, Martial), the team currently finds itself relying on either promising but far from matured youngsters and Rooney.
It’s not a surprise that Van Gaal prioritised building up the team from the back and emphasising on the midfield zone as the key area – this is the two zones he has quality performers for the now. The extent of which he neglected the attack, making it almost a redundant part of the team, has obviously been problematic and is something that he could be legitimately criticised for. It’s one thing to have talented attackers who are not ready to perform week in, week out; who will fluctuate in their displays and believe that any current issues regarding the attack are just teething problems, something the team needs to live through in order to give them the time to develop and be ready for the future. However, it’s an entirely different thing to totally marginalise the way your team attacks to the point it looks like the players are actually being forbidden to attack at all, just because you don’t have world-class players in all four attacking positions of your 4-2-3-1 formation.
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