Thursday 17 March 2016

United 1-1 Liverpool: What we learned as United bow out of Europe

Described as very tired two weeks ago, Daley Blind has started every United game since late October and was supposed to be ruled out of the Europa League tie.

Needing goals to remain in Europe, United were bound to be porous and never quite had the measure of an attack with two of the most talented forwards in the country.

With Michael Carrick ahead of Blind, he lacked sufficient cover when on the back foot. 

United were not as over reliant on the Dutchman's distribution as they were at Anfield with Carrick in the side, but it speaks volumes of Louis Van Gaal's inexplicably casual preparations that when a stopgap central defender like Blind might be sidelined it sparks widespread panic.

Guillermo Varela was United's best player against West Ham but he was the worst against Liverpool.

Even before Philippe Coutinho practically walked past him for their goal, the young Uruguayan's composure was lacking and his positional awareness, one of his biggest weaknesses, afforded Liverpool plenty of space down the left, which made his interval withdrawal inevitable.

Van Gaal might not have planned on using Varela at all this season with Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia and even Ashley Young ahead of him.

 But, however, it is hypocritical of the United manager to retain someone as raw and risky as Varela and sell Rafael, a player whose cult status was built on his all-action performances, particularly against Liverpool.

Two years and one day ago, United lost at home to Liverpool in a 4-2-3-1 formation with a defensive midfield axis of Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini.

United's regression to the David Moyes level occurred months ago but Van Gaal has a spectacular tendency to channel his inner Scot.

It says a lot about the Dutchman's reign and his flawed thinking that had Morgan Schneiderlin - a player who is essential as United rebuild their spine - lined up it would have been a surprise.

In such a rigid formation, the Reds were bypassed as the attempt at fluidity was limited to Jesse Lingard's and Juan Mata's interchanging.

United are more spirited than the David Moyes side but they are easy to counter against even with such a 'safe' manager in charge.

We didn't have the intensity to counter Liverpool's attack with the 34-year old Carrick patrolling the midfield with Ander Herrera not risked.

Bastian Schweinsteiger was not regarded as fit enough and Darmian might still be ring-rusty but Van Gaal's hesitancy over Schneiderlin is a symptom of the problematic and restrictive 4-2-3-1 which has defined United's joyless season.

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