Manchester United fans need to sit down. Yes the first half performance was a return to United of old. But the road ahead is ALL uphill still.
Yesterday’s victory can be looked at through two very different prisms. On the one hand, United were dominant. Playing quickly and with purpose. Possessing a midfield that physically and tactically outclassed Liverpool’s much lauded attack-minded midfield of late. Press, press, press. Manchester United closed down the space aggressively and consistently in the first half. Coupled with the magical Mata who seems to be finally released from captivity, the team’s work ethic and individual flair was just too much.
The second half fizzled out somewhat and became a much closer affair than the first had suggested. In the end, Manchester United’s attacking class and numerical advantage proved the difference.
However, credit can be stripped almost entirely from that performance when we look at Liverpool. They frankly got it wrong. Raheem Sterling is not a wing-back. He is no longer in form as his contract negotiations have dragged on and playing him out of position will not solve that.
This same formation saw Liverpool struggle at Swansea, they hung on in that match but lessons were not learnt. Then there’s Steven Gerrard. Recognising Sterling’s ineffectiveness, Gerrard’s inclusion allowed Raheem to push higher up, for all of 38 seconds at least.
The match would prove a much closed affair in the second half and perhaps an 11-man Liverpool would have earned the draw. Perhaps.
For Manchester United they can move on with Champions League ambitions, but the last two results have prescribed a strong pair of rose-tinted glasses to a look back on performances recently. Against Tottenham it was a return to the classic United, for the first forty-five at least. Can the same be said for that second half? Really, can it, ask yourself. The same goes for the second half at Liverpool.
Manchester United fans have high standards after years of excellence, but only the first half of the last two fixtures have lived up to those expectations in a very long time. Save for the defeat of Liverpool in December, what else was there to really be proud of lately?
Eight games separate Manchester United and Champions League football. A five point gap provides a welcome buffer, but one that could very quickly be eroded. Tactics Tim and his Aston Villa side are a novelty, but a resurgent force all the same. Sides like Man City and Everton are an unknown quantity, but Chelsea are imperious, boringly efficient and clinical. Arsenal no longer fear United and the chance to dump a Man United side needing points, out of a top four place will be relished by capacity away following and hungry team. Arsenal are that for all their flaws, has collected the most points since the start of the calendar year. A side that is notorious for a strong finish and a side no longed ravaged by injury or fearing a trip to Old Trafford.
Over thirty-eight games the table doesn’t lie. But At this stage last season who would have foreseen a Liverpool implosion in the manner we did? Yes, Man City claimed the title but did they ‘deserve’ it? Manchester United probably do ‘deserve’ a top four spot, whether they’ll get it is a completely different story.
The fans will enjoy a defeat of Liverpool and so they should, but to think top four is now the most likely outcome is still foolish, it’s still very much up hill from here.