Man Utd’s disastrous defending shows why they are not Premier League contenders
A defensive horrorshow. That feels like an apt way to sum up Manchester United’s performance as they capitulated to a 5-0 defeat at home to Liverpool. Credit to the visitors for capitalising but this was a mess of United’s making.
Harry Maguire, the captain, the defensive leader, was at the heart of the chaos. It was a nightmare performance individually, with Maguire horribly out of position at times and beaten to crosses into the box. But he was also unable to organise the players around him as Liverpool ran riot.
With Raphael Varane out injured – and how United miss him – Victor Lindelof was culpable for a couple of awful pieces of defending, while Luke Shaw on the left had his worst game in a United shirt.
The full-back was left to fend for himself for the first goal but got in a mix up with Maguire for the second before going missing for the third and fourth. For Mohamed Salah’s hat-trick strike he generously allowed the Liverpool forward to run in goal-side of him.
On the other flank, Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s poor pressing for the first goal set off a disastrous chain reaction and this ferocious one-on-one defender managed just one tackle all game.
That struggle to a lay a glove on Liverpool was also a major factor in midfield, where Fred, who had overcome a knock to play, did not make a single tackle in 90 minutes. That’s an outrageous stat for a defensive midfielder in a game like this. Scott McTominay was barely any more effective, managing one tackle all game.
Manchester United’s failure to sign a defensive midfielder in the summer is appearing to be a massive oversight.
With that defence in front of him, gifting the opposition time and space in and around the box, you feel for David de Gea. Forced to scoop the ball out of his net five times, the Spaniard did not stand a chance.
Premier League titles are built on defences. This United team, with their one shutout in 21 games, are nowhere near that level. They rank bottom of the Premier League this season for tackles per game and errors leading to shots. That’s a damning indictment of their application and focus.
They got a clear demonstration here that this rejuvenated Liverpool are miles ahead of them now. Their other local rivals, Manchester City are next at Old Trafford and likely to deliver a similar demonstration. Ten years on from the 6-1, you would not rule out a similar scoreline.
It’s a complicated issue to solve, from personal performances to collective pressing and organisation, and that takes time and skill. But until it is addressed, United – despite all their expensive acquisitions at the other end of the pitch – will not be in the frame for the title any time soon.
Man Utd not in the same postcode as Liverpool
Liverpool bettered Manchester United in every single department on Sunday. Tactically, technically, physically, mentally.
But the scariest thing? This was not even Liverpool at their best. Jurgen Klopp was keen to acknowledge that after the game, giving an insight into what his Monday analysis might look like.
“When I analyse the game, I cut the goals off and analyse the game. The result is not interesting to analyse. We could play better football than we have, too, and we have to stay more concentrated in some moments.”
It must be tiring and testing playing under Klopp, but it must be equally rewarding.
Perhaps that should have been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s approach after Wednesday night’s comeback win over Atalanta – the warning signs were there for everyone to see, and certain former team-mates were keen to point that out, but the narrative was of a comeback culture and never-say-die attitude. It missed the mark.
United were not even in the same postcode as Liverpool on that Old Trafford pitch to have any chance of a famous comeback, and Atalanta is so far from memory it may as well have happened in another lifetime.
As Klopp also noted, Liverpool were incredible in the final third. The German’s complaint must have been in defence, where they did allow United several chances in a basketball-like first 20 minutes. Liverpool’s high defensive line is the reason they can look so devastating in the opponent’s half, and why games involving Klopp’s side are so entertaining. It’s also the reason they could and probably will lose freak games this season, but they are now looking as close to that title-winning side of 2019/20 than ever before.
Kane’s imposter returns
Harry Kane’s goal and assist at Newcastle was supposed to be the turning point for his season.
Maybe we jumped the gun.
Instead, his imposter returned at the London Stadium as Tottenham’s timid attacking performance was seized upon by a clinical West Ham side, spearheaded by the excellent Declan Rice.
The teamsheet said Kane was playing for Tottenham – but the player wearing his shirt certainly did not resemble the man that has tore up the Premier League in recent years. Kane has scored 11 goals against the Hammers but this was not the same Kane, who was making his 250th league appearance for Spurs. He did not celebrate the milestone with a performance to remember.
Sloppy with his build-up play and lacklustre with his movement off the ball, Kane slipped back to the early-season narrative of not actually looking that interested in what was going on around him. For the majority, the game passed him by. Kane had just 35 touches of the ball – the fewest of any Tottenham player – and failed to create any chances for his team-mates. He was the only outfield player in both sets of teams not to win possession back for his side.
Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna rarely broke a sweat in dealing with Kane’s threat as Spurs did not muster a shot on goal in the second half. A chance of his own did fall his way before the break when he attacked a Sergio Reguilon cross but his header was tipped away by Fabianski. In truth, it was a finish that lacked any conviction. As did much of his afternoon’s work.
Gritty Leicester must take chance to build
It was six months since Leicester last won back-to-back games before victory at Brentford on Sunday added to last weekend’s three points against Manchester United and finally kickstarted the Foxes’ season.
Brendan Rodgers’ team were still far from vintage, and rode their luck in a game where aside from James Maddison’s open-goal winner, they racked up an xG of just 0.46 against a defensively strong Brentford side.
In an unusual turn of events, it was the visitors’ defence rather than attack which looked the more assured, inspired by Jonny Evans’ continued recovery from injury. They remained disjointed and struggled to combine long passages of play, but got the job done.
“I’m so happy for the players, because they had to dig deep,” Rodgers said as Leicester jumped into the top half of the Premier League table and finally began looking up the league rather than down it.
There’s still a way to go to get back to the heights of the last two seasons, but this is a step in the right direction.