Manchester United 2 Liverpool 2: More Mainoo, more chaos, Klopp’s side made to pay


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Three weeks on from their seven-goal FA Cup classic, Liverpool and Manchester United met again — and again, we were entertained.

Though this contest resulted in only four goals, Liverpool could have had significantly more in the first half alone, missing several chances while United failed to take any sort of attempt at Caoimhin Kelleher’s goal.

But, as they did in the cup, United made their rivals pay for their profligacy as Bruno Fernandes scored from 40 yards with an excellent first-time finish after Jarell Quansah had misplaced a pass, leaving Kelleher stranded. Kobbie Mainoo, as he has done before, then stepped up to defy his 18 years and put United in front.

Jurgen Klopp’s side should have been out of sight by half-time, but instead, they left with a point after a late Salah penalty and now sit behind Premier League leaders Arsenal on goal difference with seven matches to play.

Our writers, Andy Jones, Carl Anka and Ahmed Walid, give their immediate analysis of the match.


What happened with Fernandes’ goal?

Jarell Quansah has been a revelation for Liverpool this season. 

The 21-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at League One Bristol Rovers. Few expected him to be thrust into the limelight this season, but in every test he has faced he has passed with flying colours.

That was until he misjudged a simple square pass to Virgil van Dijk. Fernandes capitalised and hit a first-time shot that flew past Kelleher and levelled the scores with United’s first shot of the game. 

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Up until that point, it had been another performance of a youngster who looked as if he had played at the top level for years. He was part of the defence which reduced United’s attackers to feeding off scraps.

It is unfair to blame a youngster making their 11th Premier League appearance — away at Old Trafford, no less — for the end result, but it was his mistake that cost Liverpool. 

Those with more experience in attacking areas were unable to bail him out because of their poor decision-making in front of goal. To his credit, Quansah put the mistake behind him and continued to perform defensively as he had done throughout.

It is a mistake from a young player that does not deserve to define the title race. Yet, after the final seven games of the season, it could be a crucial moment.

go-deeper

Andy Jones


How did this compare to FA Cup chaos?

Any chance of a controlled and composed performance from either side went out the window when Alejandro Garnacho rounded Kelleher to score within the first 100 seconds.

The “goal” was ruled out for offside, but the message was clear: we were going to get more of the counter-attacking silliness from the 4-3 on March 17.

Ten Hag’s plan appeared to centre around catching Liverpool cold and scoring early… except Liverpool held their nerve and eventually got the game’s opener in the 23rd minute. United’s reaction to being a goal behind? More chaos. 

In a team featuring the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, it makes sense to forgo structured settled possession and try to hit Liverpool on the break. What’s made these last two encounters fun is Liverpool’s repeated and bizarre bungling of their counter-attacks — and Jurgen Klopp’s incensed demeanour when United spring a goal out of nowhere. 

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Fernandes has no right to seize upon a slack backpass and lob Kelleher from nearly 40 yards out. Kobbie Mainoo managing to have the presence of mind to wave Garnacho away from the ball so he could be the one to turn and shoot and get United’s second was one of those wonderful bits of control in a chaotic setting.

The stats people will tell you United scored twice on two shots of low xG and such actions are rarely repeatable or sustainable. But sometimes the emotional narrative of a game can overcome the tactical requirements. Ten Hag’s men looked to have stunned Liverpool in chaotic circumstances twice — before Aaron Wan-Bissaka felled Harvey Elliott in the box.

Salah put away the resultant spot kick and Ten Hag’s response was to bring on Mason Mount.

There might one day come a time when United and Liverpool games turn into the “tactically intriguing” chess matches that Manchester City and Arsenal now play out. But let’s hope they are a little bit further down the line.

These counter-attacking melees are a bit too much fun. Football for people who should know better, but can’t help themselves.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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Carl Anka


Liverpool are missing chances, is this developing into an issue?

Salah and Dominik Szoboszlai both threw their heads back in frustration. The pair were well-placed in the centre of the box ready for a pullback, but Conor Bradley opted to shoot. It was blocked and went out for a corner.

It epitomised Liverpool in front of goal in the first half: great football leading to plenty of opportunities but no cutting edge in the United penalty area.

It was summed up by their only goal of the first half coming via a set piece; they have 15 shots but only four on target, with 88 passes into the final third and 21 touches in the opposition box. It all told the story.

Yet, whether it was Szoboszlai, Salah, Darwin Nunez or Luis Diaz, Liverpool were wasteful from open play — just as they had been last month. 

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(Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

With each chance that passed the away side by, the more the thoughts drifted back to the FA Cup tie when Liverpool should have extended their 2-1 lead. Despite their control and chances, they did not finish off Erik ten Hag’s side, and it proved costly. 

Minutes after Fernandes’ goal, Liverpool found themselves in a five-on-two attacking situation in their favour. In a similar fashion to a break in the FA Cup tie, they failed to produce a shot on target from it. 

Liverpool lost their way completely when Mainoo netted Manchester United’s second. Salah’s penalty may have salvaged a point, but of those lessons supposed to be learned from the cup tie, they failed to do so.

Man Utd vs Liverpool

Andy Jones


When will Man Utd learn to defend transitions?

Last summer, Erik ten Hag wanted Manchester United to be the best transitional team in the world. the concept made sense considering the profile of United’s attackers. “We really looked into the history of Manchester United and we looked also into the qualities of our players,” said Ten Hag. “And then you can say, so what do we want to be? That is, we want to be the best transition team in the world. We want to surprise.”

However, to be the best transitional team in the world, you also need to know how to defend these situations — it’s not only about being gung-ho and attacking the space, especially when you are facing a Liverpool side who thrive in this type of game. 

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In this match, United’s problems on defensive transitions were crystal clear: being rushed in possession, which results in a poor rest-defence due to the large spacing between the attackers and the defenders when United are trying to attack in settled possession, unable to win duels in midfield, and the dropping level of counter-pressing compared to last season. 

To be the best transitional team in the world, you need to know how to attack them as well as defend them.

Ahmed Walid


How did another makeshift United defence perform?

A back four of Diogo Dalot, Willy Kambwala, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka made for United’s 26th different defensive configuration this season. 

Prior to kick-off, Ten Hag said he was unconcerned about questions over United’s style of play saying “We want to dominate in and out of possession, and play out from the back”.

The issue with such a quote is:
1) Such a description can be used to describe multiple teams in the Premier League.
2) United don’t appear to be dominating the game on either side of the ball.
3) Several teams — including Liverpool — appear better at executing these actions.

United play with a narrow and ineffective front press, and a man-marking system in midfield that can be easily exploited. Compounding matters is their rudimentary set-up on set corner kicks that lives and dies on whether a United player can get first contact with the ball.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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Darwin Nunez bullied Wan-Bissaka a little ahead of the penalty spot to get the flick-on assist for Luis Diaz’s finish. A look at the image below will show you, Nunez’s header was in an area multiple teams target when playing United.

Man Utd corners

In the 32nd minute, Alexis Mac Allister carried the ball towards the halfway line while Liverpool forwards flooded forward. The midfielder’s pass found Diaz, who threaded in Mohamed Salah.

It takes a handful of seconds and a handful of passes from opposition teams to go from the defensive third to having a shot on Andre Onana. This is the 10th time United have faced 10 or more shots in the first half of a Premier League game, the joint most in 2023-24.

Sharing defensive stats with Sheffield United and Luton Town (12 times) is not what any United fan envisioned at the start of the season. Ten Hag will point to injuries affecting his side’s ability to play at their maximum. Critics will ask why it’s so hard for the United manager to muster anything better than this.

The sight of Dalot blowing hard after yet another recovery sprint to his penalty area made you wince. United play with little of the collective safety net other top four/five sides do and defenders are largely left to fend for themselves. 

Carl Anka


What next for Manchester United?

Saturday, April 13: Bournemouth (A), Premier League, 5.30pm UK, 12.30pm ET

What next for Liverpool?

Thursday, April 11: Atalanta (H), Europa League, 8pm GMT, 3pm ET


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(Top photo: Getty Images)





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