Anfield is never an easy place to visit, and a defeat there for Manchester United shouldn’t be viewed as some kind of crisis. However the decisions made by David Moyes on Sunday have led to the first serious questioning of the new United manager.
There have been criticisms of the Scot during the summer, notably for the underwhelming pre-season tour, a willingness to openly discuss transfer targets, and his handling of Wayne Rooney. Yet none of these issues have led to the degree of criticism that could be levelled from Sunday’s showing.
The setup of Moyes’ team bordered on the bizarre, with Ryan Giggs lining up on the right hand side of midfield, a role it is difficult to recall him ever having performed before. There has been reference to a seamless transition between managers at Old Trafford, but the deployment of the players Sir Alex Ferguson left in alien systems seems illogical.
Michael Carrick’s effectiveness was diminished by only having Tom Cleverley for company in the centre of the pitch, and he was forced to play a more advanced role than he is used to. With Carrick too high, it left space in midfield, and a lack of options alongside him led to the ball being given away more often than usual in the opposition half.
Moyes is usually astute at reacting to other managers’ tactics, but he failed to recognise there was space to be exploited in the middle of the pitch, which could have been addressed by bringing Giggs inside and moving Danny Welbeck out to the flank, leaving Robin van Persie to operate through the middle. The Dutchman too frequently had to pull out wide in an attempt to create something, leaving United without his cutting edge in more dangerous areas.
The substitutions Moyes could make were affected by the first0half injury to Phil Jones, meaning Antonio Valencia came on at right-back, taking away an option for later in the game but injecting more thrust and threat than Jones. However taking off Ashley Young when he looked United’s liveliest player for a rusty Luis Nani was a poor decision. There were other candidates to remove for the Portuguese, which would’ve given Liverpool something to think about on either wing.
The exclusion of Shinji Kagawa from the squad was also somewhat baffling, considering the lack of creativity that United suffered from. Moyes stated the Japanese playmaker lost out to Nani for a place on the bench.
Liverpool pressed extremely well in the first-half, but United were slow and sloppy in possession. The manager can’t compensate for the poor displays of some of his players and a questionable refereeing performance, yet the disjointed nature of United’s play can be put in some measure down to the team selection. Even claiming after the game that it was the Reds’ best performance of the season sounded out of place. It was a comment that could’ve been uttered by his predecessor, but sounded weak coming from Moyes.
There is no crisis from suffering a first competitive defeat under the new boss, but Moyes must get a better handle on the players at his disposal if he is to answer the questions being asked of him.
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