Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s best results against the top teams have always come when United played with a low block and attacked on the counter. But for some reason, in today’s game United decided to press Liverpool and left wide open spaces for their opponents to cut through their defense. This 5-0 loss against their biggest rivals is one of the darkest days in United’s recent history and it remains to be seen whether it will cost Ole his job.
Playing on the front foot vs Sitting Back
Speaking before the match, Solskjaer said: “There’s loads of keys, it’s a big game. Top of the list is start on the front foot, stamp authority and dominate from start.
“We know if we give them time to build pressure they’ll wear you down, so we’re going to play as much as we can in their half.
“Then again you have to stop the counter-attack quickly so there’s loads of keys.
Against a well drilled side like Liverpool, if you decide to press them, there needs to be a proper organization and structure to the press. United’s press was haphazard with players randomly deciding to press whenever they felt like. The first goal scored by Liverpool was completely due to United’s unorganized pressing.
In this above screenshot, both Greenwood and Wan-Bissaka decide to press Robertson but both are not near the Liverpool left back. This gives Robertson enough time to pass the ball onto Jota.
Harry Maguire now has to cover for Wan-Bissaka and moves to try and press Jota leaving a big gap in the defence which is now occupied by Firmino. Jota passes the ball onto Firmino.
Firmino then slips in Salah who is now in a 1v1 situation with Shaw. Keita then makes a run on the outside to score a simple goal.
This unstructured and random pressing by United actually caused them more problems than Liverpool’s movement in the first half. United are not well drilled or coached to press as a unit especially against top sides like Liverpool and it is strange to see them adopt this high pressing tactic in the big games especially since Solskjaer has had success with the low block previously.
Playing a midfield two
Lots of fans and pundits do not want the midfield duo of Fred and McTominay to start for United. But the bigger problem in today’s game was that the duo was left all alone against Liverpool’s midfield trio and Firmino dropping deep. Bruno Fernandes’s positioning was too high or wide possibly compensating for Ronaldo’s lack of pressing but this left Fred and McTominay completely outnumbered in the center of the park. Firmino dropped deep repeatedly to support the midfield and United’s center backs were clueless to whether to follow him or not. Firmino’s false 9 role allowed Liverpool to dominate the midfield against the United’s Fred & McTominay.
Immediately after the first goal, Liverpool had another chance to score and this chance came from the fact that they had greater numbers in midfield. McTominay’s passing angles in the above screenshot was cut off by three players with only Fred open. As soon as the pass to Fred was made(see image below), Keita intercepted and Liverpool were on their way to the box.
Solskjaer identified this issue and brought on Pogba in the second half to shore up the center of the park. But they were still outnumbered because of the excellent Roberto Firmino who kept dropping deep and kept pressing United’s midfield. His pressing on Pogba resulted in a turnover at the end of which Salah completed his hattrick.
The easiest way to counter a false 9 is asking one of the CBs to step up and mark the striker but both of United’s CBs didn’t attempt to do that throughout the game.
United’s wide players not tracking back
Considering the fact that Liverpool have two of the best attacking fullbacks in the world, you would assume that United would have some plan to counter them. With a 2 man midfield, you need the wingers to put in a shift to track the opposition full backs. Greenwood did track back at times but on the other flank, TAA had almost the entire wing to himself as Rashford barely put in an effort to track back. This was a disaster as TAA repeatedly found himself in dangerous situations with no one marking him. Although this might have presented opportunities for United to counter with Rashford but United in attack were simply not effective.