16 Conclusions on Liverpool 7 (SEVEN) Man Utd 0: Salah, Fernandes, Gakpo, Shaw, Nunez and…
An utterly daft game that is beyond explanation. But Liverpool were exceptional and Man Utd showed Erik ten Hag has still not cured them of an awful trait.
2) “People will talk about it in the future, 100 per cent, because it will not happen very often, if it happens again at all,” said Jurgen Klopp in October 2021, his Liverpool side having inflicted the joint-worst home defeat in Man Utd’s English league history.
In spite of the considerable upheaval and drastic change experienced by both clubs in the 17 months since, it very much did happen again. Liverpool were ruthless, unrelenting, merciless, insatiable. Man Utd were cataclysmic, embarrassing, shameful, disgraceful. For 90 minutes these two bitter rivals travelled back in time – for better or, for the visitors, the single worst loss in their entire existence at any venue.
It becomes increasingly difficult to draw conclusions on games such as these with the conversion of each goal. Sense cannot be made of the nonsensical. There is no logic in the illogical. How to explain the largely inexplicable? Beyond the cut-off point of 4-0 or 5-0, at which stage brackets are introduced to scorelines and James Milner starts doing stepovers, it is more an exercise of acknowledging the absurd and recognising the ridiculous.
The post-mortem must be conducted soon but after watching every moment of that car crash unfold, it is worth simply marvelling at the wreckage for a little longer.
3) It was only ever the floor which had been suddenly lowered at Liverpool, not the ceiling. This is the third time this season they have scored seven or more goals in a game. Bournemouth and Rangers have felt the same vicious edge of this baffling team over the past few months and, theoretically at least, this was the sort of destruction a £160m forward line should be capable of causing in the right environment.
Nothing particularly new was learned about the hosts at Anfield but not every game must be accompanied with or underpinned by a lesson. Liverpool sensed a weakness and exploited it to the fullest possible degree – much as they used to – defenestrating form books and demoralising the opponent in the process.
The psychological effect of such an identity-affirming reminder of brilliance reaches beyond three points in a reinvigorated Champions League race; it transforms the mood of players, managers and supporters. All those parts of what previously made this team phenomenal have looked broken at points this season but that belief and energy was tangibly restored.
4) It was towards the end of another chastening defeat to Liverpool – this one less than a year ago – when Gary Neville summed up the depths to which Man Utd had fallen. The praise he reserved for substitute Hannibal Mejbri “for trying to top people and trying to kick people” towards the end of a 4-0 loss was risible.
“He demonstrated something, he showed something,” Neville tried to reason. “He didn’t like the idea of Liverpool, at Anfield, passing it around him and the idea of Liverpool taking the mick out of him and his teammates.”
No player cleared even that low bar on this occasion. To a man, Man Utd lost their heads. Bruno Fernandes set an abysmal example which Luke Shaw took it upon himself to try and surpass. Both were reckless, petulant and frankly pathetic.
Erik ten Hag admitted as much after the game, calling his side’s second-half performance “unprofessional” from “11 individuals losing their heads”, while dismissing fatigue as a factor in comparison to “higher standards” being abandoned.
Matches can be lost for any number of reasons but at least Man Utd’s recent collapses against Liverpool could be put down to the consequence of systematic incompetence. They were no better than such results then but childish, deplorable, self-inflicted humiliation is something they were supposed to have outgrown.
READ MORE: 11 jaw-dropping stats from Liverpool’s 7-0 thrashing of Man Utd
5) That is the key: individual mistakes are to be expected and accepted as part of the sport but a collective dereliction of duty on such a grand scale is unforgivable. Every goal was preceded by at least one error – Fred and Raphael Varane’s positioning; Casemiro and Varane’s haplessness; Lisandro Martinez’s slip; Shaw and Diogo Dalot’s awareness; the entire team’s marking; Shaw’s perplexing clearance; and another collaborative defensive failure – but the mental capitulation and non-existent game management was the most damaging aspect of the evening from a Man Utd perspective. While certain things can be coached in or out during training sessions, this was as much a question of personality, character and discipline as it was quality.
6) After all, and as Ten Hag alluded, Man Utd were probably the better team in the first half. They posed a constant counter-attacking threat and it seemed as though a coherent game plan, combined with Liverpool’s struggle to create meaningful chances despite positive possession and pressure, could reap rewards for the visitors.
Within a couple of minutes midway through the opening period, Fernandes headed just wide from a Dalot cross and Marcus Rashford should have done better when put through by Shaw. Casemiro was later offside when scoring a header. Liverpool had not even forced David de Gea into a save – although it should probably be pointed out that that remained the case until Harvey Elliott’s shot was kept out in the 82nd minute, the Spaniard taking a stand at 5-0 down.
Man Utd’s approach was working, at least until Liverpool decided to override the debate as to whether it’s worse to concede just before or straight after half-time by scoring two minutes either side of the whistle.
7) Andy Robertson tends to thrive in environments as frantic as these, yet it was his clarity which unlocked the game. As he drifted inside with the ball from the left before cutting back onto his favoured foot, there did not seem to be much on for a Liverpool side who had threatened while lacking that incisive final touch. Then came a sudden moment of lucidity as he directed the play, pointing to precisely where Cody Gakpo should bend his run beyond Fred and subsequently dispatching a pass between the marooned midfielder and the atrocious Varane.
The ensuing touch and finish was glorious. The defending was a harbinger of laughably calamitous doom. But it was notable that after 40 or so minutes defined by chaos and error, it needed Robertson to rise above, assess the scene and take control. Not for the first time against Man Utd, he was phenomenal.
8) It all came from a familiar source for Man Utd. While Mo Salah was not the recipient on this rare occasion, one brilliantly precise pass from Alisson lasered through the opposition’s resistance to force the breakthrough.
The Liverpool keeper had the ball 10 yards or so outside his area and raked a wonderful pass out to Robertson on the left. It coaxed the aggressive Dalot out of position but he was fooled by the flat trajectory as he seemed to expect more time to close the Scot down. Instead Robertson could wait for the situation to unfold, the extra second or so granted by the accuracy and pace of Alisson’s initial pass giving him the high ground.
Liverpool scored within 12 seconds of the ball leaving Alisson’s boot. The Brazilian made some important saves and dominated his area at crosses in a game which could have been characterised by his unpunished slip at 3-0. But it’s the keeper’s distribution which remains the most vital and irreplaceable asset in this team.
9) It was a strange midfield battle, typified not by crunching tackles or sumptuous passes but avoidable mistakes from both teams. None of Casemiro, Fred and Fernandes seemed able to retain the ball, an issue which the retreating Wout Weghorst somehow could not rectify.
Yet Fabinho and Elliott were not considerably better, both wasteful in possession at crucial times. They improved as the game went on – particularly the latter, whose interception helped set up the second goal. It was Henderson who won a war which claimed numerous casualties, his use of the ball that little bit sharper as he flourished in a game which suited his skillset: higher on work-rate, pressing and turnovers than quality.
The Liverpool captain and the team’s system have a symbiotic relationship: he plays well when it works properly and vice versa. The anticipation to foresee a Fernandes cutback and instantly launch the counter from which Gakpo made it 3-0 was Henderson at his functional best.
10) The three midfielders Klopp brought on from the 77th minute onwards – Stefan Bajcetic, Curtis Jones and Milner – completed all 14 of their combined passes. That helped Liverpool keep their foot on Man Utd’s neck but the impact of Ten Hag’s changes in that position should not go unnoticed: Scott McTominay had seven touches, was booked and assisted a Salah goal in his half-hour cameo, while Marcel Sabitzer gave the ball away under no coercion in the build-up to Roberto Firmino making it 7-0. The substitutes all settled into the flow of the game which was set by the dreadful Casemiro, whose performance was bad enough to conjure explanations of ‘seems to be playing with an injury’ when in reality he was just dire.
11) Fitting as it was for Firmino to round off the scoring, Liverpool will have delighted with the show put on by his likely successor. Gakpo was excellent, taking both of his goals with varied but fabulous finishes and putting in the hard yards otherwise. Darwin Nunez was fantastic, too, taking his tally to 13 goals and three assists in 30 appearances of an apparently dismal debut season.
Impressive as their strikes were, it was the work-rate and intelligence of both which stood out. They might not necessarily prove to be transfer successes in the long-term and living up to standard of the forwards they are replacing is quite the task, but it was easy to see the working-out. The club’s touch in the market seemed to have deserted them but Gakpo and Nunez have the requisite expertise of Liverpool forwards at least.
12) That doesn’t half put that ‘FSG OUT – KLOPP IN – ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’ banner, which was flown over Anfield during the first half, into perspective. Liverpool fans might have some legitimate complaints over a perceived lack of investment or direction from the owners of late, but that is some entitled bollocks right there.
13) Salah remains the preeminent genius central to it all. There was the mazy run which wrong-footed Martinez and set up Gakpo, the thunderous finish to compound the misery, the clever pass into Firmino for his goal and the record-breaking strike which set him apart as Liverpool’s record Premier League scorer.
Even before the scoreline started to buckle under the weight of having to separate these two sides, Salah was the difference-maker. At one stage in the first half he plucked a high ball out of the sky with stunning control to set up a blocked Henderson shot, all in the Man Utd penalty area when surrounded by defenders. The Egyptian was also adjudged to have been fouled twice as often as any other player, which is to say that the six times Andy Madley blew his whistle for a Salah-related infringement was at least a couple too few. Martinez going unpunished in the first half after sticking a palm in the forward’s face was a particular highlight of a game in which Man Utd found no sufficient legal response to Salah’s mastery.
14) Antony played the hits, waving an imaginary card after one Robertson foul and doing that heel first touch thing to control a switch of play before immediately giving the ball away. It is unbelievably funny that he was the most expensive player of any on that pitch.
15) Perhaps even funnier is that Ibrahima Konate was the cheapest centre-half, yet the £36m Frenchman showed Varane and Martinez up while even outclassing his partner Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool have missed Konate’s brand of controlled aggression. His deployment of a high line is exemplary and by replicating Joel Matip’s marauding runs from deep he has added another string to his bow. Liverpool’s defensive improvement started before his return from injury but Konate was vital to keeping a fifth consecutive Premier League clean sheet. The Reds had previously only managed two in succession so building from the back will be imperative to their Champions League qualification hopes.
16) That is going to be one hell of a jog for Ten Hag and his players next week.
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