Staff Takeaways: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

Staff takeaways from Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool.

Pauly – Eric Ten Hag gets pragmatic and scores a big win

From the moment he arrived Eric Ten Hag has been very clear about how he wanted Manchester United to play. There was just one problem, Ten Hag’s style involves playing possession football and Manchester United do not have the players to play that way.

Over the first two games the biggest concern was Ten Hag’s stubbornness to change from a style that clearly wasn’t working. His insistence on playing out the back quickly became a liability that turned the Brentford match into a laugher. The question heading into the Liverpool match was, will Ten Hag remain stubborn or get more pragmatic and change his style to better suit his players?

Ten Hag answered that pretty emphatically with a very pragmatic game plan. A week after watching Brentford sit on United’s short goal kicks, there was no more playing out the back, as David de Gea and United’s back four were instructed to hoof it away first, and worry about defending later.

There was no playing out the back and no buildup play. The defense was bypassing the midfield to hoof it long and let the forwards chase. That allowed Ten Hag to use Scott McTominay for exactly what he was good at, providing energy and disrupting opposition attacks, without worrying about having to build attacks through McTominay.

These tactics allowed United to press high up the pitch, work hard, and counter attack. It’s exactly the blueprint that United have used to secure all their big wins over top six opponents in the past few years.

The hoof it away defense first strategy meant United would be playing most of the game without the ball. Liverpool had all the possession and field tilt to launch attack after attack. But United’s midfielders actually stayed home while the wingers actually tracked back on the opposing fullbacks, giving United the kind of defensive structure we haven’t seen in two years that could easily deal with this barrage of attacks.

This encouraged Liverpool to get forward and created plenty of space behind for United to hit them on the counter attack, completely playing to the strengths of this United team. It will be interesting to see how United fare in their next match against Southampton when they are likely to have more of the ball again.

Until Eric Ten Hag has a midfield that can maintain possession and control the middle of the pitch, this is how he’s going to have to play to get results.

Chris – This needs to be United’s starting back four going forward

It’s no secret that two of United’s biggest problems are the midfield and defense. After conceding four goals against Brentford last weekend, Erik ten Hag made two changes to the back four—dropping captain Harry Maguire for Raphael Varane and starting Tyrell Malacia over Luke Shaw—that completely changed the quality and tactics of the team.

United was able to sit back at times throughout the game and invite pressure with this back four, and they ultimately won the match for the team. The all-around quality from this back line was impressive today and allowed the manager to play the style he wants to implement at the club.

Ten Hag should undoubtedly pick this back four every week from here on out, and here’s a look at why.

Manchester United v Liverpool FC - Premier League

Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

It would be disrespectful not to start with the Man of the Match candidate Lisandro Martinez, who undoubtedly proved his doubters wrong with one of the best-quality performances we’ve seen from a United defender in quite some time. He was all over the pitch tonight putting in tackles to win back possession and block shots, making it clear as to why he received the nickname “The Butcher” at Ajax. He also showed his composure, impressive vision, and passing range on the ball, which makes him so valuable to the squad on both sides of the ball.

Just take a look at his numbers against Liverpool, per Statman Dave on Twitter.

Goodbye to all of the “Martínez is too short to play in the Premier League” jokes. Tonight’s performance showed why United spent big on him this summer and why ten Hag rates him so highly. He will be integral next to Varane this season.

Manchester United v Liverpool FC - Premier League

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Raphael Varane was world class tonight and looked like the four-time UEFA Champions League winner and FIFA World Cup champion that he is but we haven’t seen for a while. The French defender was my second candidate for Man of the Match, as he did everything right and played the game simply. He attacked the ball well to clear the box with his feet and head and used his size and strength (as shown in the picture above) to tackle Liverpool’s forwards off the ball. He won 100% of his aerial duels, won 80% of tackles, made the most clearances (nine) in the match, made five tackles, and made one interception, per Statman Dave.

It was Varane’s best game in a United shirt since moving to Old Trafford from Real Madrid last summer, and he made it ever so clear tonight that he is the partner to start alongside Martínez—not Maguire. Here’s a quick look at how well he played with Martínez, courtesy of Statman Dave.

Varane is simply miles better than the captain and is the best center back at the club. He complements Martínez perfectly, and the center back duo should be untouchable for the foreseeable future.

Manchester United v Liverpool FC - Premier League

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Tyrell Malacia replaced Shaw in the starting lineup at left back, and the 23-year-old looked bright on and off the ball in his first Premier League start. He was defensively sound when Liverpool had possession and were attacking United’s defensive third, by winning first and second balls, pressing at the right times, and making sure Mohamed Salah didn’t get past him to create any chances down the wing. He made the most tackles (five) on the field, won six duels, won possession back four times, and made three clearances, according to Squawka.

He is also impressive in possession, which is one of the Dutchman’s strengths. Malacia progressed up the left wing well to combine with Anthony Elanga and Marcus Rashford up top and Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes in the midfield. Per the same Squawka tweet, the left back had the highest passing accuracy (93.3%) out of every starter in the match, completing 14/15 passes. He also entered the final third four times and made three crosses.

We can expect Malacia to only improve, and impress, from here as he continues to develop under ten Hag.

Manchester United v Liverpool FC - Premier League

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Diogo Dalot had a much-needed solid performance at right back after a rough start to the season, as he won his challenging duel against skillful winger Luis Díaz. He was a bit too aggressive at times, which caused him to make an unnecessary challenge on Dias in the 45th minute and receive a yellow card, but he has proven time and time again why he is United’s starting right back. Aaron Wan-Bissaka replaced the Portuguese fullback in the 86th minute, but the Englishman will continue to be second best to Dalot for the foreseeable future.

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