How do Liverpool ensure they get it right against Man Utd this weekend?

Yash Shah
3 months ago

Thursday’s 3-1 victory over Sheffield United lifted Liverpool to the top of the Premier League table. With just eight Premier League games remaining, the title race is now in the Reds' hands.

However, the recent FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Manchester United last month served as a warning of what can happen if there is a drop in the high standards set by Jurgen Klopp.

Sunday presents an opportunity to set things right as Liverpool travel to Old Trafford once again.

Let’s take a look at what went wrong that day and what the players must do to ensure they don’t repeat the same mistakes.

What went wrong last time at Old Trafford?

United had a blistering start to the game, with seven shots on target in the first half, including a huge opportunity to go 2-0 up.

Their Expected Goals (xG) figure of 3.4 highlights how Liverpool allowed them to create high-quality goal scoring chances throughout the game.

In such an open game the Reds would have needed to score four goals to win, which would not be an issue had their attackers been more clinical.

Although they dominated possession, their poor decision making in the final third left the door open for United to mount an unlikely comeback.

Not being able to finish off the tie in normal time meant an already depleted and tired squad needed to play a further 30 minutes. This was a bad outcome given that they were playing in their ninth match across four different competitions in a month.

Klopp would have also been disappointed with how his players managed the game. They made sloppy mistakes and threw away their lead not only in the final few minutes of normal time, but also once again again in extra time.

Is this a wider problem against the Big 6 this season?

One might say that the league is often decided by how a team fares in key moments against their biggest challengers.

In their title winning campaign of 2019/20, Liverpool picked up 22 points from the 10 games against their traditional ‘Big Six’ rivals, which was their best performance under Klopp.

240318 -- MANCHESTER, March 18, 2024 -- Manchester United, ManU s Antony Matheus dos Santos 3rd L celebrates after scoring during the FA Cup quarterfinal match between Manchester United and Liverpool in Manchester, Britain, on March 17, 2024. 

Despite sitting on top of the table, Liverpool have just not done well enough in such games this season. They have only picked up eight Premier League points from the available 24, with the only victory being the 4-1 win against an underperforming Chelsea side in January. Though they have also beaten Arsenal and Chelsea in the cups this season.

A clear pattern emerges in big games where they have dropped points. Barring the draw at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool have conceded first in all these games.

The comeback victory over Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend was the seventh game this season where the Carabao Cup winners have come from behind to win. But they have not been able to overturn the deficit in big games when the stakes are higher.

Liverpool may have a relatively easier run-in, and will only play United and Tottenham amongst the traditional ‘Big Six’. If results don’t change, they will be looking at their worst performance in these critical games in over a decade.

Things need to be put right starting this weekend.

How can Liverpool win at Old Trafford? 

Fast start and not conceding first

Liverpool might be the comeback kings this season, but as we saw above, they have not been able to replicate this against better teams.

In their 4-3 defeat last month, Erik ten Hag’s men scored early and had Liverpool on the ropes in the first half.

The plan this time around should be to unsettle United in the initial stages, and not concede first. Managing any early onslaught will quieten the Old Trafford crowd, and allow them to build their way into the game.

Liverpool vs Sheffield United

Liverpool v Sheffield United - Premier League - Anfield Liverpool s Cody Gakpo second left celebrates scoring their side s third goal of the game during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Thursday April 4, 2024. Copyright: xPeterxByrnex 75786202

Liverpool’s only away win against a big rival this season came in the FA Cup third round tie  against Arsenal. The Reds were able to do exactly this at the Emirates, and later took their chances to seal a deserved win.

Better game management

Big games are often decided by small margins. Liverpool must learn from their previous mistakes and be better at managing the game state.

Looking at the Expected Goals Against (xGA) figures in important games this season reveals that Liverpool have allowed their opponents too many big chances.

So the first step would be to prevent United from getting a sniff at goal, and minimise any errors in possession that can cost them on the counter.

There is little doubt that they will create sufficient chances to win most games. With a xG of 2.23 per 90, the Red’s are the best team in the league at creating goal scoring opportunities.

But none of this matters if they are unable to finish them. Liverpool’s finishing has been especially poor in big games. This is confirmed when comparing their xG to their Expected goals on target (xGOT).

240318 -- MANCHESTER, March 18, 2024 -- Liverpool s head coach Jurgen Klopp reacts during the FA Cup quarterfinal match between Manchester United, ManU and Liverpool in Manchester, Britain, on March 17, 2024.

A higher xGOT value compared to the xG suggests a better finishing ability, but the Red’s have consistently underperformed here.

Lastly, the players need to adopt a more pragmatic approach when holding onto a lead, particularly in the closing stages of the game. This will secure the victory and prevent United from staging another comeback.

Manage United’s lopsided attacking approach

Liverpool have better quality in all areas of the pitch, but United’s wide players have the pace to always be a threat.

In last month's game, United focused their attacks through their left flank. With Mohamed Salah not tracking back enough, they were able to overload this area and exploit the gaps created by Joe Gomez being dragged out of position.

Ten Hag might not use the same strategy, but the likes of Endo and Mac Allister need to sniff out such danger and ensure that they step in to nip such attacks in the bud.

Liverpool have lost their last two away encounters against United, but Klopp’s men have always been able to stand up to big challenges. They will know that only a win will take them a step further in giving their manager the perfect send off.

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