What went wrong for Liverpool against Manchester United?

Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool began the weekend as Premier League leaders, but they now find themselves a point behind Arsenal following that frustrating draw against Manchester United.

The Red Devils came to Anfield in poor form, and their performances all season have been subpar.

Some argued that Erik ten Hag's side defended admirably, though as the game played out, it became apparent that the outcome was more the result of Liverpool’s wastefulness.

But why were Liverpool held to a draw at Anfield?

First Half: Intense But Haphazard

Liverpool’s energy in their first-half performance was excellent, as their new look 4-4-2 press limited Manchester United’s ability to play into wide areas. At the same time, the central positioning of both Mohamed Salah and Dawin Núñez prevented Andre Onana from being able to play passes towards either Sofyan Amrabat or Kobbie Mainoo in midfield.

In fact, Liverpool’s press worked so well that, according to Opta data, United were only able to register one touch in the attacking penalty area in the first half – their joint-fewest since 2008, when Opta records began.

Klopp himself commented on the energy his side displayed in the opening periods, “the start in the game was the best we had this season, the counter-pressing was the best we had this season, the intensity was outstanding.”

Perhaps Liverpool’s front six were energised by the Anfield crowd, but regardless, the Reds’ intensity allowed them to trap United in their own half.

This is also evidenced by the fact that goalkeeper Onana attempted just 18 passes, and only 50% of those attempted were successful (Opta).

For comparison, Alisson had just one unsuccessful pass in the first half. Onana’s distribution was clearly rushed, with the Champions League finalist coming under immense pressure. However, this was true of United’s team in general.

According to Sofascore, United only completed 67% of their 150 passes in the first 45 minutes. In their most recent game against Bayern Munich, by half time, United had completed 85% of their 187 passes. While Ten Hag’s deep block strategy no doubt contributed to these poor passing statistics at Anfield, the Reds’ first half intensity was the most important factor.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 17, 2023: A general view of Anfield and the newly opened upper tier of the Anfield Road stand seen during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda) This image is a composite of multiple images.

Despite this, though the intensity was largely impressive, there were negatives to Liverpool’s first-half performance. Take, for example, the fact that by the half time interval, only three outfield players had above 85% pass accuracy (Sofascore).

In midfield, while Wataru Endo was fine in-possession (93% accuracy), both Ryan Gravenberch (81%) and Dominik Szoboszlai (74%) were particularly loose. Elsewhere, Kostas Tsimikas had an accuracy of just 80%, Trent Alexander-Arnold 82%, and Mohamed Salah just 67% (Sofascore).

Too many players had poor games when on-the-ball, and the final action was often rushed. Liverpool’s intensity out-of-possession could often make up for mistakes when in-possession, but such was the extent of the Reds’ exertion, that the second half (naturally) saw energy levels drop.

Consequently, United were able to enjoy more success during moments of transition.

Second Half: Uncontrolled

In the second half, United were better able to exploit Liverpool’s rushed approach due to the Reds tiring, and this is reflected in some of the raw statistics.

In the first 45 minutes, United accumulated just 0.07xG, and had a pass accuracy of just 67%. In the second, they had 0.69xG, and had a pass accuracy of 76% (Sofascore).

Once Liverpool’s intensity dropped, gaps in midfield and defence opened up.

In his post-match press conference, Klopp commented that, “one or two [of his players] were a bit unlucky and in other moments not calm enough, a bit too much in a rush.”

This ‘rushed’ performance was arguably epitomised by Alexander-Arnold once he moved into midfield, as while the vice-captain performed well from a defensive perspective, his approach on-the-ball was disappointing. Instead of trying to steadily build through United’s deep block, the Scouser often attempted quick, penetrative passes.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, ProShots

Someone of Alexander-Arnold's ability should have the freedom to play these balls, but against United, his temperament could have been cooler.

For example, on Sunday, the number 66 attempted an excessive number of long passes (34), whereas in good wins over other deep block sides such as Brentford and Nottingham Forest, he attempted far fewer (16 and 13 respectively - Fbref).

Playing directly is part of Alexander-Arnold's natural playing style, but in midfield areas, his overeagerness to play quickly saw Liverpool surrender possession needlessly.

The Reds only really began to control the game in-possession once Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliot had been subbed on.

Both players have been excellent in-possession this season, with Elliot’s game-winning cameo against Palace seeing the youngster complete an impressive 100% of his passes (24/24 - Sofascore).

As for Jones, prior to the Premier League’s last matchweek, the midfielder had the highest pass completion percentage of any Liverpool player to have played at least 90 minutes (92.1%). Interestingly, Jones also ranked fourth amongst all Premier League midfielders for pass completion (minimum four 90s - Fbref).

Their appearances off the bench in recent fixtures against the likes of Palace and Sheffield United have allowed Liverpool to exert more control over their opponents, though on Sunday, while the pair did not perform badly, their introduction in the 78th minute was perhaps too late for either to affect the result.

A Missed Opportunity

Manchester City dropped points to Crystal Palace, and have now only won once in their last six Premier League games.

This type of form is a rarity for City, and the fact that Liverpool failed to capitalise was disappointing, especially as Manchester United did not play particularly well.

However, Liverpool’s league position is still strong, and a win against Arsenal on Saturday would go some way to restoring the positivity that fans had before the draw with United.

Share This Article