Fa CupFootball

Ryan Baldi: “The changes Klopp and Solskjaer need to make this weekend”

January 19, 2021

IT might be a deeply bitter rivalry between English football’s two most historically successful clubs and, on this occasion, a top-of-the-table Premier League clash, but meetings between Manchester United and Liverpool have so often disappointed in recent years.

The 0-0 at Anfield on Sunday was the latest example of how games between the north-west foes regularly fail to live up to the hype that surrounds them. The pair have drawn seven of their last 10 showdowns – four of which have been goalless, the rest all finishing 1-1. Only twice in the last 12 meeting has this fixture delivered more than two goals.

They meet again this coming Sunday, this time at Old Trafford, for an FA Cup fourth-round tie, and fans of both sides will be hoping to see more attacking verve from their team. The fact they face off this time in knockout game, hopefully, will inspire a little more urgency. And despite the lack of goals last weekend, both sides require only minor tweaks to improve their threat.

Enough to keep them top of the table, United will have been satisfied with their hard-earned point at Anfield, but they’ve beaten Liverpool only once in their last 11 attempts. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expressed disappointment at his side’s showing post-match.

"We didn't deserve the three points because we didn't play well enough," Solskjaer told Sky Sports. "We didn't impose ourselves on the game, especially first half. We grew in the game and thought it was there to win in the second half and created two massive chances.”

To go one better and score a victory Liverpool in the Cup, the introduction of some veteran knowhow could make all the difference.

Edinson Cavani played the last half an hour at Anfield, but his expert off-ball movement would be a major boon from the start at Old Trafford. It was a game of few clear-cut chances last weekend, with United outshot 17 to eight by their hosts. But the away side could have threatened Allisson’s goal more regularly had their timing been better. United, aiming to counter-attack in what has become their customary style against top-level opposition under Solskjaer, were flagged offside eight times; Liverpool were offside just once.

And no player was guilty of mistiming his forward bursts more often than Marcus Rashford, who was caught offside five times as he led the line for United. As such, the United No.10 mustered just a single, off-target shot all game.

Adding 33-year-old Cavani and his expert, finely tuned movement to the line-up, with Rashford moving back to the wing and the under-performing Anthony Martial dropped to the bench, could see United make better use of their breakaway efforts this time around.

Another area United must improve in if they hope to progress in the Cup is the quality of their passing. Their inability to retain the ball invited pressure which, ordinarily, Liverpool would have exploited with greater ruthlessness.

The 20-time champions owned just a 34 per cent share of posession, with a comparatively sloppy pass accuracy of 73 per cent – Liverpool found a red shirt with 86 per cent of their passes. The introduction of one or both of Nemanja Matic – their most trustworthy passer this term, with a 90.6 per cent completion rate – or the outcast summer signing Donny van de Beek for Fred and/or Scott McTominay should see United get a better grip on the ball and a stronger foothold in midfield.

Although United weren’t at their best with the ball, their defensive organisation effectively restricted Liverpool’s threat. Jurgen Klopp’s backhanded compliment of United’s defending provided a less-than-subtle hint at his side’s frustration.

“We played football, tried to do it, force them back into their own box,” he said.

“The worst thing you can face in the world, in football, is you play against a side with world-class players and they all defend with all they have, deep in the box and only counter-attack.

'It's really difficult – that's the biggest challenge.”

But Liverpool still should have done better with the openings they did forge.

As previously mentioned, the Reds took significantly more shorts than United – 17 to eight – but they managed to hit the target with only three, one fewer than Solskjaer’s men.

Striker Roberto Firmino was particularly wasteful. Only one of the Brazilian’s five strikes hit the target, and that was a tame effort easily collected by David de Gea.

As ever, Firmino’s all-round play knitted things together in attack for Liverpool and was a cause for concern for United – he created two chances for team-mates and completed all four of his attempted dribbles. His finishing, though, was poor.

With Diogo Jota out injured, Klopp has few viable alternatives to spearhead his front three. Liverpool will need Firmino to be sharper in front of goal at Old Trafford.

"We can play better than this, we know that,” Solskjaer admitted after Sunday’s draw at Anfield, a statement true of both sides.

English football’s blockbuster fixture has rarely lived up to its billing in recent years, but there is enough attacking talent on both sides to offer more. A few minor improvements are all that’s needed to break the monotony.


Match Odds

Manchester United (6/4), Draw (13/5), Liverpool (8/5)


To Qualify

Manchester United (9/10), Liverpool (9/10)