Blind position key to Man Utd sacrificing fourth to Liverpool
Simon Mignolet being dropped for Brad Jones, Juan Mata scoring an offside goal and a shocking Dejan Lovren clearance are probably what is most remembered by Liverpool supporters from their 3-0 defeat to Manchester United in December.
The result was obviously negative, but the fixture was arguably the first example of what threatened to be a successful formation for Brendan Rodgers.
Jordan Henderson was utilised down the right flank within the 3-4-2-1 set up, Steven Gerrard was still being persevered with in a deep midfield role and Glen Johnson was at centre half, but the pressing and intensity of last season had returned.
Raheem Sterling was constantly thwarted by David De Gea as Liverpool had nine shots on target, while there were signs that the ideal position had finally been found to make the best use of the talented, but inconsistent, Philippe Coutinho.
The seed had been planted and has flourished exceedingly since, as Rodgers has watched his team go unbeaten in 13 Premier League games to rocket up to fifth in the top-flight standings and beating Utd at Anfield will see them scamper above the Red Devils into fourth.
They haven’t been in the top four since the opening weekend of this season, but it is 11/10 that Liverpool beat Louis van Gaal’s men to lie fourth by the close of play Sunday.
The Liverpool line-up is fairly predictable, with the only contentious decision being whether Sterling continues down the right or whether he returns to a line-leading role and Daniel Sturridge drops to the bench to be replaced by Lazar Markovic.
It is how Utd set up that it is likely to have the biggest bearing on the outcome.
For the 3-0 victory, Van Gaal opted for a back three and sat Michael Carrick in a sweeper role, with Marouane Fellaini in the deepest midfield position and James Wilson starting the pressing in attack.
This ensured the Red Devils had someone comfortable in possession in defence to evade and pass through the Liverpool press, while speed in attack made it difficult for Rodgers’ men to confidently pass out of defence themselves.
Emre Can has given Liverpool this option and he could be the critical player here, but from a defensive standpoint.
It was down his side of the pitch that Utd recently best exploited Tottenham, with Daley Blind and Ashley Young combining to get at Kyle Walker regularly.
With Markovic or Sterling not the most defensive minded, this is an area for Utd to exploit, especially if Fellaini, in his current attacking midfield role, pulls onto the young German to impose his physical and aerial attributes. Can could find himself on the receiving end of a 3-on-1 onslaught.
If Van Gaal has this plan though, it will mean some concoction of 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 in terms of formation, which makes it tougher to deal with attacking midfield roamers Coutinho and Adam Lallana at the other end.
Playing three in defence against Liverpool makes sense as everyone knows who to pick up, even if they create risk through the lack of an extra man.
With a back four, Antonio Valencia could find it especially tricky to decide whether he should be following Coutinho in-field or staying wide to pick up the on-rushing Alberto Moreno.
Based on the way Utd performed against Tottenham, Van Gaal should probably stick with this formation and the same starting personnel, despite the availability of Angel Di Maria after suspension.
However, this is probably the most risky and Van Gaal has to be referred to as somewhat of a cautious manager.
Therefore, don’t be surprised to see a return to a three-man defence here, possibly including Blind, and if this comes to fruition, Utd would appeal at 8/11 in the double chance market to avoid defeat.
With the Red Devils currently having the upper hand in the top-four race, this is a result he would almost certainly take right now.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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