Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United: Carroll is Key

Posted on January 28, 2012 by

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A tense, frenetic, and occasionally ugly game was settled ultimately by Liverpool’s aerial superiority.

Both teams started with a lone striker, and neither made a particularly assertive attempt to attack the other in the first half, although Manchester United comfortably dominated the possession. This was partly because Jamie Carragher featured as the holding player in Liverpool’s three-man midfield, which, as such, was always going to have to be passive and patient, hoping that Carroll could hold the ball up and bring others into play. Starting line-ups:

Liverpool vs United Starting XIs

As I have mentioned, such a set-up was always going to rely on patience and discipline from the home side, as Carragher is neither a traditional Mascherano-style “destroyer”, nor a deep-lying playmaker. Steven Gerrard would routinely drop deep to receive the ball, occasionally finding that he had few attacking options, and Liverpool struggled to play out of their own half.

Ryan Giggs featured as the more advanced of United’s midfield three, with space to roam. Carragher was not hugely effective in his defensive role, but he at least stifled the space through the middle, and as Maxi and Downing did a good job of tracking back on the wings, United found it difficult to create chances with all their possession. Despite grumblings from some home fans, Liverpool broadly controlled the space, if not the ball.

Liverpool were clearly relying on corners to provide their main attacking threat in the first half. They had obviously practised a routine which would expose David De Gea’s aerial weakness, using Carroll and Martin Kelly to put him under pressure. The first home corner of the game was overhit, but the danger was obvious. The second time, De Gea could get nowhere near the cross, and Daniel Agger rose well to fire home.

It looked like Liverpool were happy to cruise until half-time, sitting off Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, allowing them to stroke the ball around in non-dangerous areas (Scholes in particular enjoyed a 97% pass completion rate in the first half). But eventually, United got the break, as Rafael da Silva exposed Jose Enrique one-on-one down their right wing. A mistake from the Spaniard meant da Silva was able to pull back a dangerous low cross from the by-line which Park Ji-Sung coolly dispatched.

Second half

Immediately after the break, the game followed a fairly similar pattern, although Liverpool were slightly more positive as a result of Carroll’s increasing effectiveness as a target man, and Gerrard’s greater willingness to break forward. The match remained more-or-less locked, and slightly dull, until a number of substitutions which led to a classic 4-4-2 vs 4-4-2 battle:

Liverpool vs United after 75 minutes

As the game became more stretched, and both teams chased the winner (wanting to avoid a replay at all costs), both sides’ play became more direct (United in particular lost Scholes’ control, and Liverpool were significantly more assertive with Bellamy and Kuyt in place of Carragher and Maxi). Such directness was always likely to favour Liverpool though, with Carroll proving himself to be the more effective aerial target man than Danny Welbeck (whom Martin Skrtel had done a superb job of stifling all game).

Ultimately, a long-ball from Reina’s goalkick and a timid challenge from Jonny Evans gave Carroll the chance to direct a flicked-header into the path of Dirk Kuyt, who had got in behind Patrice Evra. A forceful finish from the Dutchman sealed victory for the home side.

Full time

In sum, it could be argued that, despite Danny Welback perhaps possessing superior technical skill, Carroll’s ability to out-muscle and out-jump his opposite number(s) was what won the game for Liverpool.

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Posted in: Football, Tactics