An all time classic game occurred at Anfield as Juan Mata’s brilliance sparked Manchester United to a 3-1 win over Liverpool. The game ended up grabbing more headlines than the Spanish El Classico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, which is a very impressive feat. What I must say, though, is that the Northwest Derby was one of the most bizarre matches I’ve ever seen.
First off, it was tactically tight. United came out of the gates ready to win, but their Merseyside rivals were no pushover. Louis Van Gaal’s men lined up in a 4-3-3 with Juan Mata cutting in from the right wing and Ander Herrera pulling the strings from midfield. Marouane Fellaini was deployed in a left central midfield role that allowed him to absolutely destroy Liverpool’s defence with his aerial ability, strength, and surprisingly, his running between the lines.
Liverpool lined up in a 3-4-3 with Raheem Sterling at right-wing back and Alberto Moreno on the left. Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana drifted around Michael Carrick but failed to find a way to penetrate the English metronome.
United settled down quicker than the Reds, and after about 5 minutes they begun to comfortably ping the ball around Liverpool’s half. The interesting thing about the possession for United, though, is how it differed to most of the season. The United team created impressive triangles, with Herrera and Mata displaying their telepathic understanding of the other’s movement. This partnership highlights the tactical journey this United team must undergo, so that all the players can have this same level of understanding.
The obvious eventually happened, as Herrera split the defence with a pass to Mata for the Spaniard to fire home. It was a great, and deserved goal, as Ander Herrera showed his creativity in particular.
The height of the controversy came when Steven Gerrard entered the fold at half time for Adam Lallana. It was a strange decision because Lallana, though ineffective, occupied Michael Carrick and often gave Philippe Coutinho space to work his magic. Steven Gerrard went on to get sent off in poor fashion after just 45 seconds, lashing into challenges on Ander Herrera and Juan Mata that had nothing to even do with the ball.
Mata went on to score this beauty after Gerrard was sent off:
The tackles brought up an intriguing point, as some questionable tackles were committed by Phil Jones, Mario Balotelli and Martin Skrtel. These tackles really blurred the lines between a yellow and red card. This is why I’ve created a sensible criteria to determine the severity.
- Location: Is the foul committed on a part of the field that would’ve denied a clear cut chance? Is the ball near the foul?
- Reckless and Dangerous: Is the tackle warranting an injury? Is it studs up? Is it a flying challenge?
- Technical: Is the foul relevant to the game, or is it just a malicious foul that didn’t deny a chance on the ball?
Steven Gerrard is the sure send-off. The ball was long gone from Herrera’s feet, and Gerrard inserted his studs into Herrera’s ankle. Martin Skrtel’s challenge on David De Gea was at the very end, and when De Gea grabbed the ball the full-time whistle was blown. This means that Skrtel’s challenge had no relevance to the game (technical), was dangerous for De Gea (reckless) and studs up. Surely, Skrtel should be fined and punished. Mario Balotelli was on a yellow for inserting his studs into Blind’s feet when he grabbed on Chris Smalling’s leg.
That being said, I think the correct punishments should(ve) follow(ed).
- Phil Jones: Yellow and a watch on for red, or just red and a 1 game suspension.
- Mario Balotelli: The same punishment given to Phil Jones.
- Steven Gerrard: An easy 3-match suspension. He’s not going to start much now anyways.
- Martin Skrtel: A fine and a 3-match suspension. It could be argued that his tackle on De Gea was violent conduct or physical abuse.
Manchester United line up at Old Trafford against Aston Villa next week, while Liverpool will look towards a clutch tie against Arsenal which will benefit United’s quest for Champions League football regardless of the result. If you disagree with anything said here, let me know in the comment section, I’ll surely get back to you.