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Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool (FA Cup -3rd Round): MATCH REVIEW

Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs converted a class penalty in United's 1-0 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs converted a class penalty in United's 1-0 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Just seconds into the FA Cup clash at Old Trafford, Dimitar Berbatov was able to draw a penalty after the striker went down from a challenge by Liverpool defender Daniel Agger. After the controversial penalty was awarded by referee Howard Webb, Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs gave his side the early lead by tucking away the penalty past Liverpool Goalkeeper Pepe Reina. It would prove to be enough as United eliminated their rivals from the FA Cup with a 1-0 victory. 

Liverpool, with the return of Kenny Dalglish as caretaker manager, showed some spirit after going down, but United were back in full control after Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard was shown red for a silly, two-footed challenge on Michael Carrick. After Gerrard's sending off, Liverpool were no longer able to apply the high pressure they had for the first 30 minutes and the visitors from Merseyside were fortunate to not have lost by more. United controlled possession and aside from a well taken, curling free-kick that forced a full-streched save from Tomasz Kuszczak, Liverpool were only to get a few half chances for the remainder of the game. 

Opening formations and tactics: 

Man United (4-4-2)

------------- Chicharito--Berbatov--------------





Liverpool (4-1-4-1)


- Rodriguez--Meireles-Gerrard-------Kuyt-


----Aurelio--- Agger---Skrtel-------Kelly-------



More after the jump.........

Once again, there's much more to describe to United's shape than simply saying "4-4-2." The fullbacks bombed forward all game long, and provided support in the attack out wide. Nani, as he typically does, played fairly high up and stayed wide out right. Giggs didn't tuck in centrally as he has in recent years, and provided width out on the left. Michael Carrick stayed fairly deep, and played as a deep lying playmaker right in front of the central defense. Darren Fletcher played in more of a box to box role in the central midfield. At times, Berbatov and Chicharito dropped deep to look for the ball while United had possession, but neither linked up play to the extent that Wayne Rooney has done in recent matches. United's shape ended up looking more like this throughout the match, and it didn't alter much, even after Gerrard's sending off....









As for Liverpool, they began the match with Lucas sitting right behind the midfield and in front of the defense. Their fullbacks stayed back in defense for the most part, although right back Martin Kelly made a few selective runs forward. Meireles played a box to box midfield role, while Gerrard pushed higher up the pitch, and was the attacker that provided support to Fernando Torres. Both wide midfielders for Liverpool played narrow, especially Dirk Kuyt. Liverpool's shape looked like this the first 30 minutes of the match....








1st Half:

* A brilliant long ball by Fletcher rewarded Berbatov for his creative run into the box just seconds into the game. The amount that Agger bumped Berba is certainly debatable, as is the penalty call... but one thing I would argue is that Agger didn't play the ball at all and undoubtedly made some contact with Berba... a penalty often gets called in that case. Berba sold it to an extent, but it was poor defending by Agger.

* One thing very noticeable at the very start of the game was Liverpool's high pressure. The four midfielders playing ahead of Lucas (Kuyt, Meireles, Rodriguez, Gerrard) were pressing United and making them uncomfortable on the ball. In the center of the field, United were getting overrun as Liverpool generally had a 3 v 2 advantage there. 

* United was able to get a little relief when they were able to get the ball out wide, and re-direct their point of attack from the flanks. However, Carrick and Fletcher were having difficulties distributing the ball and moving the ball out wide because of that high pressure. Liverpool tried to play narrow, United tried to play with width.

* Nani was relatively quiet. That whole side of the field for Liverpool was clearly focused on shutting down Nani. Aurelio, Meireles, and Rodriguez communicated well in regards to that task.

* Carrick played right in front of the central defense, intercepted passes, and was strong in the tackle.

* After Gerrard's awful 2 footed-tackle on Carrick in the 32nd minute, the game changed. Liverpool switched to a 4-4-1 and with a central midfielder gone, they were no longer able to apply the high pressure that they had for the first 30 minutes. United was able to settle in, retain possesion, and Fletcher/Carrick had more time on the ball. Liverpool looked like this after going down to 10 men....







2nd Half:

* United came out in the 2nd half with more purpose, and were playing much more positive. United were unfortunate not to extend their lead. Brilliant goalkeeping by Pepe Reina and some squandered chances prevented United from putting the game away.

* With time on the ball, Carrick's passing was superb. Fletcher was inconsistent and was having difficulties linking up with Berba and Chicharito. Fletcher's early booking also forced his substitution for Anderson as he was forced to be careful.

* Giggs/Evra and Nani/Rafael worked brilliantly together in attacking tandems. Most of United's attacking threat came from the flanks. Giggs in particular looked very sharp.

* Berba dropped deep more often in this half looking for the ball and trying to link play better through the center of the pitch.

* Dalglish's subs were positive, as Babel pushed higher up the pitch than Maxi Rodriguez. Shelves for Meireles didn't change much.

* Fergie's subs didn't change much either as the players who came on played in similar roles to the players they replaced.


Misc thoughts:

* Giggs was excellent today, it was probably the best game that he's had in awhile. It is still so much fun to watch him run at defenders. 

* Nani and Rafael have tremendous chemistry together, and they are a very good pairing on that right side.

* Liverpool looked much more positive under Dalglish than they did under Hodgson, as they seemed to press and attack more aggressively. Hodgon's side sat back and absorbed pressure, while looking to strike on the counter-attack. Dalglish's instructions to pressure high up the field caused United trouble, especially in the center of the pitch when Liverpool still had 11 men. 

* It seems to me that when Vidic or Ferdinand need a rest, that Fergie prefers Evans paired with Ferdinand and Smalling paired with Vida. This makes sense as the replacing player is stylistically similar to the resting player in that case. 

* Speaking of Evans, a great bounce back game for him. He was very solid today and nearly scored on a corner. This match could be huge for his confidence after his recent struggles. 

* Carrick really struggles when he's pressed, especially when the central midfield is facing a 2 vs 3 situation. However, when he has time on the ball, he's brilliant in that deep lying position with his distribution. His ability to read the game today was superb, as he seemed to be intercepting more passes and he got stuck in. 

* Rooney is a tremendous partner for Berbatov, especially when he's dropping deep and linking up play. In the matches that Fergie elects to go with 2 players up front, I think the Rooney/Berba tandem is the best option with Chicharito as a fantastic late-game substitute. In the 'big games' where Fergie goes 4-5-1/4-3-3, I believe Rooney is still the best option up front to play as a lone striker. I thought about this quite a bit today as the Berba/Chicharito pairing was very mediocre.

* Martin Kelly had a very solid match for Liverpool. Defensively, he's a big upgrade over Glen Johnson

* It feels incredible anytime we beat Liverpool, and today was no different. I just wish we would have stepped on their throats today when they went down to 10 men, and completely destroyed their spirit. However, I'll celebrate that we have knocked them out of the FA Cup! 

***EDIT*** Forgot to submit my 'man of the match'... Ryan Giggs. Quite simply, a vintage performance... who knows how many he has left in the tank, enjoy them while they last.