Manchester United analysis: How David Moyes was unable to respond while losing battle of the tactics to Liverpool at Old Trafford

United manager seemed dazzled by Liverpool’s midfield diamond on Sunday

Football editor

It is not known whether David Moyes went home on Sunday night and buried his head under the pillow for hours, as Sir Alex Ferguson did after Manchester United lost 5-1 at Maine Road in the days when Manchester City were more of a joke than a force – September 1989 – but he must have been tempted.

It was not just that his side was completely outplayed in losing 3-0 to Liverpool at Old Trafford, Moyes was utterly out-thought by his counterpart, Brendan Rodgers. Worryingly for United, Moyes was not only outfoxed at the start of the game, he seemed unable to come up with answers to Liverpool’s dominance during it.

It was not until the final 14 minutes of the game that he made a substitution, and until then his only tactical switch had been the basic one of asking Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj to change flanks. Meanwhile United, two down at home to their bitterest rivals, were barely laying a boot on the ball.

Rodgers has deployed at least five starting formations this season, which makes Liverpool a difficult side to prepare for, but they had used a diamond midfield last time out at Southampton, with Raheem Sterling replacing Philippe Coutinho at the tip for the last 33 minutes. Sunday’s formation should not, then, have come as a complete surprise.

 

In theory United’s 4-2-3-1 line-up ought to have been able to expose Liverpool’s lack of width and the teenaged Sterling, up against two experienced internationals, should not have had a kick. In practice Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen, ably supported by the full-backs, prevented United making any headway on the flanks while Sterling led Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick a merry dance.

This was partly because those Liverpool players did very well, but also because of United’s inadequacies. In the centre Fellaini and Carrick appeared slow and lacking in mobility faced with Liverpool’s youthful vigour. It did not help that, with Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones reluctant to push up because of their vulnerability to the pace of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, United were stretched. In addition Mata seemed lost on one flank and Januzaj isolated on the other.

Gary Neville on Sky Sports kept stating that Moyes “needed to change it” but the manager seemed to freeze. This is odd as, at Everton, Moyes was prepared to change tactics mid-match regularly. Talking to this newspaper at the start of the season, Pat Nevin – an old friend of Moyes but an astute pundit nevertheless – said Moyes was the equal of Jose Mourinho in the way he adapted tactically during games.

Nevin added that Moyes liked versatile players for this reason, picking out Fellaini, though he could also have mentioned the likes of Phil Neville, Leon Osman or Kevin Mirallas.

Fellaini is now at United, but does not seem to have found his métier there. At Everton he expressed a preference for a holding role, but produced his best performances in an advanced position, especially when using his physique to receive long balls from deep and play in team-mates.

However, not only do United traditionally not play that way, they already have Wayne Rooney and Mata wanting to play off the front man – and Januzaj, Ashley Young and the forgotten Shinji Kagawa capable of doing so. Which leaves Fellaini playing deep and, so far this season, innocuous.

What could Moyes have changed on Sunday? The standard response when being overrun in midfield is to match up to the opposition. Rooney could have pushed up alongside Robin van Persie, creating space for Mata to go to the top of the diamond. Carrick would have sat at the base, leaving Fellaini and Januzaj (or Tom Cleverley from the bench) to face Allen and Henderson. However, the suspicion is that Mata would not have prevented Steven Gerrard dictating play, but Sterling would have stopped Carrick from doing so.

The fundamental problem for Moyes is that United’s confidence is shot to pieces, collectively and individually. For all their territorial dominance Liverpool created few clear chances prior to United being reduced to 10 men. They scored from penalties conceded by poor defending, the sort of mistakes which happen when a team is under pressure and mentally frail.

Confidence is far easier to lose than gain. Only a run of victories will restore it, but winning matches requires confidence. Exacerbating matters is that players may be lacking faith in Moyes – or at least blaming him and his staff rather than themselves.

More specifically, United lack a commanding central defender with pace to replace the waning Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. They have no dominant central midfielder, and there are too many attackers of a similar style. And, so far, it is still not clear what Moyes’ grand plan is.

The summer’s transfer dealings are now critical to the club’s revival but, without Champions League football, and with a cloud over Moyes’ future, buying the best will be difficult, especially in a World Cup year.

Rodgers has had one big advantage over Moyes this year. With no European fixtures and early exits from the domestic cups, Liverpool have played 34 matches. United play their 44th against Olympiakos tomorrow. Both men are tracksuit managers, but Rodgers has had 10 midweeks extra to impart his philosophy on the training ground and hone tactics ahead of matches. Increasingly, it seems next year this imbalance will be reversed. Then we should see Moyes’ United vision – if he is still in charge.

Suggested Topics
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices