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Attack Attack Attack: The Way To Beat Manchester United?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 07:  Cristian Rodriguez of FC Porto battles with Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes of Manchester United during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Manchester United and FC Porto at Old Trafford on April 7, 2009 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
A BashirContributor IApril 8, 2009

After conceding 10 goals in four matches, scoring just six in the process, have the wheels come off the Manchester United Juggernaut?

Did Liverpool and Rafael Benitez finally uncover the chink (rapidly becoming a hole) in United's armour?

United have gained the majority of their points at home, 40, compared to 28 points away. In contrast, Liverpool have gained 33 points at home and 34 away—having played one more away match.

Why are United so poor away from home?

When teams come to Old Trafford, they set themselves up not to be beaten and play for the draw by packing the midfield and playing only one up top. 

This year United are playing with more possession but less penetration. The opposition sits back and United play a drawn-out probing game, looking for openings, which leads to United scoring far fewer goals but conceding far less as well.

United do not play with a defensive midfielder and subsequently are better against teams who come to defend.

When United play away, the home side is more likely to attack United and this is when the lack of a defensive midfielder becomes apparent.

There is no cover for the two centre-backs and only great individual displays by Nemanja Vidic has masked this.

Now contrast this to Liverpool, who play the counter-attack game by playing a defensive midfielder (Mascherano) and a deep lying midfielder (Alonso).

If you look at a heat map of Liverpool central midfielders compared to United you will see that they spend most of their time in or behind the centre circle, whilst United's central pair are more advanced.

This creates the space further up field for Gerrard and Torres to exploit.

Liverpool are set up to play better against teams who will come and attack them because they are quick on the counter.

Their results against United, Real Madrid, and Aston Villa attest to this. Against Fulham away, it was only the woodwork that saved the home side from a mauling.

Consider now how Liverpool have dropped points against teams who, like the Reds, have sat back and played on the break—Stoke, Everton, West Ham, and Fulham. 

So, when Liverpool beat United 4-1, they did not play like the opposition teams that come and defend and sit back for a draw. They played as if they were at Anfield and came at United.

Aston Villa and Porto did the same—they attacked at the soft underbelly that is United's midfield.

Manchester United are better at breaking teams down that come to defend and Liverpool are better playing against teams that come to attack.

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