Tactical Battles That Will Shape Manchester United's Clash with Liverpool

Rob Blanchette@@_Rob_BFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2014

(FILE PHOTO - EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image Numbers 177996038 (L) and 150795011) In this composite image a comparison has been made between David Moyes, Manger of Manchester United and Brendan Rogers, Manager of Liverpool FC. The Capital One Cup match between Manchester United and Liverpool takes place on September 25, 2013 at Old Trafford,Manchester, England. *** LEFT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Manchester United Manager David Moyes looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on August 26, 2013 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Liverpool Manager Brendan Rogers looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on August 26, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

Once upon a time not long ago, this match would usually have only meant one thing. 

The fallen Merseyside club, filed neatly under the term "sleeping giant" would be doing their level best to stop their North West rival winning yet another league championship. 

They would board their buses and head up the M62 towards Manchester, wringing their hands with glee, hoping to take the points and bragging rights.

How things have changed.

Just a matter of months after winning their 20th league title, Manchester United once again play second fiddle to Liverpool after a nightmare first campaign after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25:  Luis Suarez of Liverpool (r) looks on prior to the Capital One Cup Third Round match betwen Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on September 25, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty I
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Brendan Rodgers has transformed his underachieving failures into championship wannabes.

You could argue that David Moyes has done the opposite. 

Liverpool visit Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon for the day's early kick-off, hoping to maintain their Premier League challenge until the bitter end. 

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United will just be happy for some kind of positive home result, something that has been hard to come by for far too long. 

So can the Red Devils stop the Anfield club in their tracks?

Here we review the tactical battles that will shape the game.

Formations: Moyes' Uncertainty Vs Rodgers' Tried And Trusted

Probable line ups and formations using WhoScored analytics
Probable line ups and formations using WhoScored analyticsWhoScored.com

United supporters far and wide have been crying out for Moyes to revert to a 4-2-3-1 for months, and as the ashes of 4-4-2 burn in the fire of defeat, the Scotsman finally looks likely to run with the most obvious of formations.

Like Ferguson, Moyes takes a relatively pragmatic approach to tactics, and inhabits a world where trequartistas and false number 9's have not yet been invented. 

His purchase of Juan Mata could point towards a sea change in attitude from the former Everton boss, or it could mean that he thinks the former Chelsea man is better on the wing than Antonio Valencia.

If it is the latter then Mata will be of no use to the United charge in the next few years, but if it is the former it could mean that the Red Devils will finally adhere to modern European tactics. 

Rodgers has showed this season just exactly what wingless systems can do for you.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Liverpool have found the net an astonishing 73 times in the Premier League this season, per Squawka, proving that the best form of defence is indeed attack.

Rodgers' 4-3-3 has worked wonders, allowing his front six to operate with freedom around the focal point of Luis Suarez's world-class ability. 

With the indifference in United's performances in recent months it is difficult to see how they have a chance in stopping Liverpool. 

But a 4-2-3-1 could just thaw Liverpool's potency.

The extra man in midfield with Fellaini and Carrick sitting goal side could restrict the amount of ball that Suarez and Daniel Sturridge see, and that is half the battle won.

On Sunday, United need their attack to finally shine. Van Persie needs to find his happy place for the little boy inside him and Wayne Rooney needs to be at his aggressive best. 

If Moyes gets his formation right, Old Trafford might just hear its loudest roar of the season.

Exposing Steven Gerrard

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01:  Steven Gerrard of Liverpool exchanges words with Robin van Persie of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on September 01, 2013 in Liverpool, Engl
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The whispers from some Liverpool fans last season was that their evergreen captain's time at the club was coming to an end. 

As Rodgers looked to the future and planned to change the landscape of Anfield it was considered that Steven Gerrard could be sacrificed by him.

But as with John Terry at Chelsea, this season has seen a renaissance for the England skipper. 

His repositioning as a dynamic defensive midfielder has worked wonders for the player, utilising his midfield knowledge and his ability to retain possession. 

But the 33-year-old does indeed have a weakness, and that is the years of hard work that his legs have been through.


In Liverpool's last match, a 3-0 win away to Southampton, Gerrard's heatmap was typical of the position he now takes up:

Being more occupied in his team's own half of the pitch with the game playing out ahead of him.

Southampton's own version of 4-2-3-1 forced Rodgers to play a diamond in midfield to protect Gerrard and the back-four, and the result shows that the tactic worked.

But what can Gerrard do if Rooney drops off the attack to occupy his territory with Mata in-turn playing in close proximity? It suddenly becomes a very hard day at the office for an elder statesman.

United can expose Gerrard, and in turn rip the heart out of Liverpool's midfield.

However, if they do not work the Liverpool captain and allow him to dominate the flow of traffic from deep, then the shackles will fall off Suarez and company, and a cricket score could be the result.

The Fellaini Factor

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 05:  Marouane Fellaini  of Belgium looks on prior to the International Friendly match between Belgium and Ivory Coast at The King Baudouin Stadium on March 5, 2014 in Brussels, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

If you had said to a football fan in the street that it could be Marouane Fellaini who turns United's season around at the death, they would have been forgiven for aiming a few choice words in your direction.

But the big Belgian does indeed seem to be the catalyst for change. His performances since returning to the first team seem more assured and has given United a new found strength. 

The Red Devils have finally been able to win back-to-back Premier League matches for the first time this year, and Fellaini has played a vital role in both games, away against Crystal Palace and West Brom. 


Fellaini's passing and positioning were highlighted by Squawka in United's last match, the 3-0 victory at The Hawthorns.

You can clearly see how he is involved across the whole of the midfield, without being a classical box-to-box player. 

On the day he achieved a 90% pass success rate, confidently protecting his back-four whilst still having the quality to join in the attack. 

This factor will be vital to Moyes on Sunday.

If he plays the expected 4-2-3-1, then Fellaini can be the dominant force in this match.

However, if he is placed in a 4-4-2, both he and Michael Carrick will be sitting ducks for Liverpool's relentless attacking animal, and they will be ripped to shreds by a pack of hungry lions. 

This is a derby match where form rarely matters. But with United looking like a spent force at Old Trafford these days, and Luis Suarez attempting to be the most destructive forward in the world, the chips are all stacked in Liverpool's favour. 

But can Moyes pull a rabbit out the hat and shock Rodgers?

If so, success on the day could lead United on to a late charge for a Champions League place.

But failure will see Liverpool take one huge stride to becoming champions of England for the first time in a generation.

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