Premier League: 3 things Man Utd need to avoid another thrashing at Liverpool

There was little indication that Manchester United would succumb to the historic defeat they were subject to at Anfield in March 2023.

After an early bump or two, 2022/23 had been a campaign of prosperity for the Red Devils with a slick Dutchman at the helm. Erik ten Hag had claimed silverware in year one following a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup final, but things just haven’t been the same since that chastening beatdown at the hands of their most bitter rivals.

A strong end to the Premier League season ensured United’s Champions League qualification, but Ten Hag’s side have already meekly bowed out of the competition ahead of their first return to Anfield since the 7-0 defeat.

Many would’ve fancied United to upset the odds on their last visit to Liverpool’s home, but a combination of indifferent form, an ever-increasing injury list, and Bruno Fernandes’ suspension means we’re all just wonderig how many the Red Devils will lose by on Sunday afternoon.

Thus, this isn’t a guide detailing how Ten Hag can mastermind a remarkable victory over the Reds, but how the former Ajax coach can perhaps keep himself in the job by avoiding another mauling.

  • Pragmatic and cautious game plan… duh

“I saw 11 individuals losing their heads, not sticking to the plan,” uttered an aghast Ten Hag in the wake of United’s previous trip to Anfield.

Right, so what was the plan on that fateful afternoon?

Well, despite United’s eventual collapse, it’s worth noting that they were well in the game at half-time and arguably had the better of the game before Cody Gakpo gave the Reds a 43rd-minute lead.

Ten Hag’s ‘plan’ revolved around the utilisation of Wout Weghorst as an auxiliary #10. The Dutchman was there to aid United’s direct ploy which aimed to make the most of Marcus Rashford’s speed in behind. Without the ball, United were aggressive. They sought to win possession high up the pitch, marking Liverpool man-to-man. Unfortunately, too many individuals lost their duels after the restart and an implosion followed after the Reds quickly scored twice at the start of the second half.

This time, Ten Hag should opt for a defensive ploy comparable to what we saw against Bayern in midweek. There might be times to win possession high up the pitch, but United have to focus on containing and frustrating the hosts. A deep, compact block is in order.

Luton and Crystal Palace have recently shown how the Reds can be ceding territory and control. Ten Hag should take a leaf out of old Roy’s book for this one. Double up on Liverpool’s wingers, track the half-space surges, and limit the space for Darwin Nunez in behind.

  • Hope Darwin Nunez is… Darwin Nunez

Despite Gakpo’s success in the 7-0 win, Nunez is expected to start up top for Jurgen Klopp on Sunday.

Even if United attempt to contain Liverpool, the Reds are inevitably going to create chances. So, if the visitors are to walk away with anything but another thrashing, they’re going to need plenty of good fortune.

While Mohamed Salah remains relentless with his output, Nunez’s struggles in front of goal have continued into 2023/24. The Uruguayan forward whose talent is undeniable is currently underperforming his expected goals by 2.4.

Unfortunately for the Red Devils, Liverpool have otherwise been efficient in the final third. In fact, as a unit, they’re slightly overperforming their xG. That’s somewhat ominous for Ten Hag’s side, who’ll be hoping that the majority of Liverpool’s chances fall to the Uruguayan and not the Egyptian.

Salah has scored 12 goals in as many games against United.

  • In Kobbie you must trust, Erik

Even if they avoid a battering, United, no matter how many players they have out, can’t rock up at Anfield, sit deep for 90 minutes and lose 2-0 or 3-0 without laying a finger on the hosts.

They’ve got to offer something in possession. The absence of Fernandes is huge in regards to kick-starting transitions, but the inclusion of teenager Kobbie Mainoo will certainly aid United when attempting to mitigate Liverpool’s press.

Mainoo showed real quality playing on the half-turn against Everton and is certainly the most natural footballer among United’s pivot options. He’s fearless, and United should be galvanised by his talent. The Reds will undoubtedly make life tough for the youngster, but Mainoo has shown he’s got the minerals to stand up in the face of battle.

He’s not a playmaker, but Mainoo has a key role to play in ensuring United get up the pitch and potentially exploit the space in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold.

What we know

  • Man Utd head into Sunday’s trip to Anfield in disarray
  • United’s injuries, poor form, and suspensions mean Liverpool are heavy favourites on Sunday
  • Liverpool thrashed United 7-0 at Anfield earlier this year.

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