Manchester United 0 Liverpool 5: anatomy of an evisceration

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Man Utd 0 Liverpool 5 - anatomy of an evisceration
Man Utd 0 Liverpool 5 - anatomy of an evisceration

How do you explain a 5-0 home defeat?

If you are a club in administration at the bottom of League Two facing a team with promotion aspirations it is a disastrous result.

If you have half your team missing, two men sent off and an outfield player in goal it is unacceptable. Even at Norwich, heads might roll.

For Manchester United against their biggest rivals it is something more. A drubbing for the ages, the humiliation of humiliations, an epochal disaster.

Just how did it all go so horribly wrong?

Bruno Fernandes' miss

Four minutes gone and with the game yet to settle, Bruno Fernandes found himself in a clear ‘should score’ position:

Fernandes shot - SKY SPORTS
Fernandes shot - SKY SPORTS

Instead he slashed his shot high, wide, and forced fans in the disabled section to protect themselves:

Fernandes shoots wide - SKY SPORTS
Fernandes shoots wide - SKY SPORTS

Would the game have turned out any differently if United had taken an early lead? Very possibly not, but this lack of composure and polish set the tone for the home side.

An off-the-ball shambles

Shortly before Liverpool’s first goal Aaron Wan-Bissaka was pressing far too high from right back. Here he is ahead of the entirety of United’s supposed midfield, attempting to get close to Andrew Robertson:

United's poor pressing - SKY SPORTS
United's poor pressing - SKY SPORTS

He was passed with ease, Victor Lindelof was pulled out to right back, Luke Shaw had to cover in the middle. Moments later Naby Keita is here:

United's poor positioning - SKY SPORTS
United's poor positioning - SKY SPORTS

And Liverpool are 1-0 up:

Liverpool celebrate first goal - SKY SPORTS
Liverpool celebrate first goal - SKY SPORTS

Less hot knife through butter, more margarine left in direct sunlight.

Maguire and Shaw’s catastrophe

Harry Maguire and Shaw were both flummoxed by a routine ball towards the general direction of the area. Maguire hung a leg out, Shaw seemed to lead with his head, both missed it:

Maguire and Shaw tangle - SKY SPORTS
Maguire and Shaw tangle - SKY SPORTS

You would usually expect a collision here, but both defenders’ attempt to intervene was so meek they just brushed hands with one another. A brutal encapsulation of their current form. Their polite tangle was enough for Keita to mop up and feed Trent Alexander-Arnold who had Diogo Jota and James Milner to aim for on the back post. 2-0.

Right-back Wan-Bissaka, incidentally, wasn’t even in the penalty area when Alexander-Arnold played the pass:

Aaron Wan-Bisakka out of posiition - SKY SPORTS
Aaron Wan-Bisakka out of posiition - SKY SPORTS

Shaw going close

United seem to be trapped in an exercise to prove conclusively that 2-0 is the most dangerous lead. That was the theme in the crack-papering-over win against Atalanta last week and seemed to be the plan again on Sunday.

Such is United’s current volatility and the nervy mania of their crowd it felt like a swift reply, even at 2-0 down, could decisively tip the game back in their favour. Shaw came closest, hitting an excellent shot from outside the box:

Luke Shaw shoots - SKY SPORTS
Luke Shaw shoots - SKY SPORTS

It zipped wide, and was the last real glimpse his team had of taking anything from the game.

The chaos of their lines

United’s formation was at its most coherent pre-game when they took the knee. Undone by a series of neat but hardly blistering passes for the third goal, the shape was still awry at the end of the half.

Two clear lines are in evidence here, but the chasm between them is easy to exploit:

United's lines in defence - BBC
United's lines in defence - BBC

Andrew Robertson played it to Jota on the left, then moved into the space between midfield and defensive lines:

United's lines - BBC
United's lines - BBC

He is one of three viable passes available for the forward, who chose a lobbed ball towards Firmino. United, caught between rigid blocking and haphazard pressing are now a mess, the clear lines of seconds ago a distant memory:

United's lines - BBC
United's lines - BBC

Firmino held it up, Robertson took the ball at close quarters then found Jota, who played in Salah and you know the rest. 4-0.

Ronaldo kicking out

Lead by example, Cristiano. Don’t hack at Curtis Jones when he’s shielding the ball out of play, a yellow card tackle for starters, then kick out at him in a manner which looks like it would be replayed as evidence in court:

Ronaldo kicking out at Jones - SKY SPORTS
Ronaldo kicking out at Jones - SKY SPORTS

Alright, Ronaldo “played the ball,” but this was a loss of discipline from a player who should know better.

The sight of fans leaving at half time

Do not underestimate the desperate state of a supporter choosing to leave a game at half time. This would have been an expensive day out, perhaps something looked forward to for weeks. So desperate was their team’s first half performance some had seen enough at half time:

Fans leaving Old Trafford at half time - SKY SPORTS
Fans leaving Old Trafford at half time - SKY SPORTS

The trickle had turned into a steady stream with half an hour left to play:

More fans leaving - SKY SPORTS
More fans leaving - SKY SPORTS

To their credit those left behind made a credible noise, especially in the Stretford End.

Ronaldo’s goal being VARed out

After a 12 minute hat-trick for Salah either side of half time, United roused themselves enough for Cristiano Ronaldo to score his customary goal. It was, of course, offside:

Ronaldo is offisde - SKY SPORTS
Ronaldo is offisde - SKY SPORTS

Edinson Cavani also spooned a late chance onto the bar via Robertson’s thigh. A goal would have been inappropriate.

Pogba getting himself sent off

In a similarly grim spot in the Brendan Rodgers hangover season, Liverpool made a half-time substitution when trailing Manchester United. Steven Gerrard was sent on at Anfield and lasted 38 seconds, before a stamp on Ander Herrera which brought him a red card. Paul Pogba at least managed 14 minutes when coming on at the same stage on Saturday.

Gerrard rightly took pelters but there was a sense in some quarters that he had showed some credible urgency by violently nobbling an opponent. Anger, pride etc. No such charity for Pogba, who is an easy lightning rod when things are going badly for Manchester United. But crikey, he doesn’t make it easy for himself sometimes, does he?

Paul Pogba's tackle on Naby Keita - GETTY IMAGES
Paul Pogba's tackle on Naby Keita - GETTY IMAGES

His tackle on Keita came with the midfielder going nowhere close to his own box. It was reckless, dangerous, two footed, and Keita was taken off on a stretcher. Pogba was brought on to change the game. Instead he made a bad situation even worse. Woeful.

Liverpool not really trying

After about 70 minutes Liverpool seemed to ease off, showing some mercy. The game became a possession exercise, played safely in United’s half but rarely with the urgency to get behind their defence. This was Liverpool without Fabinho, Joel Matip and Sadio Mane. Their gleeful fans sang “Ole must stay”.

Bench body language

It is wise to seem sad in this situation, but this is not a good look:

Sad United players on the bench - SKY SPORTS
Sad United players on the bench - SKY SPORTS
Hooded United player can't watch - SKY SPORTS
Hooded United player can't watch - SKY SPORTS


The obligatory sad scoreboard shot

Man United 0 Liverpool 5 scoreboard - GETTY IMAGES
Man United 0 Liverpool 5 scoreboard - GETTY IMAGES

Oof.

Solskjaer’s painful interview

In his appearance for the Sky Sports cameras after the game a haunted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer chewed his lip, called it his darkest day as Manchester United manager and blamed himself.

He was asked when the game became about damage limitation and said it was after conceding their fourth goal. “Having to score more than one every 15 minutes. I know these boys are capable of it but on the fourth... that was probably game over.”

That, you will remember, was before half time. Bleak.

Fan's view: this can't go on

By Mark Chadwick, Investment Director at Dowgate Wealth and a United season ticket holder

I’ve been going to watch Manchester United since I was 10, and my Dad first took me to Old Trafford in the season Alex Ferguson was appointed. In terms of effort, organisation and cohesion that was the worst team performance I have ever seen. And yes, I was there when we were beaten 6-1 by City.

I caught the tram from Old Trafford after the game, and the atmosphere was, let’s just say, gloomy. Everyone agreed they had seen it coming. Sure, we might have been getting the occasional result but we’ve been looking shaky for some time. What Paul Scholes said on Wednesday was spot on: the man is more a prophet than a pundit. Everyone could see it coming. Apart from the manager, apparently. Because he set up in the same old system which clearly is not working.

So what does the club do now? In my job, I have to analyse stock market movements. And when a stock is in freefall, when a company has just issued a profit warning, you cut it. You have to sell, even if the managing director is the nicest bloke you could meet. And so it is with Ole. We all love him, he’s a proper hero. But he won’t turn this round. Fergie could lose a game badly - and he did - and recover because he had the experience of doing it before. What that experience brings is belief among your players: they believe you will sort it because you always have.

There is none of that this time. The players looked drained of confidence and belief, even of energy. Harry Maguire is a husk of the player he was last year; Jadon Sancho, the best prospect in Europe three months ago, looks a shadow. Fergie had a knack of turning average players into world beaters — Gary Neville being the finest example. The current set up seems to be doing the opposite: making real talent look average.

Every single one of them plays as if they don’t believe in the manager or his system. They may like him as a guy, but they don’t believe. That much is obvious. The board has to act early. Because it isn’t going to get better. If they are tempted to give him until Christmas to see if he can sort it out, we’ll be out of the Champions League and halfway down the Premier League.

Clearly if you do make the cut, you have to know who to bring in. I said to my dad when we signed Ronaldo, I wonder if one of the things tempting him here was: you’ll be next in line as manager. If they did that, though, it would be making the same mistake they made with Ole: allowing emotion to cloud the issue. In the same way, they can’t give it to Michael Carrick as an interim; the whole coaching set up lacks any authority and has to change.

Mind, historically, United have never been good at succession planning. After Matt Busby went, it was over 15 years before they got Fergie. And I remember when I was first going to games, the crowd wanted him out. They missed the chance to recruit Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel and for me the biggest miss was Mauricio Pochettino. So who knows what they’ll do now. But whatever it is, they have to do something. This really can’t go on.

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