Premier League Matchday 26 – Chalkboard Analysis

This week’s chalkboard analysis is up at FourFourTwo here, but here are a couple of bonus chalkboards on the halftime changes in the North London derby.

The introduction of Sandro at halftime was supposed to provide an additional man in midfield to counter Arsenal’s dominance in this area. It meant shifting Parker from his role in front of the back four, meaning he was generally further up the field in the second half, most notable in his shots and his second booking which was a needless foul late on in Arsenal’s half.

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Parker’s more advanced position wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem in itself, had Sandro actually fulfilled his duties. Instead of adopting a central position, he could quite often be found on the right side, most notably for Arsenal’s third goal when he was on the right wing as Rosicky burst through the middle to score.

The movement of Bale to the right in the second half also made little sense (as noted in the FourFourTwo column). It left Assou-Ekotto exposed behind van der Vaart, when you’d expect Bale in his usual position on the left would have protected his fullback more. Also, the attempt by Harry Redknapp to use out-to-in wingers put the onus on Assou-Ekotto to push forward in attack to provide width, meaning he was often found further up the field in the second half and Arsenal ruthlessly exposed the space created in behind him for all three of their second half goals.

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Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur – Match Analysis

Lineups

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Arsenal were able to select an entire back four in their usual positions for only the second time since November 5, but it was further forward where the surprise inclusion of Benayoun was the main talking point, with Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench. Lennon and van der Vaart were the main absentees for the away side, with Kranjcar coming in on the right and Saha partnering Adebayor up front. Clearly the focus would be on the balance between this attacking approach from Spurs and Arsenal’s additional man in midfield.

Match

Tottenham began by looking for a direct ball forward towards their frontmen several times in the opening minutes, but each time the Arsenal centrebacks got the better of their opponents. But Spurs started without fear and took the game to their opponents.

Arsenal players proved in Milan that they have very little capacity to adjust to a clear counterattacking threat, instead falling into the same trap repeatedly, and in the fifth minute it was clear that the coaching staff have not taken the opportunity to review that performance and illuminate the players on the need for circumspection in committing players forward against a side very capable of causing problems on the counterattack. Spurs broke, Adebayor holding the ball up on the left wing, pausing as Saha and Walker made untracked runs forward. Walker’s intelligent diagonal run in behind Adebayor drew Vermaelen away from Saha, giving him enough space to receive the ball and close in on goal, where Vermaelen’s block on his eventual shot looped up and over Szczesny. No blame attached to Vermaelen, but plenty applicable to his teammates.

Arsenal heads didn’t drop though, and they quickly seized control of the match. Gibbs was felled by a clumsy challenge from Walker, but Mike Dean didn’t see enough to award a penalty. Robin van Persie struck a snapshot from six yards which narrowly snuck wide as Walker did well not to carry it into his own net. The Arsenal #10 also saw a longer range effort deflected just wide, Kaboul benefitting from more luck than Vermaelen with his block, then Rosicky drew a great reaction save from Friedel from the subsequent corner.

Tottenham’s opportunities to break on the counterattack seemed to dry up, until the half hour mark when they released Bale through the middle of the Arsenal defence. The Spurs man held off Gibbs well, rounded Szczesny, then went down looking for a touch from the goalkeeper which wasn’t forthcoming, but Mike Dean gave a penalty instead of a yellow card for the dive. Arsenal haven’t won any of their last eleven matches that Mike Dean has taken charge of, and incidents such as this would only give that particular statistic further prominence in the eyes of the home fans if it would prove to be decisive. A particular question mark was why, after giving the penalty before consulting with his assistant, their subsequent discussion led to no card for Szczesny when a penalty call must surely have led to a red card.

As if to illustrate the difference between the belief in the two squads, Walcott was released behind the Spurs defence and, with no chance of being caught and an opportunity to bear down on Friedel’s goal, he immediately passed to a surrounded van Persie and wasted the opportunity.

Still Arsenal continued forward, and Sagna equalised with a header after van Persie had hit the post. It was illustrative of Arsenal’s irresponsibility that both wingbacks were within 12 yards of the opposition goal. Perhaps that can be tempered by the fact that risks need to be taken at 2-0 down, but this disregard for security at the back is what allows them to be repeatedly picked off on the counterattack with ease.

Then, the pick of the goals as van Persie turned a full 360 degrees around Kranjcar 20 yards from goal and curled a shot past Parker and Friedel into the corner. At 2-2 it was difficult to call which way the match would go, Arsenal were dominating and creating chances but overcommitting and allowing Spurs ample opportunities to break.

Redknapp had clearly seen enough of the Arsenal dominance of the ball at halftime, adjusting to match their numerical advantage in midfield by removing Saha for Sandro. This defensive change could then be counterbalanced by withdrawing Kranjcar for van der Vaart, hoping that the added creativity on the right would offset the withdrawal of a frontman. It had little effect in the opening part of the second half as first Benayoun drew a fingertip save from Friedel then Rosicky made it 3-2 with a delicate chip over the Tottenham goalkeeper from close range. Next, Walcott was released on the right to fire just wide. All the Redknapp change seemed to have accomplished was to nullify their own threat going forward without nullifying that of their opponents.

Walcott’s release down the right forewarned Spurs of what was to come, as he scored twice in quick succession from a similar position. Firstly van Persie held up the ball long enough for Walcott to join him from deep in his own half, running past a pedestrian Assou-Ekotto and Parker to receive the ball and lift it over Friedel. Secondly Song released Walcott over the top to drive the ball into the far corner. All of a sudden it was the Spurs defence overcommitting and being picked to pieces, particularly down their left side.

The final 20 minutes passed without incident, as Arsenal were content with the three goal victory which would regain fourth, and Tottenham demoralised and happy to write this game off and focus on the next – all except Parker that is, who stupidly got himself sent off late on and will miss their home game against Manchester United.

Conclusions

Arsenal needed a reaction to the Milan and Sunderland losses, and what better way to boost the club than coming back from 0-2 down to beat your fierce rivals 5-2? They still looked shaky at the back against the counterattack but halftime changes from their opponents worked in Arsenal’s favour.

Tottenham remain seven points clear of their rivals in third, but this is their first real setback since the start of the season and it will be interesting to see how they respond next weekend. They ceded possession in the first half but always looked dangerous on the counter, until Redknapp changed their system at halftime and only ended up handing the initiative to their opponents. Losing was never going to be a disaster, but the scale of the loss may be.

Napoli 3-1 Chelsea – Match Analysis

Lineups

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Napoli were as expected, naming the same team which faced Villarreal on matchday 6. Andre Villas Boas meanwhile seemed to be making a statement with his team selection; deprived of Terry, he elected to leave Lampard and Torres on the bench, along with Ashley Cole who was replaced by the right-footed Bosingwa at left back. Cahill and Luiz protected by Meireles and Ramires suggested there would be ample opportunity for Napoli to cause problems with possibly the best counterattack in Europe.

Match

In a cagey opening few minutes Napoli made a concerted effort to turn the Chelsea defence with long balls from the back. One in particular from Cannavaro was allowed to bounce in a dangerous position by Cahill, requiring Cech to rescue the situation as Lavezzi closed in on goal. Moments later Cahill allowed Cavani in behind for the first shot on goal as he misjudged the moment to try to play offside.

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Napoli focus down the left and try long balls in behind Cahill in the opening minutes

There are unfortunately no chalkboards to demonstrate poor positioning or decision making, otherwise Cahill’s would be fascinating. It’s unfair to judge a player making his Champions League debut in a knockout game away from home too harshly, but Cahill consistently seemed like he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be doing. He wasn’t sure how close to get to Cavani or Lavezzi, whether to get tight but risk being turned or stand off and allow them more time on the ball. He was also unsure when to try to play offside and when to track his man, occasionally guessing the location of the rest of his back four and stepping up in hope of being the last man. He was also guilty of rushing to clear the ball when he had time to be more composed.

At the other end, Chelsea didn’t cause many problems for Napoli, save for an odd moment from De Sanctis as he ran out to close Sturridge down and seemed to miss the ball. That was until Chelsea opened the scoring, as what looked to be a simple clearance for Cannavaro was turned into anything but as the ball bounced up out of a divot, over his shoulder and fell perfectly for Mata to slide home. The goal silenced the crowd but Napoli seemed unfazed by going 0-1 down.

Chelsea were trying to take the game to Napoli, but this was a dangerous game to play against the counterattacking experts, although the away side did at least pay some attention to the threat by systematically fouling their opponents whenever a break looked likely.

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Chelsea eventually committed 18 fouls as they tried to stop Napoli from breaking

They weren’t behind for long, as Lavezzi equalised. Picking the ball up as Napoli worked it infield, he had to do very little to evade Meireles who never really looked interested in making a tackle or even closing down, leaving the Napoli man free to line up a curling shot into the bottom corner that Cech could do nothing with. More sloppy defending from Ivanovic allowed Cavani to meet a cross at the far post and make it 2-1 despite starting his run a few yards upfield of the Serbian, who was caught watching the ball.

Napoli’s approach was clear from Chelsea’s passing chalkboard at halftime. They allowed Chelsea to adopt positions 30 yards from goal at will, but prevented any further progress, and Chelsea were unable to create anything beyond this defensive line. Their only shot on target was the pitch-assisted Mata goal.

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Chelsea unable to progress within 30 yards of the Napoli goal

After halftime the game continued in a similar vein. Chelsea enjoyed a little more of the ball, but never really threatened De Sanctis’ goal, despite the English commentators getting excited by the amount of space available to both sides. In actual fact this period of Chelsea pressure was playing into Napoli hands, as the more the away side pushed up to search for an equaliser, the more likely Napoli would be to launch a trademark rapier counterattack. Predictably, it was 3-1 shortly after the hour mark as Cavani’s pressure on Luiz allowed him to set up Lavezzi for his second goal of the night.

Chelsea finally introduced some midfield steel in the shape of Essien and Lampard, removing Meireles and Malouda and reverting to a more familiar Chelsea shape, but it was too little too late. Napoli themselves appeared content with a 3-1 scoreline when they removed Lavezzi, although they nearly made it 4-1 after slicing Chelsea open and Cole was called on to clear off the line when the goal was gaping.

Conclusions

Napoli did what they do better than any other team in Europe, ceding possession, collapsing to defend deep and hitting Chelsea on the counterattack. Chelsea mistakes may have aided the goals but Cech was also called on to make a couple of fingertip saves.

Chelsea meanwhile fell hook, line and sinker into Napoli’s trap, despite surely knowing exactly what to expect, and seeing Arsenal fall into a similar trap in Milan a week earlier. A weak defence with weak protection in front of it was always going to struggle against Napoli’s phenomenal front three, even before Chelsea were drawn forward into ultimately unsuccessful attempts to score themselves. As with Arsenal, they created chances but never genuinely looked like scoring, and De Sanctis had little to do over the 90 minutes.

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Chelsea only had two shots on target from within the Napoli penalty area

Visual European League Tables – 18/19 February 2012

Below is a composite visual league table combining the top four leagues in Europe into one image. Each team is displayed alongside the number of points it has acquired, with any games in hand listed after the team name in brackets – for example, “Fiorentina (-2)” means Fiorentina have two games in hand. The number of games played in each league (i.e. the most recent matchday) is listed at the top.

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Milan 4-0 Arsenal – Match Analysis

Lineups

Kieran Gibbs returned to the Arsenal first team after a lengthy layoff, meaning that Vermaelen was moved into his usual central role given the absence of Mertesacker, and that Arsenal would select a back four in their true positions for the first time since Guy Fawkes Night. Oxlade-Chamberlain was moved to the bench in favour of Ramsey after the latter’s equalising goal against Sunderland. This meant Rosicky was likely to start on the left to provide a little more protection to the returning Gibbs than Oxlade-Chamberlain was likely to provide.

Milan could reintroduce Zlatan Ibrahimovic, well rested after serving a domestic ban for slapping Napoli’s Aronica. Robinho and Boateng would play around the Swede, with Seedorf the playmaker and Nocerino and van Bommel providing the central strength. Antonini started at left back; the 29 year old tasked with defending against Walcott’s pace.

Match

Arsenal settled quickly into their usual possession game, even away from home, as they looked to impose their own tempo in the opening phases. Milan by contrast were more direct with the ball, looking to turn the Arsenal back four at every available opportunity. The home side won a succession of early corners as they began to ramp up the pressure, albeit without creating anything to trouble Szczensy. Seedorf’s early substitution for Emanuelson also reduced Milan’s potential creativity in midfield.

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Arsenal with 65% possession early on, while Milan’s directness was clear to see

On 15 minutes Milan opened the scoring as Nocerino picked up the creativity baton and lifted a delightful ball over the top of the defence for Boateng to chest and half-volley at goal in one movement; the ball flying in off the underside of the bar before Szczesny could react. It was the first real opening of the game, which rapidly settled back into the previous pattern of Arsenal possession and Milan rapid counterattack.

Arsenal’s width was being negated mainly by the relaid strips down each flank of the Giuseppe Meazza, not through any particular unevenness but because these areas seemed heavy and loose underfoot. Players were occasionally slipping on the new turf and the ball wasn’t gliding over the surface as it was more centrally. Arsenal would not usually be labelled as one of the teams utilising width to its maximum in the way that, say, Manchester United do, but Milan are narrower again, and it was certainly the away side more disadvantaged by the relaid pitch.

Milan made it 2-0 with another break, Ibrahimovic incorrectly adjudged to be onside when receiving the ball, and eventually lifting it into Robinho to guide into the far corner.

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Vermaelen’s foot on the pitch marking, Ibrahimovic beyond it and offside

Arsenal needed to regroup, but suffered an injury to Koscielny shortly before halftime meaning Djourou’s introduction was necessary. The last time Djourou played in his regular position at centreback, Arsenal conceded eight goals at Old Trafford. As if to remind everybody, he immediately got too tight to Ibrahimovic who turned him with ease, releasing Boateng in behind who selfishly wasted the opportunity by shooting himself when Robinho was waiting for a cutback.

Halftime arrived, and despite having 55% of the first half possession Arsenal had created very little, in fact only a single shot on target. Milan had obviously been more threatening despite registering only two shots on target themselves, with both finding the back of the net. Milan were playing the counterattack to perfection, and also being very adept at preventing Arsenal launching counterattacks of their own with a series of fouls high up the pitch.

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Milan’s shots, only two on target but both goals, and fouls high up the pitch to stop Arsenal counterattacks

Arsene Wenger introduced Henry at halftime for Walcott, moving away from the pace mismatch on the wing which had been nullified by the pitch, and reverting to a narrow three behind Henry with Sagna and Gibbs expected to provide the width. Arsenal started on the front foot, but again Milan’s first counterattack looked threatening and a slip by Vermaelen allowed Robinho a free shot at goal, Milan’s third on target and third goal of the night.

Arsenal were lacking in creativity going forward, overcommitting in search of a breakthrough and defensively timid when being challenged with Milan’s direct approach. Wenger reshuffled the back four again with 25 minutes to go, introducing Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, dropping Song back into the centre of defence, moving Vermaelen to left back and removing Gibbs.

Again Arsenal were allowed the ball as Milan were content to soak up pressure and wait for a chance to counter, and with Ibrahimovic and Robinho now facing Djourou and Song, they would have fancied their chances of a fourth goal. Ambrosini was introduced for Boateng to ensure that an away goal would not be forthcoming. A couple of opportunities fell to van Persie, who worked Abbiati on each occasion but without truly looking like scoring.

There was enough time for Djourou to confirm his inability to play at this level for yet another time, by hauling down Ibrahimovic when he had the Swede in a perfect position to halt his progress. Szczesny’s attempt to dive forward to close the angle on the penalty reduced his lateral reach, when diving directly to his right would possibly have seen him save the resulting spot kick.

Conclusions

Milan sat back, ceded possession, played on the counterattack, exploited Arsenal’s tendency to overcommit, and did it to perfection. Each player knew their role in the system and performed it well. That said, they needed an incorrect onside call, a slip from Vermaelen and characteristic ridiculous defending from Djourou to score three of their four goals.

As the above indicates, Arsenal were the architects of their own downfall. They were positionally indisciplined, made poor mistakes, and gifted their opponents the tie. Away from home in the first leg, 1-0 down to an exceptional goal, the priority must always be to make sure you are still in the tie in the second leg. 57% possession and four shots on target (to Milan’s five) shows that the scoreline was much more emphatic than the balance of play, but a lack of professionalism from Arsenal played into Milan’s hands and took the tie from their own.

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Milan with five shots on target to Arsenal’s four

Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Barcelona – Match Analysis

Lineups

With Xavi and Pique not travelling, Fabregas and Mascherano were brought in as like-for-like replacements; Fabregas in particular getting an outing in the Xavi role rather than his usual more advanced position. Derdiyok and Ballack were the highest profile absentees for Leverkusen, who lined up with Reinartz shielding that all-important area in front of the back four, and Schurrle in a lone role up front.

Match

Barcelona immediately seized possession as expected, but Leverkusen attempted to press relatively high up the pitch, effectively basing their pressing line on Busquets’ position. Barcelona are usually able to work around this through Pique, who is able to join the midfield as an additional player from the back and play incisive passes, but Puyol and Mascherano are unable to do this, making Barcelona’s forward movement of the ball from defence relatively sluggish. Both centrebacks had plenty of the ball in the opening phase of the game but were unable to do much more than shift it sideways in the face of a Leverkusen wall.

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Plenty of the ball at the back but no options for a forward pass

Reinartz would be the key to Leverkusen’s defensive solidarity. His job would primarily be to pick up Messi when he dropped off the front line looking for the ball to feet, hoping to force the Argentine to either stay higher up the pitch or drop further into midfield, both areas from where he is less of a menace. As early as the second minute Reinartz was called on to track a Messi run in behind, which he did so and intercepted the ball without issue.

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Messi forced deep to search for the ball, as Leverkusen prevent Barcelona from approaching goal

Leverkusen themselves had very little of the ball, but as with most teams facing Barcelona their plan was clearly to stay in the tie first and foremost. It is a difficult task to abandon all thoughts of attacking for an entire game, particularly for a team accustomed to being one of the best in their league, and so it was that Barcelona took the lead when Leverkusen were caught on an ill-feted foray upfield and Barcelona were able to break in behind the defence for the first time as Messi released Sanchez to score his first Champions League goal. The gameplan had failed thanks to a momentary lapse in concentration exposing Leno for the first time.

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Only a single shot on target in the first half

Possession was the talk of the halftime interval, as Barcelona’s dominance was extolled yet with little reference to the minimal genuine threat they had generated from that possession. In truth Leverkusen deserved most of the praise for limiting Barcelona to possession with no penetration, but for a single lapse of their own concentration.

It was clear that Leverkusen needed to walk a tightrope in the second half between looking for an equaliser and keeping things solid at the back. It’s a difficult prospect, as evidenced by a goal at either end in the space of three minutes, as first Kadlec produced an equaliser then Sanchez reestablished Barcelona’s lead. It is one of football’s most frequently used clichés that you are at your most vulnerable when you have just scored, but leaving such a wide gap between centreback and left back for a straight run and even straighter pass will leave you vulnerable at any point in any match.

Leverkusen’s headed goal came after a freekick was poorly dealt with by Puyol almost leading to a chance, and another deliciously weighted cross from Castro led to a great chance for substitute Keißling. Leverkusen had the height advantage over Barcelona and crosses into the box were causing the Catalans all sorts of difficulties, so it seemed odd that they didn’t attempt more crosses to press their advantage in this area, particularly after the aforementioned substitution which added another forward to the lineup for the more secure Rolfes.

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Crosses are generally unsuccessful as defenders outnumber attackers, but Leverkusen had 50% completion and one goal from six crosses midway through the second half

The woodwork at both ends was rattled as the game opened up. Firstly Castro brought a fine save from Valdes to tip a low drive against the far post. Valdes’ aversion to his near post is displayed all too frequently and one wondered if a drive to that side would have beaten the Spaniard. Secondly Messi skipped past a slightly foolish attempt at a tackle and lifted the ball over Leno from a narrow angle but against the outside of the post.

Leverkusen’s change to be more offensive ultimately cost them the tie as Barcelona scored a third at the death. Releasing Alves into a one-on-one, the right back refused to shoot and instead opted to play a low probability ball across the area which somehow found its way through a collection of defenders for Messi to slide in.

Conclusions

The match statistics, as always, were heavily stacked in Barcelona’s favour, but they were unable to create goalscoring chances against a resolute Leverkusen defence. Indeed, their goals came from periods of play where Leverkusen had abandoned their defensive stance, either temporarily or tactically, providing the space for Barcelona to finally get behind the defence at Leno. Without Xavi to create, and Pique to build from the back, Barcelona were reduced to having the ball but not being able to create anything with it.

Leverkusen for their part managed to shoot themselves in the foot by being drawn into a football match, and having exposed a weakness in Barcelona’s defending against the cross, failed to exploit it to their advantage. Their punishment is to have the second leg at the Nou Camp reduced to little more than a sightseeing trip.

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool – Match Analysis

Lineups

Manchester United continued with Welbeck and Rooney in their usual forward roles, supported by Giggs and Valencia on the wings and Carrick alongside Scholes in midfield. Liverpool looked to counter Rooney’s link-up play by playing Spearing in front of the defence behind Gerrard and Henderson, with Downing providing width and Kuyt offering the option of supporting Suarez or playing on the right as he would surely do at the start of the game.

Match

Kuyt did indeed start wide on the right, and had an early opportunity to be slid in as Ferdinand and Evra clashed with each other forty yards from goal, but Gerrard overhit his pass and the chance had gone.

Liverpool were able to seize control of the ball in the opening moments, as the Manchester United midfield made little effort to close down but also left plenty of space between midfield and defence for Liverpool to work with. Giggs in particular tended to drift infield quite often to counter the additional Liverpool man in the centre of midfield, resulting in Glen Johnson finding plenty of space to burst forward on the right.

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Liverpool’s use of Johnson going forward

In contrast, Liverpool were defensively compact, allowing Manchester United the ball forty yards from goal but allowing no further progress. In steady-state possession it didn’t look like the home team had the guile to create any concern for Reina, and it was telling that the largest threat to the Liverpool goal was coming from quick breaks on the transition, where Welbeck in particular was able to run with the ball against a defence shorn of its protective cover and cause problems. In these situations Manchester United were able to isolate Valencia against Enrique on several occasions, and in a repeat of the cup tie between these two teams, the Liverpool left back looked scared of Valencia’s pace and was being beaten almost at will when confronted in these one-on-ones.

So it was that the first half settled into a pattern of Manchester United dominating possession, but looking unlikely to create anything with it, while the increasingly few moments of Liverpool possession seemed the game’s most likely avenue for a goal; either through Liverpool’s use of the additional man in midfield to create themselves, or through Manchester United stealing the ball and breaking at an unshielded Liverpool defence.

The best chance of the half fell to Scholes who, having played the ball wide to Giggs, ghosted into the box between Welbeck and Rooney for a free header from six yards which he could only direct at Reina. With the two Liverpool centrebacks occupied, the onus is on a Liverpool midfielder to track a third run, and in this case Spearing abandoned Scholes on the edge of the box. Shortly afterwards Welbeck was released behind the defence for the first time in the match, again finding space as Manchester United quickly broke from the transition, but elected to cross instead of shoot from a narrow angle and the chance dissipated.

These chances lifted the crowd and one wondered if they would shift the momentum towards the home team for the ten minutes leading up to halftime. In truth the game settled again, and if anything Liverpool countered with a period of pressure of their own, culminating in a break for Suarez just before halftime which required a perfect last-ditch tackle from Ferdinand which he duly supplied.

[Update: replays later showed that Ferdinand did make a perfect tackle with his right foot, but upon realising that the ball had run free and Suarez was still going to chase after it, he tripped Suarez with his left foot and this second incident was a foul and should have been a red card.]

Manchester United scored immediately after halftime from a corner – a common occurrence for Liverpool this season – then a mistake from Spearing allowed Valencia to play in Rooney to score an easy second. Within four minutes of the restart it looked to be game over, although Liverpool would have to push out in search of a route back into the game and that would likely create goalmouth chances at either end.

Spearing was withdrawn for Carroll on the hour, matching up Manchester United’s system, and the ineffective Downing was exchanged for Bellamy. In truth, the change reduced the imbalance caused by Liverpool’s numerical advantage in midfield, eliminating the possession advantage they enjoyed prior to the substitutions and the game settled into a stalemate.

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Ten minutes prior to the substitutions

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Ten minutes after the substitutions

Manchester United were content to play keep-ball and frustrate Liverpool, whilst not overcommitting and leaving Liverpool any opportunities to break, and in truth Liverpool never looked like scoring from open play. Set pieces are another matter however, and Ferdinand was unable to deal with a ball drifted in from distance, allowing it to drop to Suarez inside the six yard box to tap in. Liverpool had ten minutes left to find the equaliser that had looked unlikely throughout the second half, and as expected it wasn’t forthcoming.

Conclusions

Against a set defence, Manchester United never looked to have the midfield creativity to cause problems, but were always threatening on the transition. In the end, catching Spearing on the ball was the difference, as each side shared two goals from set pieces. Rooney was on hand to score the two simple opportunities he was provided with, as was Suarez with his single tap-in at the other end. Dalglish adjusted his system in chasing the game, but removed Liverpool’s advantage from the midfield mismatch, allowing Manchester United to see the game out with very little threat to De Gea’s goal. In truth, little to learn about each side that we didn’t know before.