Man Utd and Liverpool: What is under the surface?
By Chris Higham
Last weekend saw one of the Premier League's most storied fixtures as current table toppers Manchester United overcame a resistant Liverpool side thanks to goals from Robin Van Persie and Nemanjia Vidic. A strike by Anfield new-boy Daniel Sturridge gave hope of a possible point to Liverpool fans but in the end, United ran out deserved 2-1 winners.
Both managers, Sir Alex Ferguson and Brendan Rodgers were positive and somewhat glowing about their respective side's performance after the match, but what is the reality behind these two clubs? Are things as rosy as they look?
Man Utd have started off this 2012/2013 at a blistering pace. They have accumulated more points than at any other time in their history at this same point in the season. Only Jose Mourinho's Chelsea have had more points by this stage and we all know how that particular season ended (the Blues won their first title since 1955).
United currently enjoy a seven point lead over neigbours Manchester City, last season's Premier League Champions, but despite their obvious success, this team has a ton of doubters. Ferguson has ranked this team with some of the greats from the past, but questions remain, not least surrounding the defensive fragility that we've seen all year. Curently there are two massive deficiencies I see that, if not corrected, will cost United either a Champions League place, or a title before this campaign is done.
Firstly, the goalkeeping position.
David De Gea is still a worry. Once again on Sunday he was at fault as a low shot from Steven Gerrard was parried to Sturridge who was more than happy to open up his Liverpool goal scoring account. We've already seen this same error against Newcastle earlier this season, and against Arsenal last season when Van Persie scored for his old team in much the same way. To me, this shows a lack of fundamentals which seemingly repeats itself. United fans, and Ferguson, for that matter, continue to gloss over what is clear in my eyes. De Gea is not of the quality that United need between the posts. He's weak on crosses, lacks courage, and doesn't display the confidence of a Premiership goalkeeper. He's a good shot-stopper and is excellent with his feet though but frankly, it's not good enough. The level that this team plays at cannot afford any errors, and least of all, a goalkeeper who is clearly a work-in-progress. I've suggested on my own blog that United should look for a veteran goalkeeper, a man with experience, such as Tottenham's Brad Friedel, while De Gea learns his trade. Frankly, this should have all been worked out before Edwin Van Der Saar retired so that a smooth transition could have been arranged.
My other concern is at the left back position and captain, Patrice Evra.
On the surface, many experts have stated that he's having his best season yet, which his five goals certainly indicate. However, he's paid to defend, and to date, his defending has been suspect at best. His forays forward are a big part of United's attacking options, but as he has aged, he fails to track back quickly enough, leaving huge gaps behind him. He looks lethargic when defending and only seems inspired going forward. He's been at fault for a couple of goals already but again, as in the case of De Gea, these failings have gone, for the most part, unnoticed or ignored. The main worry is that come Feb 13th, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo will come calling with his speed and scoring potential, Real Madrid could have a field day against that Man Utd defense.
On to Liverpool, and the ever optimistic Brendan Rodgers. Following Sunday's game, Rodgers stated he was disappointed by the fact that his team hadn't come away from the game with a point and that he was very pleased with their performance. I'm not sure if Rodgers was watching the same match as myself but in the first half, Liverpool were hardly even competitive. Joe Allen was being run ragged by Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley in the middle of the park, and Luis Suarez was being starved of service.
There's no doubt that they improved in the second half and nearly did equalise but for some careless finishing from Sturridge. I think what would concern me as a Liverpool fan is that Rodgers seems to spin his team's performances beyond the level of credibility. They haven't been able to beat anyone in the top half of the table this season , and have had some horrible defeats to the likes of Stoke and Aston Villa.
Liverpool fans are a staunch lot and are desperate for success but unless the club can inject some quality in numbers into this squad to help the likes of Gerrard, Suarez and Rahim Sterling, they will continue to languish in the middle of the table. Rodgers has also claimed that he feels he has a top four side at the moment. Nothing could be further from the truth in my view.
Both teams showed on Sunday that they are at different places in their development but unless adjustments are made quickly to both squads, success at least for this season, might ultimately end up being a long way off.