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Man United's plan to beat Liverpool

Man United's plan to beat Liverpool
From ESPN - October 13, 2017

For all the focus upon Liverpool's problems against Premier League minnows, it's worth remembering what this criticism subtly implies -- their record against better sides is outstanding.

Last season, in their 12 matches against fellow top-seven opposition, Liverpool were unbeaten. This statistic becomes even more impressive when you realise that, in their equivalent 12 matches, Tottenham lost three times, Manchester United and Chelsea four times, Manchester City five times, and Arsenal and Everton six times.

Jurgen Klopp is the man for the big occasion, and his strategic approach is excellent at disrupting the possession play of top-class teams. Liverpool defeated each of those sides last season, with one notable exception: Manchester United, visitors to Anfield this weekend. A disastrously dull goalless draw at Anfield in October was followed by a slightly livelier 1-1 at Old Trafford in January.

United's approach last season at Anfield was entirely unattractive, but whereas Jose Mourinho's "big game approach" is often about defending deep in large numbers, this was about long ball football. The tactic is generally considered to be a side's method of attack, but Mourinho's direct football was entirely a defensive strategy.

It was defensive because its primary function was to nullify Liverpool's overwhelming strength, their aggressive counter-pressing in advanced positions. Klopp's system depends upon winning possession quickly, so United went long, hoofing the ball into the opposition half, to ensure that Liverpool could not regain possession close to United's goal.

For a statistical representation of this strategy, take David De Gea's distribution: While United are not as committed to playing out from the back as, say, Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, De Gea is comfortable in possession and prefers to pass the ball rather than lump it downfield. But his approach at Anfield was markedly different from usual.

The previous weekend against Stoke City, 11 of his 23 passes were played into United's own third of the pitch. Similarly, the following weekend, at Chelsea, 11 of his 24 passes were played into United's own third of the pitch. But against Liverpool, when charged with re-starting play 25 times, not once did De Gea distribute the ball short. Every clearance was launched long, in the vague direction of Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Marcus Rashford.

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