Lingard makes his point
There was a point not long after Manchester United had conceded their third goal at Anfield that Jesse Lingard sprinted to close down Joel Matip, Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk as Liverpool tried to build another move from the back.
Eventually, the three managed to play around Lingard, who turned around to see his teammates had abandoned him, lacking the commitment and the energy to follow him in. Lingard’s furious reaction told you everything needed to know about what he thought of them.
This is a player who is leaving the club this summer but for his time on the pitch at Anfield he looked like he cared more than the rest of them. It really is that simple.
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Ironically, Lingard is the one player who can have a genuine grievance with the club this season as well. He was denied a loan move in January and has been ignored by the out-of-touch Ralf Rangnick ever since.
Lingard’s displays against Norwich and Liverpool are a sign of what this team have been missing for most of the campaign. The 29-year-old isn’t always full of quality, but he is full of energy and endeavour. On Tuesday night he shamed some of his teammates of him.
You could smell the fear on that United teamsheet when it landed an hour before kick-off at Anfield. Rangnick had avoided using a back three at any point up to this in his tenure of him, but so sure were this club of what was coming their way they felt damage limitation was their only option.
This wasn’t a team picked with the intention of winning this football match, it was a team picked with the sole intention of avoiding embarrassment. They failed on that front as well.
Rangnick had explained how well the back three had worked in training at Carrington, but United’s hopelessly out-of-form defense are fortunate they are training against United’s hopelessly out-of-form attackers.
“We were training like that yesterday and showed video analysis. It worked well yesterday in training and we will see if it works today,” Rangnick said before kick-off.
Not only did it not work. It fell apart to the first straight ball Liverpool played. With five defenders on the pitch, United managed to let three Liverpool attackers sprint beyond them from the halfway line. It was genuinely pathetic.
When Rangnick took the United job he spoke hopefully of having a team ready to take on Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea by spring, but as he stood almost motionless on the Anfield touchline he would have recognized nothing of this display.
Rangnick abandoned his principles of pressing within a few weeks of working with this desperate squad and they are as lazy out of possession now as they were under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Jurgen Klopp has modeled an awful lot of his ideas on Rangnick, something he has made no secret of, so it must have been embarrassing for Rangnick to have to watch his own team be pressed into complete oblivion at Anfield.
Every Liverpool player except for Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip pressed United’s defense and midfield. They were given barely a breath on the ball and time and again coughed up possession in dangerous areas.
When the ball was actually in Liverpool’s half they had all the time in the world to build an attack. Bruno Fernandes would occasionally try and pressure Alisson, but beyond that United were statues.
Ten Hag’s task is impossible
You can only imagine what was going through the mind of Erik ten Hag as he watched this miserable United performance.
Getting this rabble of a squad to a point where they can challenge Manchester City and Liverpool is an almost impossible task. Ten Hag will have to be a miracle worker with millions to spend if he can get United within 10 points of either next season.
United have now played City and Liverpool under two different managers this season and have lost by a combined scoreline of 15-1. It’s been a season of shame.
It’s hard to know how much of United’s improvement after the break came about through a change of shape and a desire to avoid embarrassment and Liverpool’s easing off the gas, but it at least provides encouragement ahead of the weekend.
Saturday’s results essentially made this a free hit for United, but had they crumbled to another desperate defeat it could have knocked the stuffing out of them for the rest of the season.
Instead, they will travel to the Emirates Stadium for Saturday’s must-win clash with Arsenal on the back of a better 45 minutes at Anfield.
The switch to a back four and the introduction of Jadon Sancho definitely added an edge to United in the second half and once again Sancho was a real threat with his direct running. He gave Trent Alexander-Arnold some difficulties that made you wonder why it was left out of the side in the first half.
Given where they were after 22 minutes this was almost a victory of sorts for United. At that point, it felt like this could have been a thrashing, but in the end they managed to leave Anfield with some semblance of respectability.
Pogba’s final act
It would be fitting if Paul Pogba’s final contribution as a United player was to limp off at Anfield when his team are already stretched to breaking point.
This was as dire as it gets for United and they desperately needed leaders, midfield players prepared to put their bodies on the line for the cause.
That has never been a description that Pogba would subscribe to. He ran over to the touchline as Liverpool celebrated their first goal to complain of a knock and then signaled he’d had enough shortly after.
In years gone by United had midfielders that would have needed carrying off at Anfield, no matter how desperate the situation was. Pogba walked off without the need for assessment from a physio or any help from his teammates. Spineless.
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