Manchester United’s last meeting with Liverpool was a match to forget for almost everyone at Old Trafford. United suffered a 5-0 loss at the hands of their historic rivals, but looking back on the game could help the team ahead of their upcoming rematch.
Anfield will host United on Tuesday night. It will be Ralf Rangnick’s first contest against Liverpool and to ensure that his side of him are competitive, he could refer back to what went wrong in October. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in charge at the time and opted for 4-2-3-1, but his midfield department in particular suffered at the hands of a Jurgen Klopp tactical move.
Simply put, United have been vulnerable in the middle of the park this season, and they have been outnumbered on a number of occasions because of the attacking nature of their forwards. It cannot happen at Anfield this week.
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The likes of Marcus Rashford, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga are regularly caught up the field. They are inclined to focus on offensive returns rather than contributing on the defensive side of the game.
As a result, United’s midfield duo tend to struggle. A 4-2-3-1 has been the go-to shape at Old Trafford for some time and since Rangnick took charge on a temporary basis, it has largely remained in place. The veteran coach initially tried to change things by using 4-2-2-2 upon his appointment of him, but he’s been forced to revert back to the formation favored by Solskjaer.
Their 4-2-3-1 shape can almost seem like a 4-2-4 at times, with Fred and Scott McTominay tasked with managing wide open spaces in the middle of the pitch.
Klopp seemed to be aware of the weakness earlier in the campaign, and his players targeted it. With Roberto Firmino included in the team, the Brazilian persistently retreated into midfield and helped the likes of James Milner, Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson. The four players formed a diamond of sorts around Fred and McTominay (as shown in the image below), which allowed Liverpool to advance into the final third with ease on a regular basis.
Rangnick cannot allow Liverpool’s makeshift diamond to be as influential as it was. The 63 year-old can solve the problem in a number of different ways, with a midfield three potentially on the cards.
By fielding another central midfielder, United would have more of a presence in the center and Liverpool’s diamond shouldn’t work as effectively as last time because Fred and McTominay (if they both recover from their respective injury problems) would have less space to cover.
The team’s wide forwards will also have to track back more often to prevent the Anfield outfit from exploiting the open spaces on the flanks. By doing so, Liverpool would again have less space to maximize.
Rangnick has a difficult task on his hands but based on the flow of the match in October, one of his biggest priorities has to revolve around shrinking the space that his two central midfielders have to cover.
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