Fergie's Got It Right At Anfield
Time and time again I criticised Fergie for his tactics away from home in big games so it's time for some praise after the win at Anfield.
United were often dire, unimaginative and vulnerable at the back in away games in the past few years. We were often overrun in central midfield and even the likes of Fenerbahce and Lille found it easy to get a win against United.
Not anymore though. Wins at Sporting and Dynamo and a draw using the second-string at Rome underlined that we are a much tougher nut to crack. United bossed the proceedings at the Emirates and should have won while yesterday once again got their tactics right at Anfield and took the spoils.
We set out in a 4-2-3-1 that was meant to be flexible, at times changing into classic 4-3-3, with Giggs given something of a free role. Our captain did not really make the most of it but it wasn't necessary as other parts worked.
At the back, it was vital that we squeeze everything and force Liverpool to play through the middle. Brown, despite the inadequacies of his display, did a good job on Kewell in this sense and the other full-back, Evra accomplished this task perfectly and thanks to his domination over Benayoun, at times he could act as a third central defender which left Liverpool no chance of breaking through.
Of course we still needed a slice of luck to avoid conceding but only due to Edwin's silly mistakes. Liverpool would have created nothing at all had our keeper not made two rash decisions. The alert defenders, fortunately, were on hand to clear on both occasions.
Hargreaves and Anderson did a tremendous job on shielding the back four and it was clear that their job wasn't to unsettle Liverpool at the halfway line: they had to deny them space in front of our own box. As it was Liverpool so Mascherano hardly came forward, it also meant that our counter-attacks were nowhere near as dangerous as against Arsenal and we needed a set-piece to get the winner.
But I think Fergie was sure it would come. He probably though that one of our lightning counters would result in a goal and that's why we don't need to create much. We only saw them in the second half but that was not the managers' fault: with such tactics, it's imperative that everyone of the attacking section is alert, focused and has a good game. This time Ronaldo did not turn up so Tevez's and Rooney's exertions were not enough.
But the key was that Fergie knew Liverpool were unlikely to offer much attacking threat and a clever defensive set-up would at least prevent them scoring. It worked and in the second half, the tactics were worked in perfection: shame that we failed to score from one of our counter-attacks to put the game beyond their reach.
The bite of Hargreaves and Anderson, the brilliance of Vidic and Rio and most importantly, Fergie's new-found knack to find the right tactics even away from home bodes well, I think.