How flawed Manchester United can still hurt Liverpool

Manchester United are underdogs for a … The post How flawed Manchester United can still hurt Liverpool appeared first on Football365.

How flawed Manchester United can still hurt Liverpool

Cristiano Ronaldo scores a dramatic winner, Manchester United come back from the brink in glorious style and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s project is back on the up.

We’ve certainly been here before. Every time it looks as though Solskjaer is reaching the end he pulls a result out of the bag and the cycle begins again: a permanent limbo for a club hovering just outside contention for major honours; too good to be in crisis but not good enough to markedly improve.

But maybe this time is different. For starters, even his friends in high places seem to be growing tired of the lack of progress. after the Atalanta win was a telling shift from ‘turning points’ gone by. There is a general consensus now across the media that United lack a plan or a clear sense of purpose under Solskjaer.

More importantly than that, and with Man Utd set to play the rest of the ‘Big Six’ before the end of November, the man who scored the winning goal on Wednesday looks likely to be the catalyst for permanent change. And not in a good way.

The 4-2 defeat to Leicester City last Saturday was an alarming vision of what’s to come in the Premier League games ahead. It was United’s first game of the season against a top side, and whereas in years gone by Solskjaer could rely on these matches to get him out of a sticky situation – sit in deep lines, patiently wait, launch improvised counter-attacks – with Ronaldo up front the tactical model fell apart.

Ronaldo barely moves when the opponent has the ball, failing to press or even cut off the passing lanes into midfield, which meant Leicester’s centre-backs easily played vertical balls through to Youri Tielemans to open up the pitch. Brendan Rodgers’ side essentially walked through the lines, causing the McFred partnership to lunge out of position to cover, having been so badly exposed by the absence of defending from the front.

ought to be able to do this even more effectively, and certainly ought to blow Man Utd away should they come out as slowly as they did against Atalanta midweek. It is easy to see how Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, and Fabinho can dominate midfield and play sharp passes into the final third should Ronaldo fail, once again, to stop that first pass coming through.

The last thing you want to do against Liverpool is give Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino a head of steam – but you can’t avoid it if there is zero pressure applied to the ball until it is deep in the middle third of the pitch. That is surely going to be the game’s key tactical pattern as United sit off, compressing the space in their own half and looking to catch Liverpool’s high line on the break.

If the hosts cannot get an early foothold in the game then suddenly mismatches will be exposed across the pitch: Scott McTominay and Fred are unlikely to cope with Firmino’s movement into the ten space, while Liverpool’s advancing full-backs will find space in front of their opposite numbers given that United’s shape is narrow and their wide forwards rarely track back.

But United are not without hope, especially if Solskjaer decides to continue with the configuration that ended the midweek Champions League tie. Ronaldo went to the left and Edinson Cavani led the line, and while it was a fluid and improvisational attack with many positional changes this might be a better way round to stop the first pass into midfield.

Should the match be successfully slowed down then United can cause problems. On the break, Ronaldo’s superb runs on the shoulder of the last defender are a serious concern for the Liverpool back line, especially if the match becomes stretched as it did in their 2-2 draw with Manchester City. And if that was to happen then Luke Shaw’s crossing ability and Bruno Fernandes’s eye for a threaded through ball can definitely unlock Jurgen Klopp’s defence.

Deeper analysis of Man Utd’s attacking threat isn’t really warranted, such is the individualism of their approach, but suffice to say we know they are capable of winning the moments. We know that Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Paul Pogba, Fernandes and Ronaldo can come up with a piece of magic out of nowhere, and that Liverpool – who have conceded eight goals in their last five matches – are vulnerable. That is especially true at set-pieces, from which the threat of Maguire and Ronaldo will worry the Liverpool manager.

; a win that would cause Solskjaer significant damage ahead of the Manchester derby next weekend and further cement the now-mainstream view that he does not have the tactical credentials to turn the club into Premier League title contenders.

What Man Utd have long needed is a more sophisticated approach, not glamour signings to paper over the cracks. How fitting it would be if Ronaldo’s performances turned out to be the turning point; the trigger for a movement away from the strategy that led to his return to Old Trafford.

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No Ronaldo, no Messi but there is hope for El Clasico

Both Real Madrid and Barcelona need … The post No Ronaldo, no Messi but there is hope for El Clasico appeared first on Football365.

No Ronaldo, no Messi but there is hope for El Clasico

The last thing Barcelona need is a constant reminder of Lionel Messi everywhere they turn, but the problem is that they are in a year of firsts without him. The first game has long gone, marked as it was by the Camp Nou crowd chanting his name in the 10th minute, as much in protest as homage; their first Champions League game, against Bayern Munich, was a painful reminder too, but Sunday will sting the most. Not since 2005 have the Blaugrana named a squad for El Clasico without their former talisman for any other reason than injury or suspension.

This is the fixture, not just for Barça, Real Madrid or even in Spain, but arguably the world. It still feels unnatural that Messi, the top scorer between these sides, will not be on the pitch. His exit remains the deepest cut of a difficult summer for Barcelona, and it has been a sobering experience for fans and pundits alike to recalibrate their expectations this season.

This is a rivalry in the purest sense; defining a derby can be tough, and the most common way is to look at geography. Barcelona and Madrid are not local to one another, but they represent different ideologies, politically and in a sporting sense, too. Yet, on Sunday, when Los Blancos travel to Cataluña, they will be brought together by a shared feeling of emptiness, both licking their wounds after falling from their perch. This match will always be box office, but the loss of collective domination will leave everybody feeling uneasy.

They’ve each been besieged by financial difficulty, though Madrid to a lesser extent, which has accentuated their respective falls from grace. Bad judgement and an over-reliance on Messi has seen , culminating in over £1bn worth of debt and a severe weakening of their playing squad, less than a decade on from an era which saw them dominate Europe with an unprecedented combination of style and substance. Madrid held on to their own great generation for too long; Luka Modric, one of the last bastions of a team which won four Champions League titles in five years between 2014 and 2018, is 35, the same age as Sergio Ramos, who, alongside centre-back partner Raphael Varane, departed this summer. Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2018 and it’s impossible to separate the start of Madrid’s transitional phase and the end of his spell at the club.

It is hard not to look back when this fixture come around; the stardust is still there, the buzz and the clamour to see what happens will never die, but with Messi and Ronaldo now both ending their playing days elsewhere, there is a sense of loss. It was their personal rivalry – challenging each other for the Ballon d’Or, the individual award they shared for a decade – which added an extra level to the hostilities. Their personal identities reflected their clubs. Messi’s perception as a humble team player fit right into Barça’s own ethos, centred around internal growth, whereas Ronaldo’s brash, somewhat arrogant reputation made him the marketing dream Real Madrid needed. The reality was far more nuanced, but football rivalry has no time for that.

Even managerial feuds fed the beast. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona are widely regarded as the benchmark for elite club football and Real Madrid were so desperate to stop them that they compromised their demands for a certain style of play and hired Jose Mourinho, then at the top of his game. He and Guardiola had worked together when he was assistant at Camp Nou in the 1990s, but their relationship frosted when they both went for the Barça job in 2008 and Guardiola got it. During two years on either side of the divide, they became biter rivals; every Clasico was intense and of the highest quality, with red cards and goals practically guaranteed. The peak of this heat came when, in April 2011, they met four times in 18 days across La Liga, the Copa Del Rey and Champions League.

In 2012, Mourinho succeeded in denying Guardiola the title and reinstating Madrid as champions with their 32nd league title and 100 points. Guardiola stepped down by the end of that season.

Those moments are so deep that it is easy to think they’ll last forever. Right now, it is a fixture at its lowest ebb, having long lost its spark. Messi’s exit signifies the end of that era.

But out of the ashes of the old could rise a new generation. , in particular, are positioning themselves for a resurgence; the signing of Eduardo Camavinga was shrewd, and he’ll likely be joined by president Florentino Perez’s latest transfer obsession, Kylian Mbappe, on a free transfer next summer, with money left over to join the race for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland. But in 21-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Jr, they have a superstar ready to take the next step. His bedding-in period has run parallel to the club’s transition, but with five goals in eight La Liga games this season, and a coming-of-age performance in the Champions League at Shakhtar Donetsk this week, his time is now.

Spain’s golden boy Pedri is unlikely to start for Barça, but , Messi’s successor in the number 10 shirt and fresh from signing a new six-year contract, is due his own stamp of authority in this’ fixture.

With gloomy clouds still formulating over Barcelona, debt still to be shifted and the ghost of Messi still casting a shadow, plus Real Madrid’s own rebuild, La Liga has suffered. This game needs to pop to restore some excitement; it is easier to dismiss El Clasico more than ever right now, but it is still the biggest game on the planet. Sunday will be an occasion with a sense of hope and emergence. It doesn’t all have to be about missing the past.

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