During the lead up to Manchester United’s game against Liverpool, a match gleefully awaited by most Liverpool supporters, and one that nearly every Red Devil fan was dreading (with, as it turns out, good reason), there was a plentiful bounty of articles in the football media comparing the two teams, and in doing that, whetting the appetite. Most were aptly pointing out the vastly differing fortunes that each club has experienced this term, and noting the incredible 42 point swing that has occurred over just one season. Evaluations of the merits of each team were made and, specifically, ruminations over the standard of quality each team has at each position were indulged in.
One of the most interesting was this Guardian article, where the question of which player would make a combined XI from each team was posed. The clear consensus of the journalist, as well as the general agreement of the commenters below the line, was that Liverpool’s midfield and attack, dynamic, energetic and vivacious as they have been this season, would walk into this combined XI. And this is true when you look at United’s midfield candidates, who have not performed well this season; United’s issues in midfield have been so often and forcefully asserted since the problem began to emerge that the very mention of it yet again renders everyone within earshot prone and paralysed because of the inescapable boredom of such an obvious truth. Jordan Henderson is an energizer bunny of efficient running, kicking, passing and tackling. Marouane Fellaini gangles awkwardly, endlessly ponders on the ball, as if contemplating the meaning of life, and is slower than my Nan trying to navigate her new iPad. Meanwhile, the duo of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez has been far and away the best strike partnership in the league this season, maybe even in Europe. These two areas were forgone conclusions.
Gene, with withering contempt, surveys Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia.
Where Manchester United slowly raised a quivering finger, quietly ahem’d and interrupted this celebration of all things Red (but not devilishly red) was when it came to the defence. David de Gea is a better keeper than Simon Mignolet, he seems to stop shots just as well and has the habit of suddenly pulling off a save that’s improvised spectacularly. The Guardian article begrudgingly gives the right back spot to Glen Johnson, almost by default, because David Moyes has been reluctant to play Rafael, but the Brazilian is as good an option, maybe better. Vidic over Agger or Sakho, and Evra over Enrique or Cissokho. Martin Skrtel gets it over a very aged Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling and that lummox Phil Jones (although I think Jonny Evans gives Skrtel a run), and Skrtel’s scored two own goals this season. Kolo Toure isn’t even mentioned in the discussion. Individually the back belongs largely to United and generally that has proven to be true as well; United have conceded one less goal than Liverpool so far, yet they sit five places lower on the table.
David Moyes has always been accused of being too conservative with his teams, particularly when playing against the bigger clubs in England. This season he has carried on the same and looked not to concede before he has looked to score, and this approach has consistently given his teams a final league position of no higher than fourth, usually around sixth or seventh, in fact, right around the area where United currently sit (in fact, United currently have exactly the same amount of points that Everton had at this point last season). Moyes receives no sympathy when he can’t fashion any success at the other end of the pitch because, although not all preferred in the aforementioned combined XI, Rooney, Mata, Januzaj and Van Persie are, on paper, one of most intimidating attacking quartets in the league. Tactically neglecting an attacking focus in favour of defensive emphasis wins you nothing, particularly not heated derbies against hated rivals.
No one even bothers to celebrate Suarez’s goals now, I mean, the monotony, you know?
Bobby Moore said that “if you never concede a goal, you’re going to win more games than you lose”, but of course he would say that, he was a defender. United’s performances this season indicate that David Moyes probably agrees with the former England captain. But Brendan Rogers, looking down from second position and with the highest amount of goals scored in the league, is shaking his head and chuckling contentedly to himself. Liverpool have been a defensive debacle at times this season but it hasn’t mattered. He has a mountain of goals to shield the sight of Kolo Toure from his view. Anyone watching Manchester United and Liverpool in Premier League can see that trying to concede less than you score is not the same as trying to score more than you concede. And that only one of these approaches is better at getting you in a position to win the title.