Van Gaal's False Fellaini Floors Flailing Reds
Our Reds were on top for most of the game, dominating against a Manchester United team who seem to get weaker every time they come to Anfield.
Our Reds had Marouane Fellaini – Louis Van Gaal’s plan A, B, and C – rattled from the moment Lucas accidentally head-butted him in the face on purpose in the opening minutes.
Our Reds had nineteen shots to their seven, four shots on target to their one, 53% of the possession, while also making more tackles.
But their reds won.
If Van Gaal’s stringent, well drilled but often uninspiring football regime at United is prepared for anything, it’s prepared for games like this.
United’s box-to-box Belgian beanpole had been shackled for much of the game by a combination of Lucas and Sakho, but the fact that it took both players to stop him was ultimately Liverpool’s undoing.
As the corner drifted in it seemed like half the Liverpool defence were marking Fellaini but he still managed to rise above everyone and send his header onto the bar.
With Simon Mignolet sat on the floor, and several would-be defenders apparently stuck to Fellaini’s hair, Wayne Rooney was allowed space to accept the gift presented to him by the crossbar at the Anfield Road end.
Having his name on the score-sheet made Rooney looks better than he was, and made his team look better than they were as they scored with their only shot on target.
Tales are written and narratives are crafted based on goals, which often leads to inaccurate accounts of the overall picture of a football match.
Goals, however, win games, goals win points, and points win prizes, so their scorers need to be recognised but at the same time it shouldn’t blur what happened in the rest of the game or skew the overall summary of it.
The rest of the game consisted of scrappy dominance from Liverpool, and it’s telling that only one of the starting eleven managed a pass success rate of over 85% (Alberto Moreno: 85.7%).
Of those aforementioned 19 shots on goal, five came from Jordan Henderson, and the only one of these which hit the target was a timid side-footed effort passed into the hands of David De Gea.
Emre Can charged forward from midfield as he does, increasing the worry that another team from Manchester might look to him as a replacement for the flagging legs of Yaya Touré in their own midfield.
Can was the only Liverpool player to really test De Gea, and he was unlucky not to score with an effort which the United ‘keeper diverted out for a corner midway through the second half.
The midfielder created space for himself with an effective step-over to beat Chris Smalling, then a left foot shot could have gone anywhere once it hit De Gea’s boot, but it flashed by the post and out for a corner.
Other notable performances in red came from Lucas Leiva and Kolo Touré, with the latter belying his advancing years to keep ahead in a battle with Wayne Rooney. The England captain fancied himself for pace against the Ivorian, but Touré was more than a match for the former Everton man.
Lucas was one of few players on either side who appeared to understand this type of game. The finely balanced combination of level-headedness and extra passion required to gain an edge in such a derby was difficult to find, but the midfielder showed it in glimpses.
The Brazilian managed to evade his usual booking, and was the only player who looked remotely bothered when Fellaini manhandled James Milner in the first half.
Even if the game isn’t heated on the pitch the tension and rivalry within the stadium can still transfer to the players, which could explain some of the agitated finishing from the Liverpool players, especially from captain Henderson.
Roberto Firmino was as frustrating as he was innovative. Up front on his own with little support, at time he had no option but to try to create something from nothing. He showed the occasional glimpse of his class but also needlessly lost the ball on several occasions, although Liverpool had a Uruguayan fella who was prone to a bit of that in the early part of his Anfield career. He turned out alright.
Mamadou Sakho put in a similar performance at the back. He was imperious defensively, but on the ball he’s been uncharacteristically laboured since his return to the side. That said, he’s still one of the only defenders at the club who can spot that pass through the middle to the feet of a forward, but when these passes don’t come off they look awful.
The wilting performances of James Milner and Adam Lallana were summed up by the chances both had to score.
The only “big chance”, according to Opta, fell to Lallana and he headed tamely at the stranded De Gea, while Milner ignored a chance to hit a perfect half-volley and let the ball trickle off to an angle which had side netting written all over it.
The game was one of frustration and wastefulness. A calm, clinical head in the final third would have made all the difference for Liverpool, but many of these players looked like they weren’t used to this type of game and lost their heads in a football sense, even if not in the usual passionate derby sense.
This experience of this particular derby was also a new one for Jürgen Klopp, and given the passion he shows on the touchline, his general understanding of football culture, and the importance he places on the players’ bond with the fans, you’d hope that the next clash between the two bitter rivals will be one of controlled, clinical, passionate goals.