Notts Roundup & Pre-United Buildup

Two goals up, it seemed smooth sailing, then two goals later, it was on to extra-time. Just how did Liverpool let it slip? For a team that has just secured two hard-fought 1-0 wins in the Premier League, to concede two in the space of a half to a League One side was unacceptable. Further, such tired legs like Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge and co. will have had more taken out of them and less time to recover for the rivalry grudge match this Sunday. The first of the season for Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Liverpool looked to have continued their fine form this season with a great piece of individual play by Raheem Sterling, dribbling past two before slotting home. Gerrard’s pinpoint through-pass then saw Sturridge rifle in a well-struck second. Somehow, Kolo Toure and Andre Wisdom’s failed collective effort to out-jump Notts County’s Yoann Arquin and allowed him to header in what should have been a consolation. They then allowed Arquin to pierced right through the Reds defence yet again before providing a pinpoint cross for Adam Coombes to force extra time.

Luckily, they got out of jail thanks to another Sturridge goal and Jordan Henderson’s superb solo effort, his first of the season. However, Kolo Toure pulled up in extra-time and Liverpool played the last part of the match with 10 men. His injury looked serious and further scans did seem to support this, but Rodgers has since revealed Toure should be fit for Sunday’s showdown.

Such is Toure’s importance to the side that he needs to be in the team for Liverpool to have any chance against David Moyes’ new side.

Moyes has never won at Anfield with his old Everton side for the most of the past decade. He will be searching for his first win as a manager at Liverpool’s home ground. How can Liverpool and Rodgers stop him and continue their own fine start to the season? Here’s a quick analytical buildup.

Seeing how Rodgers set up his side to play against United last year, it is evident he needs to realize he has been making pretty noticeable errors. Recent Liverpool sides that have manage to get one over United and their old boss Sir Alex Ferguson has been due to the high levels of energy and pressing employed, first by Rafa Benitez and then during Kenny Dalglish’s short second spell.

Rodgers’ Previous Mistakes

Last season, Liverpool sat too deep and invited United pressure. This Sunday, they will need to get at United, especially since they have the backing of the Anfield crowd – an optimistic one too – with Lucas Leiva leading the charge. With the momentum of a full 6 points from 6, this will be Rodgers only chance to give Moyes a hard time and a rough start as United boss. The only reason Moyes got a point last Monday was because Jose Mourinho decided to play negatively and didn’t utilize Romelu Lukaku at all, let alone to his strengths.

The central pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are world-class, but they can be get at. Fernando Torres, in his Reds pomp, showed that, so did Luis Suarez for the past couple of seasons. Their main weakness is being dribbled at and via the quick turn of pace, which incidentally, is Sturridge’s speciality.

Philippe Coutinho will have to really start behind Sturridge, so that he can give Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley a busy afternoon. Whether it is through his creativity on the ball, or just his mere presence, Coutinho must give the two United midfielders something to worry about, and he must deny them time and space to play the ball and dictate the game.

One of Ryan Giggs, Shinji Kagawa or Wayne Rooney will start as the third and more offensive midfielder, this will give Gerrard and Lucas a hard task of protecting their back-four. Hence Coutinho’s role will be crucial in making sure Cleverley doesn’t get the chance to roam upfield; meaning Gerrard and Lucas will only be occupied with only one offensive midfielder at any one time.

Key Battles

I would think Rodgers will shift Henderson to the right of midfield, where he, and Jose Enrique will be the main components in this game, as surprised as you may be. The truth is, much of United’s play under Ferguson, and now Moyes, is through their flanks.

With Giggs’ age preventing him from marauding down the left flank and no alternative in Nani or Ashley Young seen as good enough, the past few years has seen this attacking responsibility down the left flank gone to full-back Patrice Evra. On the right, at least, they have a proper outlet in Antonio Valencia, who himself suffered his worst form last season.

Henderson’s energy must be channelled towards stopping Evra’s runs down Liverpool’s right, while Enrique needs to track Valencia all the time. Denying them space to run at Liverpool’s defence or towards the Reds’ byline will be vital to winning this game. Valencia and Evra will look to get to the byline to fizz a cross or get a corner at the least.

Welbeck’s deployment on the left will see him drift inside to give Evra the space to run into, while the central midfield of United will try to play in Valencia on the other side. Stop the service to Valencia and Evra, stop the service to Robin van Persie. It’s that easy.

Classic Moyes

Set-pieces is undoubtedly Moyes’ speciality as well. Notice now how United line up during an offensive corner? See how either Ferdinand, Phil Jones or any other centre-back stands on the byline behind the far post, wanting to dodge the attention of his marker and readying to dash towards the penalty spot, either to get onto the corner or just cause mass hysteria and confusion in opposing defences. It’s just classic Moyes, remember Tim Cahill or Marouane Fellaini during his Everton days?

With Moyes knowing so much about Liverpool more than Rodgers knows about him or his new United side, the latter really needs to come up with some surprises to keep Liverpool’s perennial managerial nemesis guessing.

Rodgers caused quite a stir last year when he started Raheem Sterling against Man City early in the season. Don’t be surprised to give Sterling his first start of the season on the left against United, dropping Iago Aspas in the process. This year’s surprise, though, could be Jordon Ibe starting against United. Seriously, don’t bet on it.

Any how, either Ibe or Sterling will be needed to give Jones a hard time on United’s right side. Jones is primarily a centre-back, so he may be uncomfortable dealing with small, tricky and fast wingers at right-back; potentially where Liverpool could exploit.

Rodgers, and most fans, will be satisfied with a draw, a haul of 7 points for 3 games in August. Not bad at all. But with such momentum flowing now, what’s to stop the Reds from going one better and collecting full points from the opening month? Without tempting fate, this could give Liverpool and Rodgers the springboard they need for a real go this season.

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