After Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester United on Saturday in the Premier League the debate has to be raised about how we win these big matches at crucial times in the season.
Liverpool have only won two matches when playing the other big five teams this season, and while we still have to play Chelsea away the record this season has not been good enough. So what is the solution and how do we turn these bad results into positive ones when playing against our rivals? I can’t help but think on Saturday we were a little too naive, almost too nice for our own good, and this is an issue that I think Liverpool have been struggling with for the last three or four years, certainly since Steven Gerrard left the club.
I remember us playing Manchester United a few years back at Old Trafford when we lost 3-1, it was the first United game without Gerrard and it was the game where Anthony Martial made his debut for United and ended up scoring the winning goal. When Martial came onto the pitch I remember thinking someone needs to go and tackle him really hard, even if you don’t win the ball someone needs to take responsibility and “take him out” with one tackle, kind of a “welcome to the Premier League” greeting. Nobody took responsibility for this and as a result Martial ended up still scoring the winning goal. I’m not advocating dirty play or trying to injure somebody deliberately but what I am saying that Liverpool need to get smarter when it comes to managing these big games.
I know that Martial incident might seem like a minor one in the grand scheme of things, however by somebody “putting a boots on him” on his debut it might have just knocked his confidence a little bit, don’t forget the score line was 2-1 to United at the time and while we were searching for the equalizer one tackle may have eradicated the threat of Martial from the game, I don’t mean injure him I mean dent his confidence so he isn’t involved in the game.
There was an incident in 2001 when we played United at Anfield and beat them 3-1 that I always remember. United were coming into the game having just signed Juan Sebastián Verón from Inter Milan who was meant to be this tough tackling hard man in the centre of the park, between him and Roy Keane they were meant to come to Anfield and “rough up” our midfield. Thankfully this never happened and the main reason for that was the first chance Gerrard got to go in on Verón he went in full blooded and ended up taking Verón over the side of the advertising boards.
The Argentinean hardly touch the ball for the rest of the match and that one incident affectively won us the game. I can’t remember if Gerrard gave away free kick for that tackle or not or even if he got booked for it but it was worth it in the long run.
Liverpool need to get back to being clever in these big matches and knowing how to turn small incidents into your favor. The Champions League Final in 2005 was another great example of this, yet again this involves Gerrard and his cleverness to win that penalty. He probably could’ve stayed on his feet but having felt the contact from Gattuso he drop to the deck like a sack of potatoes and the rest is history.
There were a couple of times on Saturday where Liverpool players needed just to hit the ground and make the referee make a decision. I’m not talking about diving, there is a fine line between knowing how to win a penalty or free-kick and diving, what I’m talking about is Liverpool players being fouled but wanted to carry on playing, even though I love how honest our players are and how we want to play the game in the right spirit but the fact is that doesn’t always get you results.
There were a couple of occasions where Trent Alexander-Arnold could’ve gone down and probably should have in order to get United players sent off. Both Rashford and Valencia were very lucky to be on the pitch at the end of the game and if they had come up against a more experienced player I would’ve been very surprised if at least one of them were not shown a red card.
Even Mohamed Salah had a chance to win us a penalty early in the second-half and instead of going down he tried to play on and score, in these big matches when the margins are so tight sometimes you just have to try and win by whatever means and do whatever it takes to get the three points.
Liverpool will learn from this experience on Saturday and hopefully it will make us a better team but at the end of the day the saying of “nice guys always finish last” was definitely the case on Saturday and Liverpool need to learn to get a bit nasty and to do the ugly part of the game if we want to seriously be challenging for major honors in the seasons to come.
Article by Imraan Adam
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