The good, the bad & the team vs. Spurs – Debating Man United 3-2 Liverpool

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After Liverpool lost 3-2 away to Man United on Sunday, three Reds supporters dissect another disappointing day for the Premier League champions.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men took on their bitter rivals at Old Trafford, with a place in the FA Cup fifth round up for grabs.

It proved to be another defeat for Liverpool, as goals from Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes sent United through.

Mohamed Salah did score twice, however, and the performance was better that we have seen in recent weeks, meaning it wasn’t all negative for the Reds.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by Owen Collins (@OGBCollins) and John O’Sullivan (@NotoriousJOS) to discuss another Liverpool defeat and how their starting XI could look against Tottenham on Thursday.

 

The good…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 24, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

OWEN: Goals! Two really good goals at last. It had felt so long since we last scored that I wondered if the footballing gods were punishing us for all the “you can’t celebrate a goal anymore” moans earlier in the season.

They were two really well-taken strikes, Mo’s dink over Henderson in particular, and represent the most positive aspect of a disappointing result.

We looked far more creative and far more coherent as a side for most of yesterday, with both goals coming from passing the ball into the box, rather than just firing in crosses or shooting straight at the goalkeeper from 18 yards.

Hopefully, this marks a shift in things and we can get back to being the imaginative, unpredictable side from earlier in the season.

JOHN: The attacking structure looked hugely improved on the platter of aimless crosses we’ve been served up in recent games, like Owen says.

Liverpool moved the ball well through midfield and created some good opportunities, besides the goals – yes, goals, imagine – they scored.

Thiago is wasted as the deepest midfielder, in terms of adding a shield to the back four, but the way he can progress the ball up the guts of teams and bring the more advanced attackers and midfielders into the game will be huge for this Liverpool team going forward.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 24, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Trent, after a very tough spell of form, showed signs he is improving again. It’s not as if he was fantastic, but he was better than previous weeks.

People forget how young he is and, like all young players, he will have spells of inconsistency. Cream rises to the top, though, and he will be fine.

The performance, largely, was good. Liverpool went to United and were the better team, shorn of any senior centre-back, Henderson and Mane (from the start). That is definitely a performance they can build upon.

HENRY: Despite the result, there was clear positives that simply weren’t anywhere to be seen against Burnley, and in other games, as both Owen and John point out.

Salah looked really sharp for the first time in a while and Firmino showed signs of returning to form, too, as is alluded to above.

Just seeing a Liverpool shot hit the net for the first time since 1955 was a welcome relief.

Like John, I thought Trent was improved, too, and the general cohesion and inventiveness of the football on show was good in the second half.

 

The bad…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 24, 2021: Liverpool's Rhys Williams during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

OWEN: It’s strange, I expected to lose this one and was basically resigned to doing so.

But then we equalised and looked by far the better team for much of the second half, so when the inevitable came it stung far more than anticipated.

Spare me the ‘it’s only the FA Cup’ stoicism – it’s another trophy we’re not going to win this season and another chance for glory extinguished.

After taking the lead, we seemed to suddenly revert back to the ‘cross and hope’ style of recent games, which was immensely frustrating, although we snapped ourselves out of it.

Similarly, heads dropped after United’s winner – at the moment we look quite a long way from the “Mentality Monsters” of last season. Understandable, yes, but still difficult to take.

Oh, and Rhys didn’t have a great game, but the keyboard warriors taking Twitter potshots are even worse.

We need a bloody centre-back, though!

JOHN: I almost feel bad for saying it because there is no way he should be thrown in at this level, but Williams was a clear negative.

He made a lot of fundamental errors, two of which led to United goals, and he looked very slow on his feet.

Still, though, if Liverpool had their ducks in a row at centre-back and signed somebody, that performance, which could really dent his confidence, may not have happened.

Thiago as a No.6 didn’t work. The Spaniard is a brilliant player, but it is a terrible waste asking him to anchor the midfield.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 24, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (L) Manchester United's Edinson Cavani during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He doesn’t have the physical attributes to kill opposition counters – United cut through the midfield too easily at times yesterday.

His playmaking abilities would be far better served further up the pitch, which we saw glimpses of. He does have a Fernandinho-esque tendency to avoid yellow cards, though, which is good.

HENRY: I don’t agree with Owen about the FA Cup not being a second-rate competition these days. I want to love it like I used to, but it’s just not the same anymore – like my feelings towards Soccer AM!

Losing to United always feels bad, however, so I could have done without that.

Like Owen said, though, the “Mentality Monsters” mindset seems to have disappeared – I always felt Liverpool were going to lose at 2-2, whether it be inside 90 minutes, in extra-time or on penalties.

Williams was a disaster and it felt like the Reds were playing with 10 men at times because of it. You have to feel for him, though.

I thought Alisson was below par, which hasn’t been mentioned enough. That outside-of-the-foot pass gets on my nerves and he wasn’t great for the second and third goals.

If that Fernandes winner was Pickford in goal, we’d be mocking him for getting beaten at that side.

John is spot on about Thiago, too – using him that way doesn’t get the best out of him and he actually looked a liability defensively as the minutes ticked by.

 

And the starting XI vs. Spurs…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 21, 2021: Liverpool's Joel Matip during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield. Burnley won 1-0 ending Liverpool’s run of 68 games unbeaten at home. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

OWEN: Both Salah and Firmino looked renewed yesterday and their respective braces of goals and assists will hopefully bring fresh confidence.

With Mane fresh and rested, too, I would favour an end to the up-top tinkering for Thursday night.

If Henderson’s still out, I’d like to see Milner keep his place, as I think he’s the best replacement we’ve got for Hendo’s particular brand of graft.

Thiago looked pretty spent by the time he came off yesterday, but he has to start, in order to unpick what will likely be another Mourinho parked bus.

Defence remains the issue, with Williams highly susceptible to counter-attacks, which doesn’t bode well given how Spurs will likely play against us.

If Matip can make it through the week without another injury, there’s absolutely no question he starts alongside Fabinho. Break out the cotton wool, Jurgen.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 17, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOHN: Assuming Henderson and Matip are fit, they come straight back in. I would also play Wijnaldum as the 6 and not Thiago.

The rest picks itself: Alisson; TAA, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Thiago; Salah, Firmino, Mane.

HENRY: There is the West Ham game on Sunday to keep an eye on, but I also think the team picks itself, assuming absent key men are available.

Matip is a shoo-in to start if he is fit, while having Henderson’s energy and leadership back will be a huge boost, especially for Trent. The skipper covers him so well when he goes forward.

So: Alisson, Trent, Matip, Fabinho, Robbo, Gini, Hendo, Thiago, Mo, Sadio, Bobby (I like the Gini as a No.6 shout).

Do I think Klopp will pick that team? No. He will rotate with West Ham in mind.

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