Manchester United vs Liverpool – A Rivalry

The challenge was to knock Liverpool off of their perch. When United won their 19th title in the 2010-11 season, the fans were ecstatic. That is what we always wanted to see, to see United’s name erase the name of Liverpool from the records. What spawned this rivalry? Where did it start from?

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Some say that the rivalry started at the early industrial age when Manchester and Liverpool were important cities. Manchester, more industrialized while Liverpool was the port; each surviving together with their advantages. When the canal to Manchester was built, the merchants of Liverpool felt hard done by. There is some belief that this is the earliest possibility of the rivalry between the cities. The crest of both Mancunian teams have these ships which characterize the ships that supplied goods to Manchester through the canal.

As they say, you settle differences either by war or by sport. Football was the choice. Liverpool and Manchester United in between them have 121 trophies. Definitely highly decorated with Liverpool having 59 of the trophies and the rest going to Manchester United. The era of Liverpool was from 1975-1990 when they won pretty much everything with 11 league championships and 4 European Cups. The United era followed 1990 during which period Manchester United won 13 league championships and 2 European Cups. Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager of Manchester United pretty much ruled that United were going to knock Liverpool as the team with the largest number of wins. When that happened in the 2010-2011 season, it was bliss.

The rivalry doesn’t stop there. It goes deeper and has rooted itself in the players as well. Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville hating Liverpool with the same level of hatred as Steven Gerard and Jamie Carragher hate Manchester United. This hatred grew a notch when Suarez was banned for a few matches in the 2011-2012 season when he racially abused Patrice Evra. This was followed by Suarez snubbing Evra’s handshake on February 11, 2011. This hatred also manifests in the transfer diaries with 0 transfers between United and Liverpool since 1964. Gabriel Heinze was the last player who vocally asked to transfer from United to Liverpool and who was completely shunned by the supporters until he moved to Real Madrid. That is how bad the fans feel about Liverpool. The matches are contentious as well. Fans of Manchester United can never get enough of the 1999 Champions League final while Liverpool can never get enough of the 2005 match against AC Milan.

When you say rivalry, there are a few matches which you would definitely need to watch to get the grasp of the feeling when you see United win against Liverpool is when you watch the match of April 2003 when United won 4-0 against Liverpool at Old Trafford. It’s a match that showed absolute class of United during that period with Nistelrooy scoring 2 from penalties while the other two goals were scored by Ryan Giggs and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. There are matches on the other side of the spectrum when Liverpool pulled a 4-1 victory over United at Old Trafford in 2009. It is a match every United fan watches and cries in glee when we win and cries in agony when Liverpool snatch it. Nevertheless, the rivalry is one that has history between the clubs, the cities and the players over the last 100 years. The rivalry has not abated and neither will it in the coming years; instead it has strengthened into a very strong talking point over the years even more after Ferguson vowed to knock them off of their perch.

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Looking Beyond 12/13: Attacking Midfield

Title number 20.

It is a special season. So many goodbyes; so many tear-filled moments and so many shockingly bad decisions wrapped up in a way that can only happen with football. Its been a season of conflicting emotions for us United fans. The fact that Sir SAF won’t be here next season makes it a weird feeling but the show must go on.

5-5.

My oh my, that was an amazing game of football. But, I’m going to concentrate on the strengths they showed at West Brom and not on the weaknesses. Looking at the match, we are sure to be left wondering why we drew a match we were supposed to win. I don’t care about the result but it matters to me how they played and it looks exciting to welcome Moyes at United for the next season.

Shinji Kagawa

Kagawa, the Ninjawa, the Shin-man, had an exciting first half at West Brom. I loved the way he played and his positioning throughout the game. Fact remains that he is a brilliant player for us in the hole. Taking a look at Kagawa’s first season, I see multiple strengths for the future. He is a much stronger player when we counter-attack at pace. His positioning, body balance and passing are his strengths helped by his agility. The weakness I perceive is the lack of body strength to fight for the ball; that is n0t necessarily a weakness that can’t be converted into strength.

With Moyes, I am quite sure we will have a strong midfield built around Kagawa. This would mean that we might possibly see a fast-flowing attack pivoted with Kagawa in the hole. What I am happy about is the supporting midfielders at United; Cleverley, Anderson, Carrick and hopefully Fletcher would enhance the ability of Kagawa to shine in the position.

What we can expect: Very quick counter-attacking football very similar to one played offensively at West Brom  yesterday. We might see more incisive passing near and in the penalty box.

Anderson

Anderson.

He is an enigma. Nobody knows how he shall play when he is in the team sheet. He baffles us as he baffles many other fans around the world. What is he? What does he do for us on the pitch?

I churned through all those unexplainable questions in my head while I watched West Brom versus United. Anderson is not a simple midfielder he is different just like he is well… different. His strength I found was in driving forward, pressing opponents high up the pitch and forcing things to happen. The video linked above shows all of his strong points: positional awareness, good ball skill and a killer through ball. What it doesn’t show is that as the going gets tougher and tougher, he gets sloppier and sloppier. Its like his breathing and performance are linked together and are inversely proportional.

Even then, I find it really good to watch him play especially the way he picks out through balls; long ones at that. No one in the team does that as often as Anderson. I don’t know if he has an eye for it or likes playing those passes. Even then, I love the way he does that.

What can we expect: Strong midfield runs past the opposing midfielder. Gorgeous through balls to the striker running the channel or the striker behind the last man. All of this is if he stays at United for the next season.

Tom Cleverley

The worker ant is an important part of an ant colony. It just works and works. That is an imperfect analogy but it somehow fits him. It fits what Cleverley does for us. To describe his football; it is hard-working and omnipresent. He tries to be everywhere in the midfield, a box-to-box midfielder who can run, run and keep running. With that strong running, he is a simple passer of the ball. He gets the ball on target, makes up the distance to get the return pass and keeps moving on.

The weakness from him is something very similar to Kagawa; a lack of physical presence. In my opinion, he makes up for his lack of physical presence by being a constant harassment on the opposition.

What to expect: Cleverley’s role might be dictated by the opposition be it attacking or defensive. He can’t get too defensive and he’ll be steamrolled by physically strong oppositions which means he will be played in a role that would require constant tracking back and forward.

Here ends the first part of the whole post. I’ll continue it next time with more thoughts on what we can expect from our squad next season.

Questions

1) Describe what you see in our midfielders? Specific qualities, skills?

2) How do you think Moyes might use the above three players?

3) What sort of weaknesses do you perceive when the three play?

Cheers.

Legends 98/99: Ronny Johnsen

Ronny Johnsen. Norwegian footballer who played in central defence and as defensive midfielder has been perhaps a rather fringe figure in the history of United. I wasn’t aware of his presence at United until I started looking in-depth at the 1998-1999 squad.

The Early Years

Ronny Johnsen, a Norwegian spent his youth back at home. Starting his youth years in Eik-Tonsberg as striker. Pretty much like our Rio now. Starting to play as a striker, he was retrained by his coach at Eik-Tonsberg as a central-defender.

Solkjaer, Ronny Johnsen and Sheringham

Solkjaer, Ronny Johnsen and Sheringham

Playing as striker was all that Ronny wanted which prompted him to move to the main league: Tippeligaen by signing for Lyn and later Lillestrom. He played mainly as striker for Lyn but used more as a central defender at Lillestrom. After his stints in the top-tier of the Norwegian league, he moved to Besiktas.

Besiktas and United

He spent one season at Besiktas playing 22 games for them. Sir Alex Ferguson, approached Besiktas for Ronny as early as 1995 but the move didn’t materialise until after the 1995-1996 season. Following the transfer, the Norwegian spent a total of 6 years at our beloved United playing 99 matches in total.

At Manchester United

Playing for a total of 6 years for United, he had quite a successful career. Bought from Besiktas in 1996, Sir SAF wanted him to partner Stam in the defense. He played a lot of games in the centre back role as a successor for Steve Bruce and even filled up for the defensive midfielder role. Until he was released in 2002.

He played a lot of games for United for the first three years at United. In the first season at United, Ronny played 37 matches which is a great number considering the players we had in the defence during that time. The following season, he played a total of 28 matches with 4 goals to his name. But perhaps his best season was in the treble year: playing 3o matches in the defense with Denis Irwin and Jaap Stam, he scored 3 goals.

On pitch for the FA cup final and the UEFA Champions league final of 1998-1999 he was a consistent player for us. The best game of his career was against Juventus in the treble year when he played in the central midfield for us and got us through one hell of a semi-final game. Another great thing was that matchup gave United their first victory in Italy; winning 3-2 against the Zebras.

Ronny Johnsen with Neville, Scholes, Giggs and Cole

Ronny Johnsen with Neville, Scholes, Giggs and Cole

Post-United

His path out of United was prolonged after the treble year. The season after the treble was pretty bad for him with long-term injury with less than 10 matches played for us in the league. Following that his playing time continued decreasing with injuries. The final season for him came in 2001-2002 when he was released from United. From United, Ronny joined Aston Villa. A season with the Villans and then a move to Newcastle came where he didn’t play as much. His final games came for Valerenga back in Norway.

In the early years, he played as winger, striker and midfielder for the Norwegian national team. Later on, he found consistency in playing in the central defense. He played a total of 62 matches for his homeland and throughout the 1998 World Cup.

Legacy

Its of importance that Stam and Johnsen were perhaps the first template to the later partnership of the Ferdinand and Stam. A strong man with a ball-playing defender. Sir SAF’s first example of a strong technical idea for United’s defence. That has been consistently followed by United under Sir Alex Ferguson. To be frank, he is one of the most under-rated players in the United squad just because he was eclipsed by the strengths of Stam, Neville and Denis Irwin. He played an important role for United during the treble year and he is a United legend.

You can follow Ronny Johnsen in Twitter here: https://twitter.com/JRonnyJohnsen

Legends 98/99: Gary Neville

Gary Alexander Neville

The right-back who held his own in the United squad for a remarkable 19 years. A hardworking, intelligent and downright passionate, 1-club man, Gary Neville can never be forgotten.

The Beginnings

A 1-club footballer, Gary Neville started off as a cricketer. Unbelievable. Being born in Bury, Greater Manchester, he supported United all his kiddie life. After school, a young Gary Neville joined the Devils in 1991 as an apprentice. There started the journey of a man who went on to become United Captain for 5-years.

He was a part of a select of group of outstanding players, the Fergie’s Fledglings; something compared with the Busby Babes. It took him 4 years after joining to become a consistent pick in the starting lineup for United in 1994-1995 season.

The Treble Year

The treble year was important because that was the year the whole of Fergie’s Fledglings played together with sprinklings of experience among them. Important and a regular fix in the team were the Neville brothers and importantly the man we’re talking about now. Gary Neville, played 34 matches for United in the league and a total of 54 matches that season scoring 1 goal that season in a 3-1 victory against Everton. With that single goal, he also had 8 yellows and 1 red which came in the match United drew with Tottenham 2-2 away. He was an important part of the team, putting in effort to keep the clean sheets which helped us win the treble.

What more?

After 2005, captaining United until 2011, Gary Neville was a complete United player; passionate, hard-working with a never-say die attitude. Now, he is a Match Analyst on Sky Sports and has given us brilliant insights into many games.

A hardworking, technically brilliant and smart footballer; Gary Neville was, for nearly 2 decades, a perfect RB. Combining to deadly effect with Beckham and then playing out of position as Centre Back, he has done it all for United. An one-club man. He is a true United Legend and one of the consistent players we have seen.

Legends 98/99: Peter Schmeichel

Peter Schmeichel

Road To United

Starting at Brondby FC as a professional footballer, Peter Schmeichel successively won 4 championships out of the 5 he played for them. And in 1991, he was voted the 10th best Goalkeeper in the world. That season, he was instrumental in taking Brondby to the Semi-Finals of UEFA Cup. Keeping goals out of his net and getting them past FC Torpedo Moscow in the penalties. That was the last season at Brondby after which he was signed by Alex Ferguson who remarked after signing him as the:

Bargain of the century.

At a little over half-a-million pounds, it was surely an inspired buy.

1992 Euros

We fans are finicky in a way that we remember the World Cup winners but not the Euro winners. And 1992 belonged to Denmark and one of the main players spearheading that was Peter Schmeichel. Ironically, Denmark never qualified for the Euros but they replaced Yugoslavia who were under UN Sanctions.

The group stages saw them progress with a loss to Sweden, draw to England and win against France as runners up to their group. The knock-out stage saw them play against The Netherlands. Peter Schmeichel’s wonderful goalkeeping through the match got them a level scoreline at at extra time after saving a close range shot from their opponents. The penalty shootout saw the Dutch player van Basten’s kick saved by the Great Dane letting them through into the finals.

Again, Schmeichel was at his best; saving multiple shots from the Germans and putting a great display before the Danes scored their goals. Denmark ended up winning 2-0 against Germany, earning them the 1992 Euro trophy. Each of the match report in the UEFA website show how important Schmeichel was for his national team. His exploits during the 98/99 season gave him the title of ‘The World’s best Goalkeeper of 1992’.

Double Save against Barcelona

Double Save against Barcelona

At United

After the Euros, Schmeichel led United’s quest to win the first Premier League after 26 years with 22 clean sheets in the 92/93 season. Season after season he was instrumental in keeping United’s defense strong and organized. Schmeichel was extremely strong in commanding the penalty box and organizing the defence. That and his awesome presence at the goal was indeed a formidable sight. He even scored for United against Volgograd in the UEFA cup.

Revisiting the Treble Year

Getting to watch the 98/99 season live on TV would’ve been a brilliant gift but sadly, I can’t. Instead, I rewatched the season review of the greatest United season ever. Thanks to really shady defence we let the goals in but as the season progressed, things started to change. Clean sheets began showing up giving us the league.

Dane in full flight.

Dane in full flight against a Bergkamp

penalty.It was not all of that in league but the UEFA and the FA cup that counted. Barcelona, Inter Milan and Juventus; so many extraordinary saves and push-aways to keep the score in favor of United. It was sheer brilliance. The pick of the matches would be the one against Arsenal; it gets remembered for the superb goal from Giggs. But before that, 2 reflex saves from Peter; one from the penalty and the second from a distance helped us seal the deal to get the FA cup.

Match after match, he was phenomenal in his time from 1991 to 1999 at United. Signing off with a Treble, he did all he had to do with United. The treble year was probably his best at United; so many important saves in the Champions League and the premiership. With all of his performances, the Dane will be surely remembered for being a driving force for United. A formidable presence at the back with a goal to boot, he set up and controlled United’s defense superbly.

Looking back, Peter Schmeichel was an integral part of the start of the domination of United in the Premier League. He has become a benchmark for all the goalkeepers signed after that. It is of no wonder that the people SAF signed in that position couldn’t live up to the levels set by the Dane until we got Edwin van Der Sar. But that is a story for another day and another blog post.

Weekly Series: Revisiting 98/99 – The Legends

The trophy is back in our closet. 4 more matches and we can kiss it and do whatever we want to with it. And most importantly, we’ll have lots of time to concentrate on the beauty of the summer transfer window. We can spread rumours of Ronaldo coming back to us, Samir Nasri getting killed by a football or in general rant about needing a defensive midfielder next season to complement Michael Carrick.

Sadly, we are not going to do any of those. As of now, we have a single plan to create a series of posts on the team of 1998-1999. The kids who made men swallow their words by winning the treble. We’ll be revisiting the men who made history and now reside in our books as Legends.

I wasn’t even aware of Football when that happened. and I hope to be able to do justice to the whole series. I won’t be doing the series single-handedly though; my good friend, Rdzzl will be writing about them as well. Our plan is to make this a weekly affair while we write other pieces.

Before I end this update, I will release a small hint about the first player in the series: He is a Great Dane and here is the link to the post: Click Here

Cheerio,

HornberryFields

Stoke City 0 – 2 Manchester United – PMA

Lineup: David De Gea, Phil Jones, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa, Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez

Setup

The setup was a clear 4-4-2 with surprisingly different roles. The major changes were the introduction of Phil Jones giving Rafael a much needed rest. While Wayne Rooney filled in, surprisingly, in the role usually played by Cleverley. Kagawa was on the left while Valencia was on the right. Robin van Persie and Hernandez were the forwards.

How it worked

The main difference between the usual 4-4-2 and the one played by United was in the movement of Kagawa. On the attack, he always drifted to the center giving space for Evra to run into. During this, Rooney and Carrick stayed deep to provide cover with Carrick being the deeper of the two. Another interesting point of note was the movement or the lack thereof from van Persie and Hernandez. Here the movement can be taken as the way they could drop deeper inbetween the defense the midfield to hold the ball and play others inside. Instead, they played a more normal approach of taking channels and running on the shoulder of the last defense. This type of play was less dominant after the 50th minute from when RvP started to drop deeper; more on that later.

Another important point was the brilliantly employed defense and midfield from Sir SAF. Rio and Vidic provided the steel required from the defense to stop the physical nature of Stoke’s play. On the right, Jones’s physicality provided additional help to stop Stoke’s forward play and provide additional strength going forward. In the midfield, the three players: Rooney, Kagawa and Carrick were employed for controlling the ball. The strong ball control and passing with the 3 enabled the control of midfield.

The final third had Robin Van Persie and Hernandez taking the channels on the attack. Their role was mainly off-the-shoulder movement from the last defender.

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Looking back at the match, we had a lot of the ball and a lot of space to exploit. But, we never kicked into rampage mode when we could’ve easily overpowered the opposition. Sadly, we didn’t. Looking back, there were different reasons to why we didn’t have the overpowering effect.

Subtleties

One of the first reasons was the new position of Rooney. He was there for a reason to control the midfield by his passing and ball handling. This positional setup didn’t allow him to freely go forward. The difference between Kagawa and Rooney, already discussed in the CF post was clearly seen. Rooney taking the center right behind RvP and Hernandez would’ve provided more number of chances and more goals. Additionally, his long shots would’ve provided strong decent chances with Hernandez in poaching instinct.

Kagawa. This guy has extremely strong passing but on the shorter side with great movement. Playing on the left and dropping into the centre pulled players towards him allowing Evra to get forward. Also, sharp and short passes enable quick bypassing of players and getting into promising positions. His strong passing and ball control really allowed us to keep the midfield with Rooney and Carrick. Even then, playing him on the wings is not a strong option but the channel movement of RvP and Hernandez with Evra bursting forward provided enough potential.

RvP and Hernandez. The duo had a different set of roles which was slowly changed into something more manageable as the game wore on. I kept noticing that RvP and Hernandez didn’t drop down and receive the ball with their backs to the goal early on in the game. Instead, they focussed on strong forward intent by off-the-shoulder runs. In the second half, they started shuttling backwards to drop down and hold the ball to let the attack flow forward. This gave two strong chances from which one was a goal. The first one was Hernandez’s cross ball to RvP who blasted the ball into the side netting. The second one again was a ball to RvP from the bottom right to the left giving him free space to go forward and get a penalty. This movement was exactly the type required to score goals with 2 strong forwards.

Notables

The 2nd goal with the cross ball to RvP was greatly worked. In addition, the darting run from the left to the center from Kagawa pulled 2 players towards the center leaving RvP free to collect the ball and run the channel. That led to the foul and consequently the penalty. This is another example of how Kagawa can be employed even on the wings.

The whole defense with Carrick sitting in front of them were awesome. They put in a great shift to cut plays off, physically strong enough to put players off of the ball and regain possession. A special kudos is much needed for Jones for a strong performance.

De Gea was solid. He had a very strong game and saved a really tricky one from a Charlie Adam freekick in the second half by palming it away. His clean sheet was a combined effort from the defense and the midfield.

Conclusions

3 points. That matters but it had certain instances when a different type of play from the kickoff could’ve given us more goals. In truth, that setup would’ve sacrificed Kagawa’s cross run into the center for a more conventional winger’s role. Experimentation like this is extremely great to see as we’re starting to get different tactics with the strong options we have in our bench.

For the MoTM; It is very hard to pick the right guy. But I go for Michael Carrick for his exceptional role in today’s match. With Rooney beside him, he didn’t have to enforce creativity but just sit in front of the defense and pick the right passes and stop opposition plays. He did that wonderfully and without many errors. Other player who really caught my eye was Phil Jones who was solid.

Question: What did you think?