What a time to be alive! There's so much fall out from the victory yesterday at Anfield that one wonders where to begin. For starters, with just eight games left to close another premier league season, it's fair to say that Manchester United have put themselves in one of the box seats for the big time in Europe next season. That, is the most important of all take-outs from the game yesterday.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way; let's talk about Manchester United playing Liverpool off the park at Anfield: Off the top of my head, I can recall 1997 as the last time we went there and sort of dominated the game in the way we did yesterday. Even then, Liverpool were very much in that game. Yesterday, it was only by illusion that they were in it. At 1-0 up, it felt like United did not need to score again to win the match. At 2-1 up, Liverpool were more worried about conceding on the counter than troubling United the other end. At the peak of our powers under Sir Alex Ferguson, we never went to Anfield and dominated the game like we did yesterday. If this is Manchester United still in transition under the van Gaal's philosophy then my word, what a treat we are in for when the job is complete!
We've faced mediocre opposition in the league and had to work De Gea overtime to keep us in games. After two games into this supposed horrible run of fixtures, De Gea has hardly earned his weekly wage. The only blot is obviously how he allowed Sturridge to beat him at his near post.
In rationalising what we saw yesterday, two things must be considered: Firstly, that all that possession based football United have been playing and indeed learning this season under the management of Louis van Gaal is aiding the side but going unnoticed. In finally learning how to keep the ball well, United are denying their opponents possession and there's not much you can do without the ball. We've had more possession against Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool and that has held us in good stead in these games. Liverpool just couldn't hurt United in that first half because, they couldn't get anywhere near the ball. It's a style that will suit United more in Europe next season because it is unlike the kind offered traditionally by English sides, and perhaps explains their shortcomings this season in the Champions League.
Secondly, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata have confirmed, not revealed, that they should be part of any United line-up, any formation, that the boss finally settles on. It doesn't matter that Mata comes in from the left because the understanding between the two Spaniards is by telepathy. With Marouanne Fellaini doing the agricultural bit on the left with Ashley Young, the mix-mash in United's midfield is at the moment difficult to cope with. If the big Belgian does not pummel you into submission as he did to Emre Can and Jordan Henderson, the flair of the two Spaniards will cut you to shreds.
At last there is an understanding in play among the players that makes it look like something has been going on in training during the week.
Juan Mata though! Take a bow son. Regardless of what he achieves between now and the end of his United stay, he has burned his name on United's heart. Like Diego Forlan in 2002, his name will be sung on the terraces for years to come. Few United players score twice at Anfield in a game, even fewer will score a goal of such arrogance and class as his second.
Ashley Young did a good job keeping Raheem Sterling tracking back to defend in the wing-back role. It was a treat watching United maximise the flaws in a system that they have suffered under as well this season. Maybe the chopping and changing of formations has given the players an understanding of how to counter the various deviations in formations against teams.
Wayne Rooney's first touch yet again let him down and there is a real question as to whether he should be our penalty taker even in the absence of Robin van Persie. The evidence is that he has a very predictable technique and his penalty goals ratio is not as high as it should be for a leading penalty taker. Juan Mata for instance has a better scoring ratio from the spot attained during his time at Chelsea. Although it will go unmentioned because of the eventual result, with three minutes to play, that miss could have been a turning point in the season if Liverpool had gone up the other end and equalised. One of two things needs to happen: Either he changes his technique and adapts a less predictable one or he delegates penalty duties.
Few things experienced in the thrill of dreams at night ever come to pass in reality. So you can understand the pleasant shock when Martin Atkinson showed Steven Gerrard a red card, within 38 seconds of coming on as a substitute. That it happened at Anfield, in his final game against us was simply the stuff of dreams. How he easily makes himself the subject of perfect banter is baffling to say the least. Aside the fact that he departs with no premier league medal or that he slipped last season to let the title slip after instructing his players not to let it slip, we now have to find a new chant to immortalise that beautiful moment yesterday for when we next visit Anfield, even in his absence. That he came on charged having been the subject of abuse from the yet again brilliant following away, shows how much the chants get under his skin. They're certainly worth the trouble then.
In all, yesterday could also simply be further proof that United's style is more suited to the big games than the smaller ones. At the moment we're finding it easy to poke holes in opponents because they come out and attack us. Our problem this season has been getting the points of the feather-weights and not the heavy-weights. At home against Villa after the International break will be a good pointer as to whether we've finally come to terms with how to win when the opposition lines up two banks of 4 infront of their goalkeeper and play on the counter-attack.
The boss will be under immense pressure to keep the same line-up for as long as the same players are fit. We're at that point of the season where you don't want to find out if the players make the system or the system makes the players. That can be found out in pre-season. At the moment, it's still very much about consolidating our status in the big time---a feat that despite all failings this season, could still make this campaign a successful one.