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Liverpool Europa League Job Only Halfway Finished

An analytical overview of the upcoming Europa League clash between Manchester United and Liverpool.

Liverpool’s Europa League job against Manchester United has some way to go. Once the euphoria of the comprehensive derby victory fades, the realisation of a tricky trip to Old Trafford will enter Kopites’ minds. Buoyant fans will no doubt make the short thirty-two-mile trek to the stronghold of the old enemy, full of confidence. This confidence has been refuelled by the battering impressed on United in the first leg. Only herculean goalkeeping by David de Gea last week kept the Red Devils in with any realistic possibility of staying the competition.

All of the available match statistics stemming from the first-leg tie provide testimony of Liverpool’s dominance during the match at Anfield. That match is now in the history books, and Jürgen Klopp’s team must now navigate the hostility that they will face at Old Trafford. The second leg tie poses some interesting tactical questions. Will the tie leaders unleash the attacking hounds like they did at Manchester City earlier in the season, or will a more pragmatic approach to ensuring qualification prevail?

Liverpool have looked far more exciting and comfortable when pressing and attacking teams while playing away from home. Some of the most free-flowing and exciting football of this season has been displayed in games against “bigger” teams. However, it is highly likely that Klopp will opt for a more compact and defensive approach, at least in the early going at Old Trafford.

The key area in a more pragmatic approach will be the midfield engine room. If Liverpool opt for a more traditional away leg tactical approach, there could be a variation of a 4-4-2 formation. This formation could include Joe Allen or James Milner supplementing Emre Can, Adam Lallana, and Jordan Henderson in the trenches. It would not be surprising to see Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge dropped to the bench in favour of Divock Origi’s pace in behind and Roberto Firmino’s footballing intellect and finishing as the Liverpool strike force.

Liverpool’s defensive unit should be under considerably more pressure than they were at Anfield. Recent solid displays from Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho at the heart of the defence, bolstered by the consistent Nathaniel Clyne, should aid Liverpool through the expected turbulent early stages of the tie. The X-factors that are Alberto Moreno and Simon Mignolet will cause the most anxiety. The manager must reinforce the importance of discipline and concentration in both players prior to them facing the expected onslaught from the opposition.  

An away goal at Old Trafford will surely seal the tie. A tactically pragmatic approach would still allow Liverpool’s speedy and clever footballers, such as Roberto Firmino, opportunities to take the fight to United on the break. The necessity to score first will force United out of their usual possession-based, patient approach. Van Gaal’s side will have to take risks early in the game, no doubt leaving gaps on which the away side will have to capitalise ruthlessly. 

The balance of the tie is set up beautifully for another exciting encounter between these two great rivals. Liverpool have to stifle the crowd and the United players early on. If they can achieve this, then it promises to be a great night for them.


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