Now that's more like it.
More passes and possession than United even though the match was at Old Trafford, just one less shot, Liverpool's highest pass accuracy of the season (83.3%), and Liverpool's lowest shooting accuracy of the season other than the 1-0 win at Villa, when Liverpool put just one of five shots on target but scored with that one. All in all, Liverpool had the better chances, but also cannoned two shots off the woodwork.
Oh, and Liverpool lost, to a solitary goal, because Liverpool's marking broke down on one of United's seven corners.
Yep. Just like old times.
It took Liverpool 15-20 minutes to find its feet in an unfamiliar formation. To my chagrin, Rodgers used Liverpool's strongest line-up, but Rodgers also used 3-4-1-2, with Toure, Skrtel, and Sakho in defense, Lucas and Gerrard as a double pivot, Henderson and Enrique as wing backs, and Moses roaming dangerously in the hole with Sturridge and Suarez up front, but with the front three rotating threateningly.
Both sides had spells of pressure, but neither side carved out any outstanding openings, with both defenses doing just enough through last ditch blocks and tackles from both back lines.
This was Liverpool's average position just before halftime:
It boded well for the second half, even though Liverpool haven't scored a second half goal when behind or level since twice equalizing against Chelsea in mid-April. Incidentally, the last match prior to Suarez's ten-match suspension.
Well, boded well until this.
Why does Gerrard move towards the ball, even though there is no United player in the vicinity, into a zone already covered by Lucas? He just totally misjudges the flight of the corner, and it's not as if he hasn't seen more than a few corners in his day. More damaging, what is going through Jose Enrique's head? Well, besides "FIFA 14, FIFA 14, how can I prank Iago Aspas next, FIFA 14."
Enrique's hoping that Gerrard will cover Chicharito after the striker eluded him, eluded him way too easily, but Gerrard's got absolutely no clue that he's there. Individual breakdowns, even if it's different individuals, have punished Liverpool on set plays far too often.
That's the third goal that an opponent has scored from a set play in this young season. Liverpool have only conceded six in total. 50%. In case you'd forgotten – or repressed it – 28% of Liverpool's goals conceded in all competitions came from set plays last season, 24% the season before.
Ugh. Just ugh. That it was just about the first action of the second half was a kick to the stomach that Liverpool just couldn't recover from, despite Liverpool as the better side for most of the second 45 minutes, despite those two strikes off the goal frame – especially Suarez's deflected free kick – and excellent chances for Henderson and Moses: the first placed just wide, the second wonderfully saved by De Gea.
As feared, Suarez looked rusty, Gerrard and Sturridge looked fatigued. The former will improve with match fitness, but I fear the latter won't get much chance to rest, and it'll be on the medical staff and training regime to protect those key players. Both looked wholly gassed by the hour mark.
Yes, I'm still slightly annoyed that Rodgers played a full-strength line-up, but I do understand it. Dalglish did similar in his two FA cup ties against United in '10-11 and '11-12, as did Benitez in 2005-06. Yes, the FA Cup is a different competition than the League Cup, but it's hard to overestimate the pressure on Liverpool managers going into this fixture. The Evil Empire makes it more than a cup game, as much as I'd like it to just be a cup game.
It was reassuring to see Rodgers experiment with the formation, if not the line-up, attempting to remedy the possession and passing problems we've seen so far this season. Toure, Sakho, and Skrtel did outstandingly as a back three, and both Henderson and Enrique did well as wing backs – despite the latter's egregious brain fart on United's winner. Sturridge, Suarez, and Moses' movement drips with future potential once the three become more used to the others' runs. But now Liverpool's out of this competition, and the chance to experiment, with either formation or personnel has massively decreased.
Will win more than lose if there are repeat performances of that quality.— Kenneth Dalglish (@kennethdalglish) September 25, 2013
I'm tempted to agree with that. There are still obvious problems with the side: set play marking, the connection between midfield and attack, the final ball in the final third, and a reliance on Sturridge and now Suarez to score.
But despite the result, there were still enough positives to restrain over the top criticism. I'd far rather a third round League Cup loss to the Mancs after beating them in the league, and I'm sure they'd rather the reverse to what they've achieved.