Herrera 70' (pen)
Once again, Liverpool get what Liverpool deserve.
Kyle Martino said it perfectly on NBC after the match. "Brendan Rodgers set up Liverpool to play against the ghost of Manchester United past." That's a perfect summation of today's proceedings.
We're all poorer for watching that first half. As against Arsenal, Liverpool sat back to defend, a firm line of four defenders protected by five midfielders. Ings and Firmino, a striker and a #10, were wing backs in all but name. But this Manchester United is not Arsenal, not on their best day. And especially not with Marouane Fellaini leading the line. This was a Manchester United almost, but not quite, as dire as Liverpool.
And it resulted in one of worst halves of football that I've ever seen. Two United shots, one Liverpool shot, none on-target for either side, none remotely threatening. Liverpool simply never looked like threatening, the "counter" routinely breaking down well before the final third, while the only chances United had came from Liverpool mistakes. It was 45 minutes of death warmed over. Which, to be fair, wasn't too far from what Rodgers seemingly intended.
Unfortunately, you can be more secure than a bank vault in open play, and still concede on a set play. Twice, in fact. With Liverpool's fullbacks – one of the few bright spots so far this season – at least initially at fault for both: Clyne's soft free kick on Young, Gomez's penalty on Herrera.
Liverpool's set play defending remains hilariously terrible, somehow continuing to find new ways to concede after more than a year of conceding in hilarious new ways. This time, no one picked up a wide open Blind on the edge of the area; sure, Schweinsteiger set a decent pick, but there should be at least one more player in position to get a block in, rather than seven or eight defenders stuck on their edge of their six-yard box. Meanwhile, Gomez's foul was an 18-year-old out-of-position full back getting done by a clever attacker when forced to defend with his weaker foot.
Shit happens. Which is why you can't solely rely on your defense keeping a clean sheet and "hoping for the best" in attack.
My favorite part of today's horror show was Liverpool persisting with its defensive 4-3-3 formation even after going two-down. Ibe replaced Firmino, Origi replaced Ings. Ibe made a difference, but Origi was a lesser version of Ings' "striker stuck on the wing." Liverpool's response was "eh, let's get some fresh legs on and maybe push the midfielders and wide players forward more." Fantastic. Brendan Rodgers really isn't helping himself.
Those changes made Liverpool marginally better in attack, but "marginally" better isn't anywhere near good enough when you're already behind and have nowhere to go but up. Benteke pulled one back with a stunning bicycle kick from a deflected cross in the 84th – one of the best goals you're ever likely to see – but it was little more than a consolation at that point, especially when Martial burnt Skrtel to a crisp two minutes later to restore the two-goal margin. Finally, at that point, Rodgers removed his defensive midfielder for another wide attacker (Moreno, who – I'm sure you're aware – is a left back). In the 87th minute. In a 1-3 match. I cannot sigh hard enough.
While we're here, we might as well get the excuses out of the way. It is still very in the season, a team full of new players in a new formation. As Bass Tuned To Red helpfully noted, none of Liverpool's top eight chance creators from last season – which, you'll remember was a pretty bad season – were available today. Liverpool will almost certainly look a much different side with Sturridge, Coutinho, and Henderson in the lineup. And, surprise of surprises, Liverpool weren't far off from scoring three or more: Blind clearing Skrtel's set play header off the line, Firmino missing the close range rebound, and wonderful saves from De Gea on Ings and Ibe. Of course, all of those chances came after Liverpool were already losing.
On the other hand, we've seen this movie before. Despite that mini-flurry after conceding, Liverpool's attack remains horrific, and has been horrific since Luis Suarez was sold and Sturridge became permanently injured. Horrific in the amount of shots, horrific in the quality of shots, horrific in the ability to create chances, and just generally horrific in the final third.
So far this season, Liverpool have scored two hapax legomenon goals and one offside goal through five matches. And have conceded six in the last two matches. So much for building from the back. And that'll continue as teams realize they can bomb forward at will because Liverpool offers next to no threat.
Sure, losing to United always makes the feelings worse, but right now, it feels all we've got is hope that Liverpool will be better as key players return and new players gel. Because we've seen nothing to suggest that this team playing in this manner will lead to better results.