Liverpool 1 Man United 0: Four talking points as Sturridge nets winner
Liverpool 1 Man United 0: Here are four talking points from the Reds' 1-0 victory over the Premier League champions at Anfield
Sturridge sparkles, Welbeck struggles
With England manager Roy Hodgson weighing up his options for the World Cup qualifiers later this week from at Anfield, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck had a chance to shine as potential rivals for a starting spot. Sturridge, who joined the Reds in a £12m deal from Chelsea in January, continued his excellent goal-scoring form. The 24-year-old showed lightning-quick reactions to flick Daniel Agger’s header into the United net from a corner in the fourth minute. It was Sturridge’s third goal in three Premier League games (and 12 in 16 top-flight appearances). There are areas of improvement for the Reds forward, particularly his ability to bring team-mates into the game. Sturridge is, understandably as a striker, selfish in front of goal – and he was guilty of failing to spot some cunning runs by Iago Aspas, particularly in the first half. Whilst Welbeck has not proven as prolific as his compatriot to date, the United striker is more of a team player. But the Red Devils forward failed to leave a mark on the game as he came up against Glen Johnson. If Hodgson is to make his selection on form, Sturridge should start for the Three Lions with creative forces such as Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere playing behind the Liverpool man.
A tale of two halves
Liverpool were particularly dominant in midfield in their opening victories over Aston Villa and Stoke City. Unsurprisingly, Brendan Rodgers opted against tinkering with his five-man midfield for the visit of the Premier League champions. David Moyes started with two recognised strikers in the form of Robin van Persie and Welbeck, with the latter dropping onto the left wing. Despite trying to challenge Liverpool’s supremacy in the middle of the pitch, the Reds enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the first half. In particular, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva were first to every ball, winning all the 50/50s, before trying to release Aspas, Philippe Coutinho or Sturridge. Moyes appeared to have resorted to an old trick from Sir Alex Ferguson’s coaching manual with some timely hair-dryer treatment at the interval as United were much-improved in the second half. The defending champions had 16 touches in Simon Mignolet’s area, but aside from Nani’s thunderous attempt, the Belgian was rarely called into action. Although the Reds were disappointing in the second half, Rodgers will be encouraged by his side’s ability to dig deep and defend slender leads this term.
Young selection backfires
Rooney’s late withdrawal through injury handed Ashley Young the chance to impress Moyes at Anfield. The 28-year-old has seen his United career blighted by injuries and the England international missed part of pre-season with yet another set-back. However, Moyes opted to start Young ahead of unpredictable Nani and Antonio Valencia against Liverpool left-back Jose Enrique. Lacking confidence, the Red Devils winger was partly at fault for Sturridge’s opener as he was caught dwelling on the ball and was duly robbed of possession by Jordan Henderson. Young never really recovered from that early set-back and his set-piece delivery was poor and his distribution wayward. The former Aston Villa winger was hauled off midway through the second half. Moyes looks light on quality wide men with Wilfried Zaha inexperienced at Premier League level and Nani reportedly edging towards an Old Trafford exit. United supporters will be hoping for a busy transfer deadline day on Monday.
Liverpool reaching potential
Liverpool have now made their best start to a Premier League campaign since 1994 after a third successive top-flight win (and clean sheet). Perhaps more importantly for the Reds, Rodgers secured his first win against a top-four side as Liverpool manager following his appointment in May 2012. While the 18-time English champions failed to produce the champagne football from the end of the 2012-13 campaign, the Reds have shown enough going forward to suggest that they can be a real force, especially with Luis Suárez still to return from his 10-match suspension. Rodgers will have watched Tottenham Hotspur splurge the best part of £100m on new signings with quiet envy. Spurs will be the favourite to land the fourth and final Champions League spot, but on this showing, the Reds should be in the running until the very end this season.