Goals from Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino leave Manchester United needing to overturn a two-goal deficit next week at Old Trafford.
Manchester United were beaten by Liverpool in the first leg of their last-16 Europa League tie. The home side have the upper hand after taking a 2-0 lead. United were dominated in every aspect of the game, and the team accepted the defeat without giving a fight.
Louis van Gaal shuffled the side that suffered defeat against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. The likes of Guillermo Varela, Morgan Schneiderlin, Maraoune Fellaini and Memphis Depay came back into the starting XI.
There were a number of negatives from the game and not too many positives. Here are five talking points from the defeat at Anfield on Thursday night.
David De Gea is the only world-class player in the squad
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United could have suffered even more embarrassment on Thursday night if Real Madrid had finalised the De Gea transfer in the summer. The Spaniard was at his best against Liverpool.
He made remarkable saves to keep his side in the tie. He showed great reflexes to save close-range shots from Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana. He almost saved the penalty as he went to the right side and got his fingertips on the ball.
De Gea is the only player in the current United team who can easily walk into the starting XI of the best sides in the world. The Spaniard continues to deliver stellar performances game after game but is let down by his teammates. If United miss out on Champions League football next season, there is a huge chance that De Gea will move to the Spanish capital.
A much-needed return from Bastian Schweinsteiger
The German captain was a shock inclusion in the matchday squad yesterday. Schweinsteiger has been out for two months with a knee injury, which he suffered against Sheffield United in January. United have missed Schweinsteiger’s leadership in his absence. He was able to get 15 minutes of play against Liverpool, but he showed the drive in the midfied in those minutes that United were missing the whole game.
The German has showed his experience and gritty attitude in games against Leicester City and Watford, where he helped his team to salvage four points. With a run of season-defining games, United will be happy with the return of the former Bayern Munich midfielder.
Younger players are more motivated and determined than senior players
The three wins in a week against Shrewsbury Town, FC Midtjylland and Arsenal gave hope to United fans that the season could be revived. The two consecutive defeats have undone all that good work. Van Gaal had many senior players back for selection in the last two games and the majority have let him down. The senior players shown little passion and determination on the pitch – the team were playing cautious football even after going two goals down.
The younger players, on the other hand, try to take more risks in the final third. Van Gaal needs to motivate the senior players or play the younger players who are more energetic.
Van Gaal still does not know his best midfield pairing
The Dutchman is still not able to get his midfield selection right this season. He started the game with Fellaini and Schneiderlin in the holding positions. The former Saints midfielder needs a better passer with him as he breaks the opponent’s play and initiates the attacks. Fellaini is better playing higher up the pitch than in a defensive role.
Michael Carrick continues to regress, so Van Gaal is not able to get a run of games with a good midfield pair. The likes of Emre Can and Jordan Henderson dominated the midfield for Liverpool due to a lack of chemistry and communication between Schneiderlin and Fellaini. Van Gaal needs to fix a pair and start them over a number of games to get the act together.
Varela continues to shine at right-back
Apart from De Gea, the only player who impressed for the Red Devils was the Uruguayan right-back. The 22-year-old was not at his best but did his defensive job perfectly and contained Coutinho. Matteo Darmian has been disappointing lately, despite making a good start in Premier League. This has helped Varela to stamp his authority in the first team.
Van Gaal should stick with Varela for the upcoming games as it will increase the confidence of the defender, and he will develop well. He is also better at crossing and links up well with Jesse Lingard on the right flank, so the Dutchman should allow this partnership to flourish in the upcoming games.
In a dreadful game for United, there were three positives: De Gea’s form, Schweinsteiger’s return and Varela’s display in defence. In contrast, the performances of some senior players were a cause for concern, while it appears that Van Gaal does not yet know his best midfield.