For the first time in a long time, Manchester United have been forced to watch a title race instead of challenging in one. That’s been even more difficult to stomach given that fierce rivals Liverpool are among the leading contenders this season.
And it’s for that reason that United can learn a valuable lesson from Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers.
Ending the 2011/12 season in eighth place, Liverpool sacked club legend Kenny Dalglish, despite his side winning the League Cup and reaching the FA Cup final. It was a bold move but one that has paid off given what Rodgers has achieved since his appointment.
So when Rodgers’ team cruised to one of the easiest victories seen at Old Trafford in recent memory, winning by three goals to nil, it served as a timely reminder that there should be no room for sentiment in football—especially not in the corporate, money-guzzling beast that it has become in recent years.
Sir Alex Ferguson made a habit of putting together unbeaten runs, winning 25 of the first 30 games last season. His sides were typically stronger in the second half of the campaign. And with just five games to go in the first season after the Scot’s retirement, Liverpool are on a nine-game winning streak.
It’s worth pointing out that Liverpool finished seventh last season, but there’s no doubt that they look the real deal under Rodgers. That’s reinforced by the fact that they haven’t spent considerably in the last few transfer windows.
And Liverpool are now reaping the rewards of their bold move in appointing Rodgers, with Managing Director Ian Ayre heaping praise on the Northern Irishman this week when he spoke to BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek:
When we changed our manager to Brendan Rodgers we looked at starting again and a different style. The football we play I think is not only appreciated by our fans but by neutrals. It is exciting and dynamic football and everyone is pleased with the results.
He is great to deal with and we have a fantastic relationship. I think his biggest asset is his ability to work individually with players. He is a very personable manager. I know he spends a lot of time with them individually and then importantly brings them together as a team.
Brendan, very importantly, understands the ethos of this football club, what it stands for and the history. He has made a fantastic start to what hopefully is a long career. We would all love Brendan to be there for a long time.
Ayre’s direct mention of seeking a new style is precisely what United can learn from Liverpool’s appointment of Rodgers.
David Moyes’ style, regardless of results, is not conducive to the “exciting and dynamic football” that Ayre so proudly talks of at Liverpool.
Contrary to popular opinion, United’s home fixture versus Bayern Munich was the perfect game for Moyes.
He set up conservatively in order to avoid a heavy defeat —quite rightly, too—and it was a game that allowed Moyes to play safe. He could get away with playing defensively due to the opposition.
And that’s important because it’s been in United’s other big games, against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and, of course, Liverpool, that he has struggled to make an impact. United have only scored two goals in those six league fixtures, when they managed 11 last season.
It’s when Moyes has to win games that his weaknesses come to the fore. Far too many times this season United have looked poor in possession; there has been no elan to their play.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are free-scoring in a system that allows their best players to flourish. They are clearly set up to ensure that the likes of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling see plenty of the ball. The same cannot be said at United, where Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa have been played out of position on a number of occasions.
What Would Happen If United ‘Did a Liverpool’?
Sacking Moyes and appointing a manager who can deliver attractive, free-flowing football is an option for United this summer but one that is rather unlikely.
If they did go down that route, however, then Jurgen Klopp would be a perfect replacement—regardless of whether he would be available or not. With his Borussia Dortmund side struggling to cope with losing key players, and with Robert Lewandowski set to leave for an already dominant Bayern Munich side, Klopp might be tempted to consider his options. And he could deliver the style that United fans crave.
Few managers would have wanted to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson but plenty would be happy to take over from David Moyes.
Liverpool took a risk in firing Dalglish, but they went about things in the right way. They demanded a style of football that would help them climb up the Premier League table, and they’ve got exactly that.
Expectations at United seem lessened under Moyes, but with the club set to finish outside the top three for the first time in the Premier League era, there should be no room for sentiment.
The club’s hierarchy may have good intentions in backing Moyes after tying him down to a six-year contract, but it’s glaringly obvious that there is a distinct lack of style with the Scot in charge.
A top four finish next season would be heralded as an achievement when, really, United’s core identity has always been to win.
Perhaps United could learn a lesson from Liverpool and ensure that they pick the right manager, not just the most convenient one.