Premier League: Manchester sides' selections were generous to Liverpool's cause

This week saw Liverpool get the better of both their rivals in the neighbouring city. But John Roycroft thinks that the team selections made by the two Manchester managers gave Jurgen Klopp a major advantage.
Premier League: Manchester sides' selections were generous to Liverpool's cause

Manchester United's Harry Maguire and Diogo Dalot look dejected after Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scored the side's second goal at Anfield on Tuesday.

LIVERPOOL play their city derby tomorrow against Everton, probably feeling more optimistic than in decades ahead of a clash with the Stanley Park neighbours. But whatever the resistance the Toffees provide against the Reds, it will unlikley be as generous as the two Manchester sides presented Liverpool over the past week.

In a rather enjoyable week of football for Liverpool fans, the fun started on Sunday with their FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City at Wembley.

Despite the importance of the match, Pep Guardiola put out a weakened side against Liverpool. Indeed, Guardiola made seven changes to the side that did so well to draw 0-0 with Atletico Madrid to advance to the Champions League semi-final.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on the touchline with Gabriel Jesus during the Emirates FA Cup semi-final match at Wembley.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on the touchline with Gabriel Jesus during the Emirates FA Cup semi-final match at Wembley.

Priorities

Guardiola insisted he had no regrets about the team he selected. And to be fair, the toll on City's players to get past Atletico was significantly heavier than what Liverpool experienced in their more or less dead-rubber quarter-final against Benfica.

Nevertheless, some of Guardiola's selection decisions looked bizarre for someone taking the cup tie seriously. Accepting that Kevin de Bruyne, Kyle Walker, and Aymeric Laporte were injured, some of the non-injured absentees raised an eyebrow. Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri were replaced by Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho in midfield with Jack Grealish instead of Riyad Maherz upfront. That left us scratching our heads, especially in light of the weaker Nathan Ake, in for Laporte, in the rear and Raheem Sterling being pushed forward instead of the in-form Phil Foden, leaving City objectively weaker by their manager’s selection.

Then there was the questionable inclusion of Zack Steffen in goal. The 27-year-old American was dropped in at the deep end of an FA Cup semi-final after playing only one match with City, with only American MLS as his genuine experience. Getting caught in possession on the goalline for Sadio Mané's goal will be a recurring nightmare for the unfortunate keeper long after his time in English football. Was it really necessary to rest Ederson in the No1 position, even if he had a busy night in Madrid midweek?

Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen looks on as an error leads to Liverpool's Sadio Mane (left) scoring their side's second goal during the Emirates FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium, London. 
Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen looks on as an error leads to Liverpool's Sadio Mane (left) scoring their side's second goal during the Emirates FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium, London. 

Whatever Guardiola says, City were not taking the FA Cup seriously. Now they didn't step out on the hallowed Wembley turf with the intention to lose but the side selected were nowhere near capable of bringing down a Liverpool side that were really up for the job.

City were lucky to be only three down at half-time and while they did a lot better in the second half, they really didn't put a fright on Liverpool until Silva's injury-time strike.

Guardiola's priorities remain the Premier League and most important of all, the Champions League. 

The FA Cup was a luxury his battle-weary troops were not eager to take on, with a tough Premier League run-in and Real Madrid awaiting in the Champions League semi-final.

Really Ralf?

While the Guardiola decisions are understandable in the broader context of the remaining season. The decision process behind Ralf Rangnick's team selection for Manchester United's visit to Anfield on Tuesday night is harder to understand.

Not since Brendan Rodgers waved the white flag with his famously pathetic Liverpool Champions League selection against Real Madrid back in 2014 has a side so clearly shown that they were not up for the task ahead of them.

To be fair to Rodgers, he was preserving players for a Premier League push. And they still put up a fight. What was the reason behind Rangnick’s team selection when they are supposedly in a desperate fight for a fourth-place finish is something far harder to understand.

Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick in the dugout during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. 
Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick in the dugout during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. 

Rangnick elected to go for a five-man backline in Manchester United’s trip to Anfield, explaining that the formation should "provide the right balance to take on Liverpool".

Why Rangnick couldn't see a back-line constituting of Diogo Dalot, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof and Wan-Bissaka was not an open invitation to Liverpool to swarm all over them in on the counter-attack seems beyond understanding for the average football fan. It must also be remembered, a fit Eric Bailly sat, unused, on the bench for the entirety of the game.

Injuries to midfielders Fred and Scott McTominay, and centre back Raphael Varane, saw Rangnick justify the inclusion of Phil Jones, by saying, "we need the best possible balance of being stable defensively, with enough players behind the ball, to try to be proactive in winning balls but at the same time have some threats in the transitional moments."

Really?

Well, the game played out as predictably as anyone who read that line-up could easily have foretold.

Liverpool moved the ball around midfield like they were playing a schoolboy side, while the United defence looked like they were racing Usain Bolt, so far off the pace they were whenever Liverpool put a through ball between their lines.

United and Rangnick went to Anfield hoping that if they put enough men behind the ball they wouldn't get a beating, maybe hold on for a draw. But that mindset rarely works, especially in a rivalry between such big clubs. And it got the result it deserved.

The only question for Liverpool was why did they not score more?

Liverpool will be the favourites to beat Everton tomorrow, but they should remain wary as they are unlikely to face a side set up as favourably to their tactics as both Manchester sides provided them last week.

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