Thursday 22 February 2018

Under-whelming Henderson and the enigma of Fellaini - Five things we learned from United victory

Ashley Young challenges for the ball with Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson
Ashley Young challenges for the ball with Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson

Alistair Tweedale

The Red Devils moved six points clear of their Merseyside rivals after victory at Anfield and here is what we learned from the encounter.

Wayne Rooney really is on form

Prior to this game, Rooney’s run of scoring in three consecutive games could barely be referred to as form given how desperately poor he had been for so much of the campaign.

However, his winner here takes his tally to five goals in his last four games and he can now claim to be on form – something he hasn’t been in an awfully long time. Three of those five have been match-winning goals and another might well have been if his team-mates had managed to defend multiple leads at Newcastle.

Wayne Rooney (left) celebrates his goal against Liverpool

It has been a difficult season for Rooney in which many people questioned whether he had anything left of worth to give. However, in the past few weeks he has found his feet and could play a huge role in the run-in as United mount a challenge for the top four.

Match possession

Henderson is still some way from his best

A (somewhat forgotten) feature of Liverpool’s ultimately unsuccessful 2013/14 title charge was the lung-busting drives from midfield of Jordan Henderson. He – and of course Liverpool – have not been the same since, but one might have thought that his tireless running might mean he could thrive in Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpress.

He should be allowed some patience given his recent problems with injury but on current showings he may struggle to get his place back in the England team. He had a handful of chances of which the Henderson of old would surely have taken at least one. Liverpool could do with him finding form, and soon.

Van Gaal sees something in Fellaini that we cannot

What it is exactly that Marouane Fellaini adds to Manchester United is beyond the best of us. It was apparent that Louis van Gaal wanted the big Belgian as someone to look long for in an attempt to bypass Liverpool’s high press but that bore no fruit.

Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini, pictured, has supported under-fire Louis van Gaal

He provided an aerial presence – and headed onto the crossbar for Rooney’s goal – but struggled terribly when it came to retaining possession high up the pitch. He can be a dangerous player but surely a club like United should be able to approach games in a way that does not involve hitting it long to Fellaini. Van Gaal might just be the only person who would persist with his continued selection.

This rivalry still means as much to the fans

This fixture might now lack any of the importance it once held in terms of the title race years but the rivalry still burns strong in the terraces. The quality of the football isn’t what it once was and that might have affected the pace of the game, but this collection of multi-million pound signings showed only a fraction of the passion that would have accompanied this fixture a decade ago.

There was a competitive bite to the tackles flying in early on but the game slowed right down as the players settled. All the while, both sets of fans were in fine voice throughout and credit to them for making their own fun, alongside Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones, who were all pictured in the away end.

Liverpool need shooting practice

David De Gea produced a few fine saves to keep Liverpool at bay but the hosts need to make their dominance count in games like this. They concocted some very good chances but their shooting was too often wayward.

Only the nigh-on hopeless Aston Villa have a worse conversion rate in this season’s Premier League than Liverpool, and Jurgen Klopp could do with finding a functional eleven that includes Christian Benteke. The striker has not had the best of times at Anfield but we know well that he scores goals when given a run of games.

This has been one of Liverpool’s worst ever seasons so far in terms of goals scored, and Klopp’s desperation is patent, with the German again putting centre-back Steven Caulker on up front.

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