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Alan Hansen's tactical view

Alan Hansen
Alan Hansen
BBC Match of the Day pundit

Liverpool have been criticised for their lack of width this season and although they improved that aspect against Manchester United on Saturday, the victory was down to a fantastic pressing game.

After the first 25 minutes it looked like Manchester United were the only team that would win it. They were passing and moving fantastically and Dimitar Berbatov looked like he was going to have a dream debut.

But, eventually, Liverpool disrupted the flow of United's game, they pressed them quicker in all areas of the pitch and did not give them the time and space to play. Basically they made United play badly.

Robbie Keane was instrumental in everything Liverpool did in terms of closing down. He didn't have a great game in possession but his work-rate was unbelievable.

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It is a long time since I've seen Manchester United pass the ball so badly, and play so badly in the second half, but ultimately that was down to Liverpool.

You could argue maybe there was a bit of complacency there. At certain times during the first half an hour it was quite easy for Manchester United to move the ball from front to back without any pressure on the ball but once Liverpool got in their faces they didn't react.

I'm sure Sir Alex Ferguson was going crazy at half-time because they had the game won initially and he would have gone ballistic because he knew they were on the back foot. Once you let it go it's very difficult to get it back.

Liverpool got a bit of luck for the first goal when the ball rebounded off Wes Brown and it was a Ryan Giggs mistake for the winner but in the last 20 minutes they looked like the only team who could win it. It was some turnaround.

The fact that they won without Fernando Torres and, for the large part Steven Gerrard, makes the victory even better. The character of the players showed they could compete but it's very, very difficult to play that way every week.

It would tend to be a one-off, given the effort and commitment they put in, particularly after an international break. But to do it without their two best players speaks volumes for the players who started.

Berbatov and Liverpool's left winger Albert Riera were both making their first starts for their new clubs and you would have to say Riera did better.

Riera was important in the wide areas of the final third of the pitch, as was Ryan Babel when he came on. The debutant was able to go at people, more importantly go past them, and he produced balls into the box which were really difficult to defend against. That's what Liverpool have been missing this season.

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I thought Wes Brown initially had the measure of Riera but as time went on, he got more confidence and he was involved more and more.

Berbatov had a bright start, making the goal for Tevez from a great pull back, and he had one or two lovely little touches.

But then Jamie Carragher whacked him a couple of times, one a great challenge on the edge of the box, and he was never to be seen again. He is a quality player but he was indicative of how Manchester United performed.

Although Wayne Rooney and Anderson played wide, when Manchester United got the ball in the first half they were both quick to go and support Berbatov and Tevez but when Liverpool were in possession then you could see the 4-4-2 formation coming back.

On Wednesday against Croatia, you saw Rooney play in his favourite position and he was brilliant but he was rigid in the formation. Unfortunately he isn't a right-sided midfield player.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Alistair Magowan

If that sounds defensive I would say that none of the so-called 'big four' teams go away against the other three and attack. If Chelsea or Arsenal come to Liverpool they would play a solid formation too.

For me, however, the pressing and the closing down that Liverpool showed was the key and that comes from the manager, Rafa Benitez. His tactics won at the end of the day.

It was a massive win and it gives Liverpool and their supporters massive confidence after the first three matches when everybody was still a bit suspicious as to the way they were playing.

It's a setback for Manchester United but Ferguson is wise enough to know that it makes little difference to their title challenge.

It makes little difference to Liverpool's title challenge either. For me it's still between Manchester United and Chelsea but it gives Liverpool a position that, if they can keep progressing, then come February or March they are in with a chance of challenging.

After the international break you don't usually get a match like that, the quality and entertainment was just so high compared to other matches we've seen between the top four.

In fact, it was probably the best game we've seen at Anfield between Liverpool and Manchester United in the last six or seven years.

Alan Hansen was speaking to Alistair Magowan


see also
Liverpool 2-1 Man Utd
13 Sep 08 |  Premier League
Carragher elated after vital win
13 Sep 08 |  Liverpool
How to watch Match of the Day
08 Oct 07 |  Match of the Day


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