The Liverpool team which went down 3-1 with a whimper at Old Trafford was hardly recognisable from the 2013/14 vintage that decimated the hosts 3-0, but strangely enough, the manager is still the same.
It’s worth noting that Manchester United are an altogether sturdier beast under Louis van Gaal than the transitional side David Moyes struggled to stamp an identity on during an anomaly of a season for the Red Devils.
Even so, Van Gaal’s current cohort would probably have been underdogs against the slick, pace-abundant side Brendan Rodgers’ travelled to Manchester in charge of two seasons ago.
Exactly what has changed at Liverpool is complex. For starters only one of the three stooges at the apex of that fluid forward line still remains at the club and Daniel Sturridge hasn’t been in showroom condition ever since.
Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling sought moves to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively a year apart, but while the finger of blame can be wagged at Rodgers for the latter’s acrimonious exit, it’s an abandonment of attacking principles grinding Liverpool fans’ gears far more.
As shrewd Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville pointed out on his Monday Night Football slot, the Reds are no longer armed with anything resembling the devastating pace going forward which was that side’s trademark.
Rodgers has bought several other forwards since, not least shelling out just north of £60m on Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino (and not forgetting Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli beforehand), yet neither are blessed with speed.
Kudos must go to Benteke for his wonder goal at United and general hold-up play in his early Reds showings, but so far Rodgers’ side have been far too pedestrian and heavily reliant on the creative spark of Philippe Coutinho, missing at Old Trafford of course.
This Liverpool team are not penetrating sides at all, when they used to go through defences like torpedoes through rubber dinghies.
With Sturridge nearing a return there is scope for improvement in this respect, but it’s a big if, given the striker’s recent track record of injuries.
There are also players such as Danny Ings and Divock Origi, who do have a certain amount of pace in their lockers along with the slightly mercurial figure of Adam Lallana.
However, with Jurgen Klopp still at large in the managerial market, it feels like Rodgers must relocate his recipe book sooner rather than later.
With former Reds midfielder and prominent pundit Dietmar Hamann talking up Klopp’s “perfect fit” to the Anfield post, it won’t take too many more results, but more pertinently performances, for the discord to escalate.
Had the former Swansea man delivered something silver in his three years then it may be different, especially the Premier League title the club craves.
The ice is growing ever thinner though, as his odds of 5/2 to be the next top-flight boss out of a job suggests.
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