Liverpool-Man United Verdict: Second-Rate Reds Must Go Back To Drawing Board

Games against Manchester United are the truest gauges of where Liverpool stands and in which direction it’s heading.

Liverpool’s 3-1 loss to Manchester United on Saturday at Old Trafford was sobering, at best, and frightening in a more realistic sense. The manner of the Reds’ defeat speaks louder than the two-goal final deficit against an unquestionably average Manchester United side.

Liverpool didn’t play well in the beginning, middle or end of the game. It owned no spells and ceded control to Manchester United from start to finish. Christian Benteke’s wonder-strike was the Reds’ sole moment of genuine quality in their dreadful performance over 90 minutes.

Reasons for such a performance exist, as do mitigating factors, but none will soften the blows of cold, hard facts: Liverpool performed proficiently from a physical standpoint — fans expect nothing less at this early stage of the season — but simply was second-rate technically, tactically and mentally.

Manager Brendan Rodgers probably would disregard this performance as a one-off if he could but he doesn’t have that luxury, given the Reds’ showing in their previous game — a 3-0 home loss to West Ham.

Liverpool’s encouraging start to the season now seems like ages ago, and the two-week international break isn’t to blame. Liverpool shut out its first three opponents, earning two wins and a draw out, but has conceded six goals in the last two games. The goalkeeper and back line haven’t changed all season, but they’re demonstrating far less confidence now than they did out of the gate.

Dejan Lovren might not be over his nightmare against West Ham. Joe Gomez, 18, showed signs of his inexperience and expected drop in form when he felled Ander Herrera in the second half, conceding a 70th-minute penalty kick the Manchester United midfielder would convert a minute later. Anthony Martial burned Martin Skrtel on Manchester United’s third goal. At least two of four Liverpool defenders have question marks over their heads regarding their long-term places in Rodgers’ best 11.

The absences of Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana were glaring against Manchester United. Liverpool lacked drive, pressing intensity and composure on the ball in the midfield. Coutinho should return for Liverpool’s next game, but we still don’t know how Lallana and Henderson, the club captain, will be out.

And we still haven’t mentioned Liverpool’s anemic attack. Rodgers’ bemoaned his players’ lack of quality on the ball against Manchester United. They weren’t much better in the previous four games. Liverpool has scored just three goals in five games, and one of them was dubious, according to the Premier League.

When Daniel Sturridge finally returns to action, will he even receive the service required to make him the potent attacking force he was before last season? Or will Sturridge have to feed off Benteke’s knock-downs?

Rodgers’ Liverpool must put things right and answer several questions. The problem is they don’t have much time and space to do so, as Liverpool’s UEFA Europa League campaign begins Thursday with a visit to French club Bordeaux. The Reds then will play four consecutive games at Anfield before jetting across Stanley Park to face local rival Everton.

The short-handed Reds didn’t show much of anything good against Manchester United. They must re-imagine themselves and start transforming themselves into the team they want to be in order to fulfill their goals for the season — a top-four finish and victory in one of the cups — before it’s too late.

Liverpool-Man United Wrap: Reds wilt before sprouting >>

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Thumbnail photo via Marouane Fellaini and Lucas Leiva.

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