Defensive frailties knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup

Liverpool could not hold on to multiple leads as they were left to rue missed chances.
Manchester United v Liverpool - Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final
Manchester United v Liverpool - Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final / Michael Regan/GettyImages

Coming out of Sunday's FA Cup Quarter-final, Liverpool dropped a devastating loss to Manchester United 3-4 in 120 minutes.

Despite Jurgen Klopp dispatching a stronger starting XI to achieve Liverpool’s quadruple-title ambition, Manchester United’s exceptional performance in its home stadium, Old Trafford, obviously deserves the win today around the Red Army’s applause.

Although it's hard to put too much blame on Liverpool since the players have been fighting relentlessly under pressures of various kinds during the season so far, the whole team must take some lessons and seek improvements from this tough loss, which at least would benefit them to pursue another three titles in the future.

I have some observations to be taken from the match and I'll dive into some details.

Awkward Situation on The First Half

Entering the pitch, Man United showcased its unexpected strength and quality on defense. Playing similarly to Liverpool’s usual style, the opponent drilled higher pressing at the front, endeavoring to contract space for Liverpool to make passes and organize its most adept fast come-back plays from the back.

It seemed like Liverpool could only make slightly effective play by goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who used a hand serve to deliver a long pass to Luiz Diaz in the 35th minute to produce a threat.

The fragile defensive look also offered opportunities for Man United, which set the tone early with an opening goal in the first half.

Giving the space for Marcus Rushford to hold the ball on the left flank, he orchestrated with Bruno Fernandes, suddenly penetrated a through pass to Alejandro Garnacho who passed by two Liverpool defenders.

Seeing his strike being blocked by Kelleher, Liverpool still couldn't find one or more secondary defenders to prevent Scott McTominay’s final touch through the net. 

Despite Liverpool’s later two goals temporarily turning the tide, Man United had a 1.69 expected goal (xG) with 11 shots (seven on target) and two big chances. Liverpool only recorded 1.15xG while shooting on-target six of ten shots.

Offensive Prowess Revives

Liverpool has the capability to come back from adversities, which has happened multiple times this season.

The two goals later in the first half became the first turning point of the match, whereas Alexis Mac Allister, who has contributed eight goals in eight straight competitions, and Mo Salah, who racked up one goal and three assists in the 6-1 win over Sparta Prague of Europa League Round of 16 on March 15. 

The reviving offensive prowess successfully unsettled Man United’s pace. Liverpool regained possession and dominance early in the second half as the opponent loosened its defensive line aiming to concentrate on goals.

Playing in only his third start following the February absence, Dominik Szoboszlai demonstrated active movements back and forth, registering some threatening passes and shots to help the team facilitate the offense.

Moreover, as Liverpool migrated its battle line to the front later this half, the team consecutively created corner chances to extend its lead.

Defensive Breakdowns Allow Man United to Steal the Victory

The alternation of offense doesn’t mean a determination of the match. At least this time, Liverpool is not the lucky one and has to pay the cost of their defensive weakness.

Turning to the 86th, while Wataru Endo and McTominay were in a 50-50 battle for the ball, Cody Gakpo’s slow-motion tackle bounced the ball to the opposite direction, resulting in a critical game-tight ball from Antony that secured an extra 30-minute period.

More frighteningly, Man United could seal off a win in regulation if Rashford took the chance in the last second.

During stoppage time, Liverpool found itself struggling to clear off the danger as the Red Devils approached the net with the ball, which led to another threatening expected-goal chance from the Erikson-Rashford connection in the 93rd minute.

Despite Harvey Elliott’s heroic contribution in extra time, Liverpool didn’t elevate its defensive strength and continuously committed mistakes as Man United utilized a two-man defense, forcing Liverpool to drop possession.

Man United, who was disadvantaged with passing accuracy, produced a higher 74% in the second part of the extra time whereas the team added two more goals in the 116th and 120th minute.

Those mistakes, including Darwin Nunez’s awful pass and Elliott’s turnover of the ball, gifted Man United’s last two goals to bury Liverpool.

It was a frustrating match to watch as Liverpool were on the wrong end of a nail-biter for perhaps the first time all season long.