More than anything else, Liverpool winning the Northwest derby was brought on thanks to their defensive strengths, and not the scoring ability of Daniel Sturridge. Even with Daniel Agger missing his usual partner at centre back, the ability of Simon Mignolet radiated confidence everywhere, not to mention being at the right place at the right time whenever his heroics are needed.
Having Kolo Toure injured a few days before the match, thrusting Martin Skrtel back into the lineup after it was quite clear Brendan Rodgers didn’t want anything to do with him; that’s not exactly the recipe for a calm and quiet afternoon defensively, especially when Robin van Persie is coming for a visit.
But Liverpool put just enough men for enough time on defense, enjoyed a little bit of luck for the moments when Van Persie did manage to slip away, and had Mignolet in perfect form. He didn’t make any outstanding saves like in the first two matches of the season, but he was quite busy, and unlike his predecessor at the job, he didn’t make any mistakes that led to goals.
But there as more than just goalkeeping in this performance. Daniel Agger, who had a rough season last year in which he had to cover up for the weaknesses of his partners, had his finest performance in a very long time, keeping Robin van Persie at bay thanks to some dirty tactics (really got into the Dutchman’s head) and simply astute marking and positioning.
Steven Gerrard wasn’t part of anything attacking that was happening. The moment Liverpool scored the early goal, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas were left to fend on their own, with Jordan Henderson, occasionally, forgetting about his defensive assignments on the wing and joining the attack.
But in general, it was mostly about defense from Liverpool. There was never any rush moving the ball forward, and when they did, very few people actually joined Sturridge, with Aspas and Coutinho making way for Luis Alberto and Raheem Sterling. Fearing of exposing themselves too much against a team that’s still stronger than them, Liverpool preferred relying on a strength they didn’t have last season.
With Luis Suarez things will probably look a little bit different. It’s hard to say at the expense of which player he would have found himself on the pitch, but the ineffective play of Aspas so far is quite a strong hint. The Spaniard is playing behind the striker, probably something he doesn’t like to do, but Philippe Coutinho, a better player than him, works better on the left, which leaves Aspas in the middle but without any playmaking responsibilities, and amid two players like Sturridge and Coutinho who don’t really love to pass to others.
A first win over United in over two years; a first perfect start after three matches since 1994. Things are kicking off well for the Rodgers project 2.0. How long can this last? Liverpool don’t have the depth to be this successful for too long, but they have the ability to beat the best the Premier League has to offer, and the tactical discipline and defensive strength to pull through on their weaker days, which is very different from the last couple of seasons.