Manchester United’s victory against Liverpool on Monday has certainly sent shockwaves across Europe.
After a dismal opening game against Brighton and a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Brentford, no one expected United to produce a result against Champions League finalists, Liverpool, even though the Reds themselves were not firing on all cylinders.
But Jurgen Klopp’s men were thoroughly outplayed at Old Trafford as United emerged 2-1 victors despite a late surge led by Mo Salah.
Perhaps apart from the Egyptian’s instinctive finish at De Gea’s near post, the whole team were due heavy criticism for the lack of desire and intensity in their performance.
While the absences of Thiago and Darwin Nunez in midfield and attack respectively meant that Liverpool would be short-staffed in those departments, the sheer brittle nature of the defence remains to be justified.
Liverpool’s stalwart defender Virgil van Dijk was to blame for allowing Jadon Sancho to take his time and pick out the bottom left corner for the first goal while his centre-back partner Joe Gomez similarly played a role in United’s second goal as he played Marcus Rashford onside.
Apart from these specific errors, the usually reliable duo seemed off-colour as VVD was dribbled past more than thrice by Anthony Martial while Gomez was constantly bullied by a spirited Anthony Elanga.
Following the dreadful away performance, the pair were critiqued for the many mistakes made at Old Trafford with Sky Sports pundit Tim Sherwood even suggesting that the VVD-Gomez duo should be discontinued by Liverpool.
Speaking alongside the Sky Sports panel that was reacting to the Monday night game, the former Spurs manager advised the Reds to not pair the two defenders for their future games.
“The partnership with Gomez just doesn’t work. In their own right, they are two very, very good players. But together it hasn’t worked,” stated the Englishman on air.
But that is the problem because it has worked in the past. Keeping aside Liverpool’s astonishing 7-2 drubbing at the hands of Aston Villa in 2020, the English side has predominantly seen success when Van Dijk and Gomez have started in defence.
Between the close of their title-winning campaign in 2019/20 and the early part of the subsequent season, the VVD-Gomez partnership flourished and brought great stability to the Liverpool defence until both players were lost to injuries until the summer of 2021.
In this context, Sherwood’s comments appear to be an exaggeration based on the cherry-picking of performances in a few specific games.
Moreover, this is not the first time that the 53-year-old has dished out controversial takes. After he criticized Sergio Reguilon for his lack of Premier League experience while signing for Tottenham in 2020, Sherwood received heavy backlash from the footballing community for his PL-biased views.
The Englishman once again drew flak for another opinion on his former team’s transfers after he predicted Spurs’ January signing of Rodrigo Bentancur to be a bad deal for the north London side.
But the Uruguayan has remained a regular name for manager Antonio Conte and his impressive performances in midfield have proven Sherwood wrong yet again.
It is granted that both Van Dijk and Gomez were far from their best selves against Man United on Monday however, displacing a successful formula based on knee-jerk reactions is certainly not the way ahead for Liverpool or any top side in Europe.
While Sherwood’s take on the defence seems to be such a quick response to poor performance, change is nonetheless required at Anfield.
A fresher and younger midfield seems to be needed alongside a quick overturn in morale which would allow Liverpool to get past the shaky start to the season and get back to the top half of the table.