In an unusual tactical battle David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers selected formations that were, on paper, extremely narrow. Manchester United continued with Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata moving inside into central positions, while Brendan Rodgers persevered with his midfield diamond, featuring Raheem Sterling at the top.
With Liverpool clearly dominating possession in the opening stages, neither side had a reliable attacking strategy. United had no serious counterattacking threat and were unable to feed their centre-forwards but Liverpool's dominance was not necessarily good for their attackers, either. Having grown accustomed to counterattacking at devastating speed, Liverpool did not turn their constant possession into scoring opportunities, and there were few clear-cut chances in the first half.
Nevertheless Liverpool were unquestionably on top throughout the game. Sterling darted from side to side, occupying Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini, which allowed the Liverpool midfielders on the outside of the diamond, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson, into pockets of space between United players. Manchester United's full-backs were reluctant to come out of defence to meet them, primarily because this would open up space for Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez to move into in wider areas, exposing the United centre-backs to pace, something that became more obvious later.
Therefore Liverpool always had simple out-balls – diagonal passes into dangerous zones – but in open play they should have capitalised on these situations more. Neither Allen nor Henderson is naturally creative – Allen's a reliable passer, Henderson an energetic runner in this Liverpool side. Sterling is better at running with the ball than playing the final pass, while Suárez was uncharacteristically wasteful in possession.
Instead Liverpool's success was about constant pressure rather than repeated penetration. They won three penalties, each in wide areas of the box, in the channels. Liverpool could have been awarded at least two more, such was United's nervousness at the back.
This was the old-school Rodgers approach, the strategy from the start of last season: constant pressure through possession, with a belief that the more the opposition tire, the more they make mistakes. Only in the final 20 minutes, when United went chasing the game, did we witness the new-style Liverpool, playing on the break, with Suárez and Sturridge more involved.
Not that United's chasing was particularly nuanced: Moyes waited until the 76th minute before making two substitutions, Tom Cleverley for Fellaini and Danny Welbeck for Januzaj, which changed little. There was no attempt to improve the defensive shape, no substitution to help United cope in midfield and no action taken to change the misfiring front two. Moyes did not appear to understand how to fix United's problems, an analysis which also applies in a much broader sense.