By Kelvin YapFollow @@plevyakin
The match was a battle both on and off the pitch as Sir Alex Ferguson and Brendan Rodgers both made significant changes to their formation for this match.
A fit Antonio Valencia was on the bench and left United with one orthodox winger, Ashley Young, in the starting eleven. Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa, Robin van Persie all started but did not line up as expected on the pitch.
Kagawa's natural position was in the ‘hole' behind the striker, Young primarily plays down the left wing, Van Persie and Welbeck have been known to play as strikers but are capable of playing as make-shift left wingers. Logically speaking, it was expected for the in-form Van Persie to lead the line, Young to play on the right, Welbeck to go down the left and Kagawa to slot in behind the striker.
However, Kagawa was surprisingly shifted out to the left while Welbeck played as a second striker, slightly behind and to the left of Van Persie in a formation that at times seemed more like a 4-2-2-2 than a 4-2-3-1.
As for Liverpool, Stewart Downing was deployed down the right wing, possibly to provide the less-experienced Andre Wisdom cover as Rodgers probably anticipated him to go up against Ashley Young.
Rodgers put out a deep three-man midfield. Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen were tasked to mark Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick respectively while Lucas tucked back to sweep up the area - this strategy to control the midfield by crowding it is one that Rodgers frequently uses.
However, the Reds showed very little attacking intent from the start, mainly due to United's high pressing which pushed the midfield trio very deep into their own half.
This, combined with hesitancy on the overlap from Glen Johnson and Andre Wisdom, hinted that Rodgers anticipated going up against a wide-playing 4-2-3-1 , rather than a United with three narrow midfielders in front of their defensive line.
Suarez, Downing and Sterling tracked back deep to pick up the ball, but only Sterling made any headway. Downing lacked the ability to go past players while Suarez was crowded out in the middle. And, Sterling only managed one shot, off target, for Liverpool in the first half.
United's narrow midfield
Manchester United dominated the first half in terms of chances (they had eight shots, as compared to Liverpool's one) despite having only 52% of possession.
They had three main things going right for them - their narrowness up front, Liverpool's poor pressing and their own high pressing game in Liverpool's half.
Kagawa and Young were the wingers in this match, but played more like attacking midfielders, cutting in early and providing passing options for their team mates without getting too tied up by the full backs. When United needed width down the flank, it came from their full backs, rather than their wingers.
In a sense, United outdid Liverpool in crowding out the midfield.
Combined with Liverpool's midfielders being already occupied, as mentioned earlier, the extra passing options and space helped United find a route into Liverpool's final third easily.
The passing sequence that led to United's goal was a great example of the plan - Cleverley acted as a base for the passes, Welbeck and Kagawa made crossing runs, which left Evra free down the wide channel to send in the low cross for Van Persie.
Different pressing games
There was little pressing from the front from Liverpool because Raheem Sterling and Downing were both very wide when high up the pitch. Suarez worked hard in chasing down passes from the deep, but realised it was futile.
He was seen in the first half on camera waving towards Downing to tuck in from the flank after failing to even get near the ball despite chasing down Ferdinand and Vidic by himself.
The idea was to make sure United don't launch attacks from the flanks, but it failed as United went up via the middle instead, simply because they had more passing options there.
Carrick in particular was having a superb game in the middle, mainly due to poor pressing in midfield from Allen. Allen was always near Carrick, but did not have the physical presence nor speed to trouble the United man.
Without pressing from Liverpool on the United defence, Carrick had easy passing options in either direction.
In contrast, United could have also grabbed a few more goals in the first half after forcing errors from Liverpool in their own half with excellent pressing from Welbeck, Van Persie, Kagawa and Young.
This justified Welbeck's position in the middle - his speed and tenacity in the middle area in front of Liverpool's defence helped United close down space very quickly and forced the defenders to make quick passes into the flank, where the United players would then push in and force the error.
Rodgers' intent to build up play from defence played right into that strategy - there were three occasions where United managed to intercept the ball, only to be foiled by desperate defending.
Rodgers changes the plan
Rodger changed the shape of his team at half time, bringing on Daniel Sturridge for Lucas, while Suarez continued dropping deep to pick up the pass.
It sacrificed a defensive shield for an extra passing option up front, which was a worthy trade since they were already on the back foot either way.
Tellingly, the free kick which led to Vidic's goal was conceded when Welbeck was fouled by Skrtel - Lucas would have been picking him up if he was still on the pitch to create a two-on-one situation instead.
On the other hand, Suarez dropping deep to pick up the ball meant that either Cleverley or Carrick had to drop back with him as Ferdinand and Vidic couldn't leave Sturridge on a one-on-one situation at the back.
The biggest change was that Gerrard and Allen had more time on the ball and their influence on the game grew.
Sturridge's goal was evidence of the changes working - Gerrard pushed high up the pitch and won the ball off Carrick. Vidic and Ferdinand stood off the skipper, being too wary of Suarez as an open passing option, and Gerrard's shot was parried into Sturridge's path.
It was a game of two halves - United were superior in the first half, Liverpool were the better team in the second half.
This game showed that Ferguson still has the tactical nous to outmanoeuvre his fellow managers by switching up the game plan. United's versatility is clearly their strength, especially with the players playing in different positions than expected.
As for Liverpool, this may signal an upturn in their season. They ended the game with three strikers (Suarez, Borini and Sturridge) on the pitch, a luxury that they did not have two weeks ago. All three of them have the ability to play different roles up front, which may open up a whole new cache of possibilities for Rodgers to toy with.
And again, it also showed Rodgers' tactical ability to adapt and change the game plan according to the match, similar to what he did against Chelsea.
Kelvin will be analysing a Premier League match every week in Tactics Watch. You can reach him by following his twitter account @plevyakin for more tactical insights and football updates.