Some games are a lot more about cool things individual players do than the tactics managers employ, while some games are pure chess matches in which every player on the pitch looks like a robot, designed to perform a specific task. A lot of games, like Wednesday's League Cup derby match between Manchester United and Liverpool, start as the latter before becoming the former.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers picked a surprise squad, setting up his team in a 3-4-1-2 formation that completely stumped David Moyes and his team. United's central midfielders sat deep and didn't press high up the pitch when Liverpool had the ball, leaving Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard in a two-on-one battle with Wayne Rooney that they won throughout the first half. Wingbacks Jordan Henderson and Jose Enrique were the most dangerous attackers for either side. The teams went into halftime tied 0-0, but only because Liverpool's strikers were playing poorly. They dominated the half and should have taken the lead.
They didn't, and it took 40 seconds for 'Chicharito' Javier Hernandez to make them pay for it. This view from the stands is even better than the TV angle.
What you can't see in that clip -- and what gets omitted from most highlight packages -- is that Hernandez also won the corner to set up that goal. Straightaway off the kickoff, Hernandez went on an excellent solo run into the Liverpool box and forced their defense to concede the corner. Liverpool probably felt extremely confident about winning the game as they walked out of the tunnel to start the second half, but they trailed before they could even get their feet set.
Some people might view this as an unfortunate twist, or maybe even a tragedy. After all, Rodgers had completely outcoached Moyes. Hernandez's goal didn't really change that, and save for the few minutes when Liverpool looked rattled as a result of the goal, they played the better football in the second half, as well. For the vast majority of the game, Liverpool were the better team with the better strategy, but it didn't matter.
That's not to say that starting a player like Hernandez isn't a tactic. Moyes could have started Danny Welbeck, a more complete striker than Hernandez, but opted to go with a player he knew could find a goal at any moment, even if Manchester United weren't playing well. Chicharito has scored 106 goals in his last 202 professional games for Chivas, United and Mexico, so it's not like throwing him out there and hoping for the best was a random gamble. He delivers more often than not.
But even though it's a tactic, it's a simple one. It's the kind of tactic that gets managers fired if they rely on it too often, because there will be a lot of big games when Hernandez's ability to pull goals out of nowhere isn't good enough. Namely, games when the other team has a better gameplan and a player like Hernandez (or better).
It could become a problem for United, but for now, should anyone care?
The biggest narrative from Wednesday's game seems to be that Moyes got his tactics wrong, but got bailed out by Hernandez and Luis Suarez's lack of form. If Moyes continues to get pencil-whipped by his adversaries, it'll be fair to call it a pattern, but it shouldn't be the story of a League Cup game in September, seven competitive games into Moyes' reign. The story should be that Chicharito is fantastic. Try to enjoy it when he pulls goals out of his ass.
After all, there's probably going to be a game between Manchester United and Liverpool in which Rodgers gets his tactics all wrong, but Suarez scores a screamer out of nowhere to claim a "lucky" 1-0 win. Except it won't be lucky, because that's the entire point of paying lots of money for strikers who score lots of goals.