Sunday, March 18, 2018

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool: Mourinho’s men hang on for a crucial nervy win

Dan Steeden in Editorial, English Premier League 10 Mar 2018

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Manchester United welcomed historic rivals Liverpool to Old Trafford for one of the fiercest games in the Premier League calendar. The Red Devils headed into this game with a two-point lead over their opponents in the table and were looking to extend their advantage. Jurgen Klopp’s side meanwhile knew that a win would see them leapfrog United, so it was everything to play for in the early kick-off on Saturday.

Rashford curls in a stunner to open the scoring

The atmosphere was electric inside Old Trafford as this high-profile encounter kicked off and the tempo of the play was frantic from the first whistle. It was Liverpool who seemed to start as the brighter side and they settled into the lion’s share of possession during the early exchanges, attempting to probe the Manchester United box but largely knocking the ball around in relatively unthreatening areas.

United struggled to get into the game in the opening 10 minutes and both Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku cut isolated figures up top for the Red Devils as the home side gave the ball away on multiple occasions in the midfield areas. Despite their fruitless attacking efforts, Jose Mourinho’s men also managed to deal well with the Liverpool forwards, limiting the space that they had to run into.

Eventually their stalwart defensive effort allowed the home side to benefit in an attacking sense, and it was a moment of magic from Marcus Rashford that broke the deadlock. A flick-on from Lukaku after a goal kick put the winger through and he turned Trent Alexander-Arnold brilliantly before curling a stunning shot into the right hand corner of the net. The goal came very much against the run of play but it handed Mourinho’s men a crucial lead.

Rashford strikes again to double Manchester United’s lead

The goal had come as a result of some good work down the left flank and it wasn’t long before United began to pile all of their attacking pressure down that side, targeting the young Liverpool fullback Alexander-Arnold. To their credit however the visitors responded brilliantly to the setback and Virgil van Dijk had the perfect chance to equaliser after losing his marker at a corner. The centre half had a free header from four yards out but he mistimed his effort and the ball ricocheted off his shoulder, flying agonisingly wide of the post.

Typically though it was United who grabbed the next goal and it came against the run of play once again. The strike from Rashford was almost a carbon copy of his first goal, but this time he found the ball at his feet after a deflected clearance by Van Dijk. The England international was unerring in his finish, doubling Manchester United’s lead and putting them in a commanding position to take three points away from this high-profile clash. The game settled down into a slightly slower tempo as half time approached, but Juan Mata almost added a third before the break with an acrobatic effort, but his shot flew a few inches wide of the post.

United’s defensive front holds firm

The second half began in a similar fashion to the first as Liverpool came out looking the dominant side. Van Dijk had another great chance to get on the score sheet from a corner after yet again losing Chris Smalling as a marker, but this time his header looped just over the bar and onto the top of the net. The tempo of the visitors play was impressive after the break and they piled a lot of pressure on Manchester United’s defenders, pushing furiously for a way back into the game. It looked at any moment as if Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane could burst through United’s back line, which was just about holding firm.

Liverpool continued to pin the home side back into their own penalty area as the hour mark approached, but the Red Devils still managed to provide an occasional threat on the break. Their chances were few and far between however as the visitors were utterly dominant in terms of possession, They also squandered their possession far too frequently however, partially as a result of their risky passes, but also due to a lack of quality in the final third. It was uncharacteristic of Liverpool this season, but evidence too of United’s brilliant defensive work.

Bailly’s own goal isn’t enough for a Liverpool comeback

In the end it took an ironic defensive error from Eric Bailly to hand Liverpool a lifeline, leaving them 25 minutes to grind out a result. The Ivorian, beating David De Gea at the near post, turned a driven cross from Mane delivered from the left wing awkwardly and perplexingly into his own net. The goal was exactly the sort of lift that the visitors needed, and they immediately began to throw men forward in pursuit of an equaliser. In response Jose Mourinho introduced Marouane Fellaini, who allowed United to deal with the aerial threat of Van Dijk at corners, and their compact defensive line made things difficult for the Liverpool forwards.

As Liverpool began to take more and more attacking risks, so too did United begin to look threating on the counter. With Fellaini helping to break up play, the home side looked to be managing the game effectively, and their concentration was impeccable in the face of huge amounts of attacking pressure. Even with six minutes of additional time at the end, Liverpool seemed to have run out of ideas when presented with the home side’s stoic defence, and in the end it was Manchester United who ran out as winners of this intense and feisty encounter.

Final Thoughts 

Manchester United were deserved winners in this game, simply because of how exceptionally they defended and how well Jose Mourinho once again managed a big game. They extended their lead over Liverpool to five points, putting them in pole position in the race for second spot. Alexis Sanchez was once again disappointing however, and United will need him firing on all cylinders if they are to improve for next season.

Liverpool never really got going in this game, and their goal came as a result of a fair bit of luck. Defensively they reverted to their earlier shambolic selves, collapsing in the face of long balls launched up towards Lukaku. Jurgen Klopp’s side are still primed for a top four finish, but games such as these need to be turned into positive results if the Reds are to get back to competing at the very top.

Match Report  

Manchester United: de Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Young; McTominay, Matic, Mata (Lingard, 88’); Sanchez (Darmian, 90+6’), Rashford (Fellaini, 70’), Lukaku 

Liverpool: Karius; Alexander-Arnold (Wijnaldum, 80’), Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson (Solanke, 84’); Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lallana, 62’), Can, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane 

Goals: Rashford (1-0, 14’), Rashford (2-0, 24’), Bailly OG (2-1, 66’) 

Referee: Craig Pawson 

Yellow Cards: Rashford (27’), Oxlade-Chamberlain (35’), Valencia (89’) 

Red Cards: None 

Player Ratings

Manchester United: De Gea 6; Valencia 7.5, Smalling 7, Bailly 6.5, Young 8.5; McTominay 7, Matic 7, Mata 7 (Lingard n/a); Sanchez 6 (Darmian n/a), Rashford 9 (Fellaini n/a), Lukaku 7.5 

Liverpool: Karius 6; Alexander-Arnold 6 (Wijnaldum n/a), Lovren 6, Van Dijk 6.5, Robertson 7 (Solanke n/a); Oxlade-Chamberlain 6.5 (Lallana 6), Can 6.5, Milner 7; Salah 6.5, Firmino 7, Mane 7


Dan Steeden

Dan is a recent graduate of the University of Birmingham and an often frustrated Wigan Athletic fan. When not despairing at events unfolding at the DW Stadium he can be found fangirling over Antoine Griezmann or staying up into the early hours of the morning to cheer on the Seattle Seahawks.



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