Liverpool have taken a huge step to the quarter-finals of the Europa League by beating Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield this evening.
A frantic start to the game saw Daniel Sturridge give Liverpool the lead from the penalty spot after 20 minutes played. The penalty came after Memphis Depay was adjudged to have dragged down Nathaniel Clyne in the box. David de Gea then produced three excellent saves to keep Man United in the tie at the break. First, he clawed Philippe Coutinho’s effort off the line before he blocked strikes from Sturridge and Adam Lallana.
Following the break, De Gea continued to frustrate Liverpool by saving another Coutinho shot. He could do little to stop Roberto Firmino, however, as he capitalised on substitute Michael Carrick’s poor clearance to give Liverpool an imposing two-goal lead on aggregate ahead of the second leg next week.
Not for the first time this season, Memphis showed himself to be a liability defensively as he dragged down Clyne to give Liverpool a penalty.
There was a question mark over whether the initial contact was outside the box but Memphis shouldn’t have put the referee in a position to make a decision.
The Spaniard was United’s saviour again as he pulled off a hat-trick of good saves in the first period to deny Coutinho, Sturridge and Lallana.
It almost felt like De Gea was playing Liverpool all by himself and this continued in the second half, with the keeper denying Coutinho once again. It was a disappointing night, to say the least, for United but it could have been a lot worse were it not for De Gea.
Lack of resistance in midfield during the first half
Louis van Gaal started with Marouane Fellaini and Morgan Schneiderlin in the middle of the park, presumably to give United more of a physical presence, but the move backfired as Liverpool got in behind on several occasions in the first half.
Van Gaal responded to United’s subpar first half by bringing on Carrick for Rashford and putting him in the middle of a back three, with Daley Blind moving over to the left.
The changes seemed to pay off, at least for a brief while, as having an extra man at the back meant United’s build-up play from deep improved. However, Carrick’s awful clearance eventually led to Firmino doubling Liverpool’s lead. Abysmal all-round.
At 2-0, United are at a huge disadvantage ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford next week but, if there’s one positive for van Gaal’s side, it’s that they didn’t lose by five or six.
That being said, would anyone back United to turn this tie around under van Gaal? Dull, lifeless and devoid of spirit, it’s hard to imagine United making it through to the next round of the Europa League.