Three things we learned: Manchester United - Liverpool
Liverpool got the best of Manchester United in a thoroughly thrilling encounter at Old Trafford on Thursday, beating the Premier League’s 2nd-place side to keep their own top-four hopes alive.
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Bruno Fernandes staked the hosts to an early lead, but Roberto Firmino scored twice and Diogo Jota added a goal of his own to stage a furious 13-minute comeback. Marcus Rashford made things interesting with a late goal to make it 3-2, but Mohamed Salah restored the two-goal gap right on 90 minutes.
3 things we learned: Manchester United - Liverpool
1. A glimmer of hope, and pressure on Chelsea: Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat to Arsenal on Wednesday was, in a word, unexpected. From a Liverpool perspective, the word is opportunity. Sure, the gap is four points and the Reds only have one game in hand, but a victory over 19th-place West Brom this weekend would appear to be a foregone conclusion, at which point all of the pressure will land on Chelsea’s shoulders like a ton of bricks.
2. Manchester United start strong, fade quickly: Not to take anything away from a vintage Liverpool performance, but Manchester United looked like a side on its third game in five days (one day between games); a side that made 10 changes for the second straight game; a side without its captain and best defender, Harry Maguire (ankle). Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side was quickest out of the starting gate, but was clearly outmatched by an equally talented side on four days’ rest.
3. But, seriously, Liverpool looked fantastic: Thursday’s derby served to reinforce the idea that Liverpool are still very much the same side — relentless in pursuit of possession, devastating service from the full backs and lethal finishing inside the box — they were a year ago en route to winning the Premier League title, only with the added challenge of season-ending injuries to their top three center backs. For 90 minutes, Klopp and Co., were able to turn back the clock and give Liverpool fans reason for optimism come September.
Edinson Cavani should have opened the scoring and given Manchester United a 6th-minute lead after Alisson horrifically misplaced a pass attempt straight into Cavani’s path. Fortunately for Liverpool, Cavani rushed his shot and pulled it well wide as Alisson scrambled back into position.
All was well in the end, however, and the Red Devils needed just four more minutes to cash in on their rabid start. Aaron Wan-Bissaka got behind Liverpool’s defense down the right flank and found Fernandes 15 yards from goal. The Portuguese playmaker cut inside and went for the far post, only for Nathaniel Phillips to block the shot into his own net. Fernandes’s shot was on target, therefore he was credited with the goal.
Liverpool were briefly awarded a penalty kick for Eric Bailly’s tackle on Phillips in the 27th minute, but a brief video review rightly overturned the call as there was minimal contact and a genuine attempt made to play the ball.
The momentum had already swung back Liverpool’s way, though, and the Reds finally pulled level after a pair of chances just after the half-hour mark. First, Diogo Jota struck a knuckling ball that nearly twisted Dean Henderson into a pretzel before eventually palming it over the crossbar.
But, there was nothing Henderson could do two minutes later as Jota applied the deftest touch with a clever backheel after Phillips sent the ball back into the goal-mouth scramble.
It looked like 1-1 would be the halftime score, but Firmino had other ideas in the third minute of stoppage time. Trent Alexander-Arnold delivered a sensational free kick to the far post and Firmino had left every red shirt behind. The header was powerful, but required accurate placement with Henderson at close range.
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Barely 60 seconds passed before Liverpool made it 3-1 to start the second half. Alexander-Arnold fired a low shot that Henderson blocked but couldn’t hold, spilling the rebound into Firmino’s path. After 15 games (and almost four months) without a goal, the Brazilian was back with a brace.
Cavani slipped a pass through the Liverpool defense and Rashford hit back to make it 3-2 in the 68th minute. Rashford poked the ball past Alisson to set up a frantic finish at the Theater of Dreams.
The goal-mouth scramble to end all goal-mouth scrambles occurred two minutes later, and somehow, despite taking what felt like 19 shots (it was more like five, in under 10 seconds) from inside five yards, Manchester United came up empty. Heroic blocking and throwing of bodies preserved Liverpool’s lead.