Timid Manchester United pay the price as Liverpool take command

It may only have been the Europa League, but Liverpool fans didn’t care on a memorable night at Anfield as they beat bitter rivals Manchester United.

Timid Manchester United pay the price as Liverpool take command

While this may only have been a first-leg victory in the last 16 of Europe’s secondary competition, it will still be a result that will long be remembered as the old enemy were put to the sword.

Daniel Sturridge’s first-half penalty and a Roberto Firmino strike gave Jurgen Klopp’s side a thoroughly deserved victory as they dominated a timid and toothless United.

And it makes them clear favourites to reach the quarter-finals ahead of next Thursday’s second leg at Old Trafford.

“The fans were brilliant, electric,” said captain Jordan Henderson. “That gave us a great boost. De Gea made some good saves, we created a lot of chances and we felt we could be two or three up.”

It was the 167th meeting between the clubs and the first in European competition; the fact it came after back-to-back Champions League nights showed how these clubs have fallen in recent years. Not that it seemed to mean any less to the rival sets of supporters.

But there was no getting away from the fact that it was a clash between the sixth and seventh best teams in the Premier League in a frantic opening 20 minutes that was full of bluster but short of quality.

Liverpool fans were determined to create one of those special atmospheres the club is so famous for and cranked up the volume for the traditional ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ ahead of the kick-off.

Klopp, who had described the match as “the mother of all football games” ahead of the kick-off, clearly enjoyed it, tapping his heart proudly as he acknowledged the home fans while he took his place in the dugout.

He made three changes from the team which won at Crystal Palace at the weekend, bringing back Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, and Nathaniel Clyne, but his side were initially slow to settle.

That all changed in the 20th minute when Memphis Depay made a clumsy challenge on Clyne and Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo pointed to the spot after what seemed like an age.

Sturridge, who didn’t take a penalty in the Capital One Cup final shootout defeat to Manchester City 11 days earlier, coolly placed the spot-kick beyond the outstretched fingers of David de Gea.

But the Spanish keeper was showing his brilliance to stop the tie being over inside the opening 45 minutes.

Two minutes after the opener, he was quick across his line to claw away Coutinho’s far-post tap from Sturridge’s cross although the Brazilian should have scored.

Sturridge had a chance for his second on the half-hour when Smalling bizarrely dived under his header but De Gea was quickly out to close him down and block the England striker’s shot.

And the keeper made his third fine save of the first half when keeping out Adam Lallana’s instant hit from point-blank range.

United were poor as the midfield and attack failed to cause the home side any threat. Juan Mata captained United four days after Louis van Gaal accused him of getting a stupid red card in the 1-0 Premier League defeat to West Brom. However, he was ineffective alongside Marouane Fellaini making his first start in nine games. The Belgian had played 90 minutes in all four of Van Gaal’s games against Liverpool before last night, United winning all of them.

Teenager Marcus Rashford was also included, making his fifth successive start. He had a half-chance after just 30 seconds but Depay’s cross bounced off his knee and over the bar. He was hauled off at half-time as Van Gaal tried to limit the damage.

However, it was more of the same in the second half with De Gea keeping out fierce strikes from Coutinho and Henderson.

Liverpool’s second came in the 74th minute when Michael Carrick, who had replaced Rashford at the half, gave the ball away to Adam Lallana, who fed Firmino to smash home from eight yards.

United finally created a half-decent chance five minutes from the end, but Fellaini’s header was off-target.

It was a deserved win in the first all-English Europa League/Uefa Cup tie in 43 years. Then Liverpool beat Spurs and went on to win the trophy. While this wasn’t quite a performance that will have the rest of Europe quaking, it will give them hope of seizing their only realistic chance of reaching next season’s Champions League.

Liverpool:

Mignolet 6, Clyne 7, Lovren 7, Sakho 6, Moreno 6, Can 7, Henderson 7, Lallana 7, Coutinho 7, Firmino 7 (Origi 84), Sturridge 8 (Allen 64, 6).

Man Utd:

De Gea 8, Varela 6, Smalling 5, Blind 5, Rojo 6, Schneiderlin 6 (Schweinsteiger 5), Fellaini 6, Memphis 5, Mata 6 (Herrera 5), Martial 5, Rashford 5 (Carrick 46, 6).

Referee:

Carlos Velasco Carballo

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