Liverpool’s Salah, Firmino, and Mane dominated the headlines last season and Manchester City’s De Bruyne, Aguero, and Sterling the one before that; but Fernandes, in the week of his one-year anniversary since arriving in England, has the potential to become an icon to match any of them.
He was only on the pitch here for less than 30 minutes and in terms of contribution he was behind two-goal Salah and the outstanding Firmino, who returned to form in some style for Liverpool. But the free-kick he scored to win the tie sums up his talismanic qualities and what he has given this United side since signing from Sporting Lisbon on January 30, 2020.
Not since Eric Cantona have United had somebody who makes such a difference on his own, not even Cristiano Ronaldo who was young and not yet a leader when he arrived from the same club. Now he has dragged his side into the fifth round of the FA Cup and surely there are trophies ahead.
One of the biggest talking points pre-match was an interview given by Liverpool striker Mo Salah to Spanish newspaperin which he suggested his future at Anfield “was in the club’s hands”.
The story came, and no coincidence here, just as a story did the rounds that Real Madrid have made Salah their number transfer target. So, it was easy for journalists to suggest the form of the Egyptian, who had scored just once in his previous six matches, was affected by the speculation.
Liverpool never believed that to be the case, they felt his interview and the gossip was all part of a plan by the player’s agent to instigate contract talks even though Salah is signed up to 2023, and they are confident he is happy and will stay.
So, when Salah opened the scoring at Old Trafford with a trademark chip from a Firmino pass, it was a significant moment for both club and player. It proved that even if form is temporary, talent is permanent – and it also showed that Liverpool fans do not have to be stressed by transfer speculation just yet. His second goal, another great finish, now means he has already scored 19 goals this season.
Panic over, despite the result.
Considering how dominant they have been in the Premier League and in Europe over the last three years, Liverpool's FA Cup record is awful; they have only been past the fourth round once under Jurgen Klopp. But make no mistake, this time the German wanted to go through.
The fact that Liverpool have endured a miserable slump and the fact that the fixture was against bitter rivals Manchester United made it different. Klopp’s decision to play big names such as Salah and Firmino showed that, but the biggest indicator was the sight of Alisson in goal. Remarkably, this was the first domestic cup game, FA Cup or League Cup, that the Brazilian has played for Liverpool since arriving from Roma in July 2018 for more than €70m.
The fact that his cup debut came in his 109th appearance tells you everything about how important it was to Klopp this time - and how painful it was to lose.
Marcus Rashford’s influence on this match was huge – as a focus of United’s counter-attacking, as a goal provider, and a goalscorer – and he looks so much more comfortable on the left of a three-man attack than he does playing through the middle.
Jose Mourinho was always desperate to play the forward centrally but the pressure of being the main man never quite suited him. Now, the arrival of Edinson Cavani has changed the shape of United’s attack and it looks good.
With Cavani playing the holding role, Rashford had the freedom of the wing and played it to perfection. He broke away at pace to provide a stunning raking crossfield pass for Greenwood to score and then grabbed one himself after cutting in from the left for United’s second.
Solskjaer also allowed Rashford and Greenwood to swap wings to provide Liverpool with another problem, and this now looks like his first-choice line-up. That’s bad news for Anthony Martial but good news for United’s future.
Almost SEVEN years after signing for Manchester United from Southampton for €30m, and closing in on 150 appearances, Luke Shaw is now the player the club hoped he would be.
It has taken an awful long time and there have been a lot of steps both forward and backward, including an arm round the shoulder from Solskjaer, humiliation from Mourinho, and several injury set-backs, but the left-back now looks the real deal.
His performance here underlined his emergence as one of United’s most consistent, positive, and hard-working performers, and the good news is that he is still only 25 years old with an awful lot of football ahead of him.
Long gone are the days when he looked overweight and was accused of lacking defensive concentration; and his attacking contributions have grown, too.