A second-half brace by substitute Xherdan Shaqiri gave Liverpool a thoroughly deserved 3-1 win against Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday, sending the Reds back atop the Premier League and reinforcing the current divide in class between England’s two most historically successful clubs.
Here are three quick thoughts on the match:
Liverpool was utterly dominant
Manchester United actually started the game with a couple of promising forays deep into Liverpool territory, and for a second appeared to have scored off a fluky sequence only for Romelu Lukaku to be correctly ruled offside. It didn’t last more than a few minutes, though. For the next half hour, right up until Jesse Lingard’s equalizer against the run of play (more on that later), the Reds were beyond dominant.
United was pinned back in its own end for long stretches as Liverpool knocked the ball around, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in particular probing for an opening. On the rare occasions when the Red Devis got the ball, they quickly turned it over, unable to cope with the Reds’ relentless press. The home side peppered David de Gea’s net with shots, 15 of them in the first half alone, forcing the Spaniard into five saves. Even with several Liverpool regulars missing through injury, it was men against boys.
And it was just a matter of time before the goal would come. Mane finally found it in the 24th minute, when he darted between defenders Ashley Young and Victor Lindelof and expertly controlled Fabinho’s pinpoint pass with his chest before cooly volleying the ball between De Gea’s legs with his left foot:
Only Alisson’s howler gave United any chance
At that point, it looked like Jurgen Klopp’s side would roll. Klopp’s counterpart Jose Mourinho, who opted to keep World Cup winner Paul Pogba out of his lineup for the third consecutive league game, had no answers. Mourinho would’ve been as surprised as anyone by what happened next.
It looked like an innocuous play initially. Manchester United had gotten forward against the run of play, but the hosts were well covered in the box when Lukaku shaped up to serve in a hopeful cross from the left side. The service went straight to Alisson. But the Brazilian keeper — who has been excellent in backstopping Liverpool to an unbeaten record through 17 games — spilled it. Lingard was there to immediately punish his error:
Shaqiri the star man for the Prem’s title favorite
In a way, the subs told the story of where these teams are in 2018. With $100 million-plus man Pogba looking on from Mourinho’s bench, Shaqiri stole the show. Bought for just $17 million over the summer from relegated Stoke City, the little Swiss attacker has been the perfect role player for Klopp, who has in turn used him to maximum effect as a complementary player.
With United content to sit back for the final 45 minutes, Shaqiri was summoned to help pick the lock, and did with devastating effect just moments after coming on:
Seven minutes later he put the outcome beyond doubt, sending the Kop into rapture in the process:
Even the 3-1 score line doesn’t sufficiently show how much better Liverpool was in this match, and how vastly superior to United the Reds are these days. It’s not close. Once perennial title favorites Manchester United are now an almost unthinkable 11 points out of fourth place. They may have made the knockout stage of the Champions League this season but only a miracle run will get them back into Europe’s top club competition next year. Either way, it’s clear that Mourinho is living on borrowed time.
Meanwhile, by beating United convincingly for the first time in nine tries and leapfrogging Manchester City to go back atop the table in the process, Liverpool served notice that under Klopp it is evolving into perhaps this year’s favorite, the emerging Red-clad superpower that its historic rivals only used to be.
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