Manchester United extended their unbeaten run against their rivals to six games in the league with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford thanks to a first half brace from Marcus Rashford. The hosts put in an excellent defensive performance while also proving to be clinical at the other end as they continued with their impressive form over their Merseyside rivals. Liverpool came into the game having been in scorching form as of late while United have been on and off in recent weeks, with a tepid performance against Sevilla followed by comeback victories against Chelsea and Crystal Palace in the league.
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Manchester United (4-2-3-1) Manager – Jose Mourinho
De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Young; Matic, Mctominay; Mata, Alexis, Rashford; Lukaku
Liverpool (4-3-3) Manager- Jurgen Klopp
Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Lovren, Robertson; Can, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Salah, Firmino, Mane
United had be content with playing Matic and Mctominay in the midfield as star midfielder Paul Pogba got injured in training yesterday and could not make it to the squad today. Marcus Rashford started on the left after a long break while Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez completed the trio in behind striker Romelu Lukaku.
Jurgen Klopp put out his best strength side with Can, Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain playing in the midfield, while their star trio started up front. Loris Kairus has made the goalkeeper spot his own in recent weeks and started in goal for this clash.
- Mourinho set his team out in a 4-2-3-1 that shifted to two banks of four off the ball, with Juan Mata taking the far right position and Rashford the left, either side of Matic and Mctominay. Sanchez dwindled between joining Lukaku and staying behind him depending on the situation
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- The first half was a perfectly executed one from United as they took their chances excellently and completely stifled Liverpool without having to sit back in their own half entirely. Rashford was a good outlet on the left with Alexis and Mata playing vital roles off the ball
- The defensive organization off the ball was impeccable from United in the first half, with the back four being very compact. Young and Valencia tucked in while Mata and Rashford were responsible for the runners in the flanks. Matic and Mctominay blocked off the central block.
- There were a few reasons as to why United fended off Liverpool easily. Klopp’s men got it a bit wrong in the first half where they would have been better served with one of Mane or Salah staying wide to stretch the United back line. This, coupled with the fullbacks not overlapping well meant that United could defend their spaces well and counter effectively. The presence of Lukaku and Sanchez up front, who ran the channels/wide when needed ensured that there was respite for United when they needed to counter
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As seen above, there was no element of slowing it down and controlling the game for Liverpool in the midfield while also poorly timed runs off the ball to drag the United players off their zones.
- The second half saw a predictably conservative approach from United, that could have worked in Liverpool’s favor if they had worked more on their errors from the first half. That being said, there were a few tweaks from Klopp. Mane/Salah consistently stayed alongside Firmino when Liverpool had possession in the middle third with the fullbacks pushing high up and pinning back the likes of Mata and Rashford. The linkup play was decent with Firmino dropping off regularly, but the United block could not be breached.
- United held onto their lead despite conceding a completely avoidable own goal from Eric Bailly, with the back line putting in an excellent shift to contain the Liverpool front 3. Young and Valencia in particular were good in covering the diagonal runs from Salah and Mane. It can be said that the win was deserved for United as Mourinho’s side put in a defensive performance and didn’t rely on chance and their goalkeeper’s brilliance to seal the result.
Manchester United moved five points clear off their third placed opponents and put themselves in firm control of the second place in the table. It was an impressive performance from the home side as they won with relative ease despite the own goal they conceded. The fact that they did it without both Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba in their squad was even more impressive. Klopp needs to rethink how he sets his midfield if Liverpool are to challenge for the title, which will surely be helped by the arrival of Naby Keita in the summer. It remains to be seen as to how Liverpool can perform in the Champions League, which would be the focus from now on for the German and the Merseyside club.