Manchester United earned the crucial three crucial points in the pivotal game at the top of the Premier League table, this game was between fourth and fifth place in the league. Manchester United started the game in fourth two points ahead of their North-West rivals. United won the game thanks to two goals from Juan Mata and put a gap of five points between themselves and Liverpool. Both teams started the game with same teams that started their previous Premier League games, having both won, Liverpool against Swansea and United against Tottenham. Liverpool left Steven Gerrard on the bench, while Manchester United had Angel Di Maria and Marcos Rojo returning to the bench having missed the victory over Tottenham through suspension and injury.
Manchester United started the game the better and were on the attack straight away, putting pressure on the Liverpool defence mainly attacking down their left side through Blind, Young and Fellaini. As against Tottenham, United lined up as a 4-3-3 when attacking and 4-5-1 when defending.
Michael Carrick was the holding midfielder in the 3 man midfield, with both Fellaini moving out to the left and combining with Blind and Young. Whilst on the right side Herrera was moving out towards that side to link up with Valencia and Mata. The opening goal would come down the right hand side despite most of the early United pressure coming down their left side.
Manchester United deservedly took the lead in the 14th minute through Juan Mata, it was no surprise when United took the lead after they had dominated the opening exchanges. The finely worked goal came when Jones played the ball forward to Fellaini, who in turned squared it to Herrera. Herrera played a fine through ball for Mata to run onto, Mata put the ball past the Mignolet and into the bottom corner of Liverpool’s net after beating the Liverpool offside trap.
Manchester United continued to dominate the first half, as Liverpool struggled to keep hold of the ball and struggled to deal with the attacking threat from United. Liverpool had to wait until 36th minute for their first chance in the game. They caught United on the counter-attack and Henderson played the ball into Sturridge, who neatly layed off to Lallana, whose effort went wide of De Gea’s goal. After Liverpool came into the game a bit more but failed to threaten the United goal again before the half-time whistle.
At the start of the second half, we saw Liverpool bringing on Steven Gerrard in place of Adam Lallana, who had suffered a clumsy challenge from Phil Jones in the first half. Gerrard was straight into the action, putting in a crunching challenge on Juan Mata, then leaving his stud marks on Ander Herrera’s leg. Herrera had slid in on Gerrard but pulled out of the challenge before reaching Gerrard. Gerrard angered by the challenge from Herrera stamped on Herrera’s leg and saw a straight red card for this. Gerrard can have no arguments against this red card. Gerrard in his last game against Manchester United was only on the pitch for 45 seconds.
Despite being down to ten men you would have to say that Liverpool had the better of the opening stages of play in the second half, although they never really created any clear cut chances. Their was pressure from the Anfield crowd to even the score up in terms of players on the pitch every time a United played made a challenge. On 55 minutes United made their first change, with Di Maria replacing Young. Young looked like he may have picked up a knock a few minutes before he was substituted. Minutes after coming on Di Maria played a part in United’s second goal on 59 minutes. This goal was a sublime volley from Juan Mata after being involved in the build-up play Mata met a Di Maria chip into the box to volley the ball perfectly past Mignolet and into the Liverpool net in front of the Manchester United faithful.
Liverpool found themselves back in the game on 69 minutes, through Daniel Sturridge. Michael Carrick lost the ball in midfield, Coutinho ran towards the United goal with the ball and played the ball through to Sturridge and he finished past De Gea with the help of a deflection. Manchester United were struggling to play against ten man and I feel they didn’t know whether to attack Liverpool and try to finish the game or to keep the ball and just run the clock down. They gave the ball away cheaply in the second half, several times. Especially Angel Di Maria, he gave the ball away several times, putting his team under pressure. I feel this is because he looks to play the ball into space all the time and expects his team-mates to move towards the ball. We saw this with Mata’s second goal, Di Maria’s chip was into space and Mata ran onto the ball to volley home.
Manchester United played out a final 20 minutes to get the three points. Liverpool pushed for the equalizer but never really threatened David De Gea’s goal. United earned a last minute penalty as Daley Blind was fouled in the box by Emre Can. Blind was played in down the left hand side of Liverpool’s box and cleverly waited for the challenge from Emre Can and earned United the penalty. Wayne Rooney had struggled to really get into the game and his spot-kick was saved by Mignolet. Wayne Rooney always seems to struggle when playing in Liverpool, whether it be at Anfield or Goodison Park against Everton. The only reason I could think for this is that he puts too much pressure on himself to perform when returning to his hometown.
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