MANCHESTER — Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday, as Jose Mourinho secured just his second win in nine outings against Jurgen Klopp.
The Red Devils strengthened their grip on second-place in the Premier League thanks to two first half goals from Marcus Rashford and despite Eric Bailly‘s own goal and an improved displays in the second half, Liverpool fell.
Here’s what we learned from a gripping game as each team dominated a half.
RASHFORD TAKES HIS CHANCE
The local lad stepped up big time to deliver two goals in the first half and grab his chance with both hands.
Rashford probably wouldn’t have started had Paul Pogba not pulled out through injury on Friday, with Mourinho forced into a reshuffled with Rashford on the left, Mata on the right and Alexis Sanchez playing centrally behind Lukaku with just Scott McTominay and Nemanaja Matic in central midfield in a 4-4-2 formation.
We all know Rashford has bags of pace and undoubted talent, but you feared for his development after the arrival of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez this season. We shouldn’t have worried.
Rashford now has eight goals in the Premier League this season and 12 in all competitions, that’s the best return of his career to date. Not bad for a youngster pushed out to the left flank for most of this season when he does most of his best work as a central striker.
It was almost two years ago today that he burst onto the scene and scored twice against Arsenal in a 3-2 home win after being given his chance by Louis Van Gaal. And the stat above shows that Rashford can always be counted on for the big occasion.
Since then, Rashford has scored 31 goals in 111 appearances for the Red Devils and he is finally showing that there could be life for him on the left ahead of Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and others.
LUKAKU, SANCHEZ PARTNERSHIP WAY FORWARD
Yes, Pogba’s injury may have forced Mourinho into a change of lineup and personnel, but one thing is clear from Saturday: play Sanchez and Lukaku together up to from here on out.
Before the game all of the talk was about how United could slot Sanchez into their starting lineup and Mourinho admitted they haven’t seen the best of their highest-paid player since his arrival from Arsenal in January. Don’t get me wrong, Sanchez still has a long way to go. He gave the ball away in the second half on multiple occasions when all he needed to do was relieve some pressure on his defense, with the Chilean still looking rusty in possession just as he did on Monday at Crystal Palace when he had more giveaways than any other player on the pitch.
As for Lukaku, well, he is back in midseason form. The Belgian flicked on twice to set up Rashford’s goal and a more direct approach is suiting Lukaku.
During the week Lukaku described himself as a sergeant for Mourinho on the pitch. He did his part admirably on Saturday with his powerful display in the first half. He and Sanchez scared Liverpool’s defense and allowed Mata to find space for what should have been an easy third goal had he headed home instead of gone for the spectacular bicycle kick.
This duo will cause plenty of defenses problems and there’s an inclination that playing just off Lukaku will get the best out of Sanchez.
LIVERPOOL’S FAMILIAR PROBLEMS ARISE
They almost fought back for a point, but it was a case of familiar problems arising for Liverpool. They’ve only lost two of their last 21 games in the Premier League and are still in the hunt for the top four, but this defeat means they’ve fallen five points behind rivals Man United who sit comfortably in second place.
A sluggish start was their downfall as Jurgen Klopp’s men lost the first ball to Lukaku and failed to stop Rashford twice latching on to score. They also couldn’t work out how to mark Sanchez and Mata was drifting in from the right.
On multiple occasions in the first half United breezed through Liverpool’s defense and when Dejan Lovren and Virgil Van Dijk finally figured out how to stop United, they were already 2-0 down.
Liverpool’s clash showed in the second half as they dominated the majority of the 45 minutes with Eric Bailly’s own goal setting up a tense finish for the home fans at Old Trafford.
The Reds will now regroup and they know they have the easiest schedule out of the teams in and around the top four. Still, a defeat at your rivals in this manner will sting.