Liverpool beat Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield on Thursday, as the Reds took a slender advantage in the first leg of their Europa League Round of 16 clash.
[ MORE: Spurs hammered by BVB ]
After four-straight wins over Liverpool as United’s manager, Louis Van Gaal finally tasted defeat to United’s bitter rivals with Jurgen Klopp‘s side prevailing thanks to Daniel Sturridge‘s early penalty kick and Roberto Firmino‘s second half finish.
[ RECAP: Liverpool dominate United ]
Here’s what we learned from an encounter Liverpool dominated.
DE GEA THE DIFFERENCE
The only reason United still have a chance of advancing to the Europa League quarterfinals is because their Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea stood on his head.
De Gea, 25, made three tremendous stops in the first half and another two in the second half as Liverpool could have won by three or four. At least. With United so exposed defensively in the first half, individual errors forced De Gea into action time and time again. He’s been United’s best player once again this season, just like he was last year.
For the penalty kick, Memphis’ shove on Nathaniel Clyne was a foul. He got the wrong side of his man and it was just inside the box. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo — who has now handed out 80 yellow cards and six red cards in his last 13 games — got the call spot on and although he was a little card happy, he got the big decisions right. De Gea even got a hand to the PK but couldn’t keep it out.
I bet United’s fans are glad Real Madrid’s fax machine wasn’t working properly last summer…
If it was, they would’ve been spanked by five or six goals on Thursday in what has to go down as the newest low of an already desperate season.
INTENSITY TOO MUCH FOR RED DEVILS
This shouldn’t have been so surprising because when United stole a 1-0 win at Anfield earlier this season, they were outplayed for vast swathes of the game but Liverpool couldn’t finished. They struggled with that again on Thursday (plus, De Gea was the man) but what you couldn’t criticize their inceedible work rate and desire. Liverpool started the game at a frantic pace and they continued it for most of the encounter. Jordan Henderson‘s crunching tackle on Morgan Schneiderlin in the opening seconds set the tone, while Adam Lallana was at the heart of everything good the Reds did. Firmino and Philippe Coutinho were buzzing around behind Sturridge and United’s midfield just couldn’t handle the intensity or the trickery of Liverpool’s midfield.
Van Gaal switched things up at half time after his side struggled so much with the fluid movement of Liverpool and although it had a slight impact at the start of the second half, it didn’t last for long. Henderson (who looked slightly offside as the attack started) was played in and found Lallana in the box who set up Firmino to net his third goal in his last three games. In truth, it was no more than Liverpool deserved for not only their bravery on the ball but their willingness to take chances in the final third. They looked hungry and wanted it more than United and after losing their last four-straight games to the Red Devils, revenge tasted sweet. Also, Klopp tasted victory for the first time in one of the greatest rivalries in world soccer and the image at the top of this page sums up his emotions perfectly.
VAN GAAL GETS TACTICS WRONG
Not for the first time this season United’s fans would have been left scratching their heads following Van Gaal’s team selection. What was he thinking and why does he continue to feel the need to play players out of position? Youngster Marcus Rashford, who has been starring as the lone striker so far in his fledgling career — four goals in his opening two games says as much — was played out on the right flank and looked lost. Van Gaal, to his credit, hooked off the youngster at half time and recognized his mistake as he made a monumental reshuffle. Rashford should have played centrally with Anthony Martial out wide.
At half time, with Liverpool already 1-0 up and dominating the game, LVG took off Rashford and brought on Michael Carrick. The veteran midfielder played in — you guessed it — central defense alongside Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo and although it initially had some impact it made little difference in the end. With Daley Blind moved to left wing back, he was confused as to where he should be and LVG belted out instructions from the sidelines furiously at the start of the second half. Sure, he got his tactics wrong, but so many of his players let him down, again, on Thursday.
Smalling’s slip in the first half let in Sturridge and De Gea saved his skin. Morgan Schneiderlin was non existent in midfield. Memphis had a moment of madness to give away a penalty kick and Carrick failed to clear the ball as Firmino nipped in to score Liverpool’s second. United’s shape and their tone wasn’t right from the off and this crushing defeat at the home of their closest rivals was yet another reminder as to why Van Gaal is highly unlikely to be in charge at Old Trafford next season. For a club of their size, with players of their quality (some of them, anyway), this simply cannot be allowed to continue. With an FA Cup quarterfinal at home against West Ham United this weekend, United must win to keep alive what is now their only chance of winning some silverware and salvaging some slither of self-respect from this season.