The first ever European tournament match-up between Liverpool and Manchester United went the way of the Anfield set, as a 1-1 second leg was good enough to push the Reds into the Europa League quarterfinals
THE RIVALRY REMAINS REAL AND RAW
There hasn’t been a bona fide Liverpool versus Manchester United title push in almost a decade, considering the only legit Reds’ title push since 2009 came when United was struggling under David Moyes. So there’s been some question as to how much this rivalry would rage, especially considering both the Manchester and Merseyside derbies have risen in prominence recently.
But meaningful matches matter in the hearts and minds of supporters, and last week’s electric atmosphere at Anfield was met by the Old Trafford faithful from the opening whistle (It probably didn’t hurt that some Manchester United fans tastelessly taunted Liverpool’s home crowd last week with chants about the Hillsborough disaster, and that an offensive banner was hung Thursday over the motorway from Liverpool to Manchester).
And when Anthony Martial won and converted a penalty kick to bring United to within a goal, the proverbial lid was blown off the joint. Liverpool fans made sure it remained loud in the second half, and we were reminded just how special football can be when these two historic clubs match up for something important (Yes, even the Europa League).
Now the post-match fan fighting? That we could all do without.
‘O’ SO IMPORTANT
Philippe Coutinho put this thing to bed before halftime when he cooked Guillermo Varela on the left wing en route to a classy finish past David De Gea.
That gave the 23-year-old Brazilian just his third goal of the new year, but he’s not the only Canarinho making a difference for Liverpool. Roberto Firmino was dangerous again for the Reds, stopped by a diving De Gea in the first half.
Either Firmino or Coutinho has scored in Liverpool’s last five matches, the first of which was the League Cup final loss to Man City in penalty kicks. Liverpool has not lost in regulation in any of those contests, and the chemistry many predicted when Firmino was purchased from Hoffenheim this summer is in full bloom.
And imagine if they had Daniel Sturridge up top all season long.
PERFECTION UNATTAINABLE FOR LVG
United’s 2-0 hole included a glaring lack of road goals, and Louis Van Gaal needed his unit to limit Liverpool’s chances while taking advantage of theirs.
That didn’t happen, and part of it cannot be put on the manager at all. After barking up the rivalry on Wednesday, Ander Herrera didn’t pass his fitness test. And while Wayne Rooney hasn’t been the player he once was, having the captain in the fold along with fellow injured vets Phil Jones and Ashley Young would’ve specifically helped against Liverpool’s speedy attack and deputizing left back James Milner (respectively).
LVG started a back four of Varela, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo, opting to keep Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian on the bench to start. Both entered the game at fullback in the second half, and there’s a question as to whether they might’ve helped in the pursuit of perfection. At least in Valera/Valencia’s case, it’s hard to argue otherwise. What in the world was Guillermo doing during Coutinho’s goal?
In any event, Van Gaal will not have gained favor by staying rooted to his dugout spot for most of the game as Ryan Giggs commandeered the touch-line. Is there any thought he’ll be around at the start of next season?