Erik ten Hag got a statement win for his first victory as Manchester United boss, making brave changes to press Marcus Rashford and Co. to a 2-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford on Monday.
Jadon Sancho put United ahead and Marcus Rashford also scored as Erik ten Hag started Lisandro Martinez and Rashford over Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo in what will be viewed as a stroke of genius.
Considering that both teams entered the match winless, the result is even more notable and will leave Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp scratching his head (even knowing his side is dealing with a comical spate of early-season injuries).
Liverpool had 70 percent of the ball and an edge in shots but only by one in the first half as United held its visitors without a shot on target until the second frame.
Here’s what we learned from Manchester United vs Liverpool
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What we learned from Manchester United vs Liverpool
Erik ten Hag presses right buttons: Maybe Liverpool just figured it was set for a walk in its rivals’ park but no one told Manchester United, as Erik ten Hag’s embattled side flew out of the gates with old hats Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford driving play and youngster Anthony Elanga joining Jadon Sancho in finding space out wide. Liverpool’s midfield set-up (and injuries) also allowed United love there, and that’s why the Red Devils were able to get away with Christian Eriksen and Scott McTominay in front of the backs. And this is all without mentioning that Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo weren’t needed and United didn’t have problems making chances or stopping them.
Jurgen Klopp’s questionable omission hurts Liverpool’s already-shorthanded midfield: Naby Keita’s been kept out of the team amid transfer rumors while Thiago Alcantara, Curtis Jones, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are injured, so that would seem to point to a crucial role for Fabinho, right? Wrong. The 28-year-old Brazilian was kept on the bench in favor of veterans Jordan Henderson and James Milner plus hotshot youngster Harvey Elliott. This only served to allow a beleaguered Manchester United, a unit functioning with a modicum of steel, to run the early stages of the game and, indeed, pick up the opening goal.
Rashford, De Gea come good: But hold on, even the halftime adjustments went swimmingly for Ten Hag. Anthony Martial came on for Elanga and set Rashford through on goal for a terrific finish past Allison Becker. It was his fourth shot of the match and a deserved harvest for a player who’s been under scrutiny for quite a while.
David De Gea’s struggled have largely been linked to this season but the Spaniard was under the spotlight following two bad mistakes against Brentford. Five saves later, it’s safe to say he’s still okay at this sport of ours.
Malacia’s “beginners’ luck” finds Mohamed Salah invisible: Mohamed Salah’s first-half had to be very frustrating as United left back Tyrell Malacia stayed tight to the Egyptian. Salah could not solve the rampaging defender, who was tidy with the ball. You’re never going to keep Salah in your pocket, but Malacia’s tight marking forced the winger into a playmaker’s role — two key passes in the first hour — but that’s something Ten Hag would’ve gladly accepted before kickoff even though Salah scored off a late set-piece scrum.
In fact, no magic from the Reds’ front three as Martinez steps up: A suspended Darwin Nunez meant Liverpool had to “settle” for Roberto Firmino at center forward, a tremendous luxury for Jurgen Klopp, but the center forward found little joy as Salah was bottled up — relatively speaking — and Luis Diaz struggled to find his footing under duress by hard-fouling Diogo Dalot. But the performance of Lisandro Martinez will be what stays with many, as the Ajax man had gotten grief for being “only 5-foot-10” amid headlines asking whether he was “too small for the Premier League?” Martinez registered five clearances and blocked two shots, once a timely and fortunate goal line effort, as he joined the imperious Raphael Varane to send a solid message to the league.
United still too thin, but it’ll have at least one more famous win this season: Not a huge point here, and you’re not going to improve much on 2-0 over Liverpool but the Red Devils are adding Casemiro into this mix and they’ll take another win off a big boy, which is something that’s been oh-so-rare in the past couple of seasons
Man of the Match: Tyrell Malacia — There are emotional reasons to cite Rashford or Sancho here, but the United left back did not flinch when faced with a Ballon d’Or candidate in Salah. Two clearances, three tackles, and an interception while only missing a single pass.