Match Report: Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool (24/01/21)
Updated: Jan 28
Bruno Fernandes’ late free kick sealed Manchester United’s passage to the fifth round of the FA Cup as they overcame arch rivals Liverpool in a thriller at Old Trafford.
After Mo Salah had given the visitors the lead, goals from Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford either side of half-time spun the tie on its head.
Salah then netted another to haul the Reds back level, but substitute Fernandes had the final say when he fired in from the edge of the box after Edinson Cavani had been brought down.
It was an electrifying encounter in Manchester, and served as a refreshing tonic to last Sunday’s soporific goalless draw between the sides at Anfield.
Any initial fears that this game would be a repeat of that dull affair were quickly allayed when Salah put the Reds in front with less than twenty minutes on the clock.
Collecting Roberto Firmino’s defence-splitting pass from midfield, Salah raced clear to coolly lob a finish over the onrushing Dean Henderson.
However, the lead would not last long, as a quick Red Devils break saw Rashford fire a wonderful ball from the halfway line towards Mason Greenwood, who controlled well before striking with precision to level the scores.
Greenwood then returned the favour shortly after the break as United completed the turnaround, feeding Rashford with a long-range ball of similar quality, and the latter composedly slid the finish across Alisson.
The Reds were not down and out yet, though, and a lovely team move saw stand-in captain James Milner play a one-two with the excellent Firmino, before setting up Salah to sweep home through Henderson’s legs.
Fernandes has been a revelation since his move to Manchester from Sporting Lisbon this time last year, and his introduction from the bench six minutes after the hour gave the visiting defence fresh concerns to deal with.
If anyone could provide a moment of magic to unlock this tie, it would be Fernandes, and so it proved as he stepped up to find Alisson’s bottom corner twelve minutes from time and settle an absorbing game.
Reds’ goal drought ends, but poor form continues
Coming into this game, Liverpool had won just once in their last six games, and that was in an entirely lopsided encounter with Aston Villa’s youngsters in the previous round of this competition.
Their last four league games have yielded no goals, and on Thursday, Burnley ended the Reds’ 68-match unbeaten home run by becoming the first side to win in the league at Anfield since April 2017.
However, a cup draw at the home of their oldest rivals offered the perfect opportunity for the Reds to blow off the cobwebs that had accumulated around them recently.
The sighs of relief could probably be heard back at Anfield when their Egyptian star man gave them the lead midway through the first half, and again when they showed pluck and resolve to level just before the hour.
However, they remain crippled by injuries, and their most glaring misses are in defence, with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez long-term absentees, and the recovering Joel Matip not quite yet fit enough for today’s game.
Those injury woes have forced Jürgen Klopp into the use of an improvised back line, and he today paired makeshift centre back Fabinho with 19-year-old Rhys Williams.
Young Williams was at fault for United’s second, as his poor attempt at a clearance allowed Greenwood’s pass through to Rashford.
He was also almost responsible for the match beginning in a very different way, as he lost possession to Edinson Cavani with the game still goalless, allowing the Uruguayan to surge forward and set up Greenwood, who fired wide.
It may be somewhat harsh to judge him quite so much, thrust into this enormously difficult role so early on, but there is little room for sentimentality in a clash between these two sides.
Shaw and Rashford stand out for the hosts
United left-back Shaw has been oft-maligned for a lack of fitness, but the purple patch he has hit in recent weeks is very much the player many saw in him as a teenager at Southampton.
He was a shining light at Anfield last week, and continued to be so today, with his surging runs and link-up play with Rashford down the left, and deliveries from dead-ball situations, all proving exemplary.
Twice in quick succession he picked out teammates with inch-perfect corners, and forced Reds centre back Williams into heading a dangerous free kick over his own crossbar for a corner.
His tireless runs saw him frequently beat the backtracking Trent Alexander-Arnold in footraces, and combined with Rashford, United utterly dominated their left side.
Rashford’s name is now on the front page as often as it is on the back, and he deserves all the recognition he receives, both for his performances on the pitch and his campaigning off it.
His pass to Greenwood for United’s opener was exquisite, and his finish when the roles were reversed was of an equal, brilliant standard.
Much like Shaw, his quick feet meant he was also able to frequently beat tackles from the Reds’ defenders, with a goal and an assist well-deserved rewards for his performance.
Pendulum of dominance swings both ways
This was a truly wonderful game for the neutral, and befitted the build-up and occasion of a meeting between these two English giants.
Last week’s 0-0 at Anfield certainly did not, so it was as pleasant for the neutral as it was euphoric for United and devastating for Liverpool to witness this showing.
Both sides enjoyed periods of dominance that were largely parallel to the goals, as United closed the first period and began the second on top, with the Reds the better side both immediately before and after that.
However, in such a twisting, turning game, and one that required a winner today, there would always be a cruel final blow for one side.
Liverpool will now aim to reverse their recent decline and score their first league goal in over 438 minutes when they travel to Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Manchester United host basement club Sheffield United the day before, looking to extend their current two-point advantage over cross-city rivals Manchester City at the top.
Manchester United: Henderson (GK) 6, Wan-Bissaka 7, Lindelöf 6, Maguire (c) 6, Shaw 9, Pogba 7, McTominay 6, Greenwood 8 (Fred 66’ 6), van de Beek 6 (Fernandes 66’ 8), Rashford 9 (Martial 86’ 6), Cavani 7.
Unused: de Gea (GK), Mata, James, Telles, Matic, Tuanzebe.
Liverpool: Alisson (GK) 6, Alexander-Arnold 6, R Williams 5, Fabinho 6, Robertson 6, Milner (c) 7, Thiago 7 (Shaqiri 81’ 6), Wijnaldum 6 (Mané 62’ 6), Salah 9, Firmino 8 (Origi 81’ 6), Jones 6.
Unused: Kelleher (GK), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Minamino, Tsimikas, Phillips, N Williams.