Liverpool 0 Manchester United 1
Louis van Gaal made it five wins out of five against United’s bitter rivals Liverpool thanks to a wonder volley from in-form captain Wayne Rooney.
The win means that the Red Devils continue their unbeaten start to 2016 and ensured that Klopp and the Kop were left second best in this latest installment between the two most successful teams in English football.
It doesn’t matter what anybody says this fixture is still the ‘big one’ in the Premier League, the one that not only grabs the attention of both sets of fans from all over the world but the match everyone wants to experience first hand. This was borne out by the fact that Carrick, Jones and Rojo decided to watch with the away supporters at Anfield to join in celebrating what would be another famous victory.
For the relatively new foreign players in each squad, it must seem surreal to read and listen to the vitriol banter ahead of the clash as it can only be really understood by the locals. Many rivalries between clubs are based on either religion or politics or in some cases both. However, United versus Liverpool runs deeper.
Louis van Gaal’s record against Liverpool as United manager was played four, won four having won three league meetings and a friendly in the USA, but for his opposition number Klopp, it was his first experience of the heated fixture.
Van Gaal decided to field an unchanged team that drew at Newcastle in midweek which meant that last seasons two-goal Anfield hero Juan Mata would have to bide his time on the bench as Fellaini was preferred. Starting XI: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Young, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Rooney and Martial.
The atmosphere was buzzing as was to be expected as Liverpool got the match underway.
It was the away side that mounted the first attack as Martial won a free kick on the edge of the box which was wasted by a poor delivery by Blind. A lively start from United and especially Martial who looked up for the fight. Remember that it was against Liverpool that he announced his presence in England on his scoring debut.
There was a nasty clash of heads between Lucas and Felliani in the 10th minute and it looked like Fellaini wouldn’t be able to continue as Mata started to strip off on the bench but the Belgian managed to shrug it off and carried on. Lucas and Fellaini would come to blows on a few more occasions during the afternoon.
The home sides’ first attack quickly followed as first Lallana had his header superbly blocked by De Gea then Firmino shot wide when he really ought to have done better. Then Milner had a chance but his shot was nowhere near the target.
Fellaini and Lucas were soon at it again as both players squared up to each other on the touchline after Fellaini seemed to kick out at Milner. The referee Clattenburg used some common sense and gave both players a warning and nothing else.
Fellaini was in the thick of the action from the start, but anytime he came anywhere near the ball in the early exchanges you got the feeling that a free kick against United would be the outcome and it took all of Rooney’s diplomacy to keep his teammate from being booked more than once.
After half an hour there had still been no clear cut chance on target for either side as the play had been contested mainly in the midfield with both sides attacking sporadically but to no avail.
Henderson had a chance for Liverpool, but failed to find a decent enough shot to trouble De Gea. He followed that up with a woefully hit effort over the bar. Thank god for United the chances were falling to him.
With five minutes of the first half to go United were starved of ideas until at last they broke through Martial on the left who then cut infield and fed the ball wide to Rooney who had ample time to pick out a decent cross but his ball was overhit to the far post where Fellaini managed to, at least, win a corner.
Apart from that move, United lacked the quality needed for such a high profile game and the ball spent more time out of play than in.
Martial made a crucial tackle in his own penalty area to stop a certain goal scoring chance for the home side. A brilliant piece of tracking back by the youngster.
Ashley Young received a knock to his leg in a heavy challenge from Milner that required attention, but it quickly became clear that he couldn’t carry on so he was replaced by Borthwick-Jackson.
On the stroke of half-time Martial went on another of his thrilling runs showing great control of the ball at his feet, unfortunately he ran into a wall of defenders before he could manage a shot.
Half-time and it was all square at 0-0. Yet again United had failed to find the net in the opening 45 minutes and apart from Martial no other player looked up to the task. It was a dire half to say the least without the usual passion associated with this fixture.
The quicker Mata makes an appearance for either Fellaini or Lingard the better as United needed a player to provide the spark and ingenuity to prize open the defence and create the chances needed to overcome a Liverpool side that were there for the taking.
United got the second half underway and went on the attack right from the off as Rooney almost made something from nothing but had no support and by the time Martial joined the attack the defenders had made it back in numbers.
Then David De Gea pulled off another of his routine stops as he blocked a definite goal chance from Emre Can. How many times has the keeper gone about his business of saving his team while all others around him have fallen short of what is expected?
After ten minutes of the restart, it was Martial who was proving to be the biggest threat up front when he narrowly pulled his shot agonisingly wide from a similar position in which he scored on his debut at Old Trafford.
There were shouts from the United players for two penalties in quick succession, but Clattenburg was well placed and waved play on amid protests from the away fans.
Mata replaced Lingard in the 66th minute and to be honest, Lingard had been invisible for most of the afternoon.
When the home side attacked the visiting defence handled them well enough, but at this point the game had opened up and either side could have taken the lead if not for better finishing.
That man De Gea was at it again as he proved he is world class with a double save that included a wonderful stop diving at full stretch then he followed that up with a high handed tip away that any basketball player would have been proud of to deny the home side.
The third and last change by van Gaal saw Herrera make way for Memphis hopefully to provide the width and pace needed for the last fifteen minutes. Not a popular choice with the away fans, judging by their reaction as the popular Spaniard left the pitch with his name ringing around the stadium.
Fellaini eventually received a booking for a late foul and continued to argue his innocence with the referee when he should have accepted the decision and walked away.
Then in the 78th minute euphoria among the fans in the away end as United took the lead. A short corner was played into the area by Mata and Fellaini rose the highest to power a header against the crossbar and there was Rooney unmarked to volley home the rebound.
It was United’s first shot on target and it produced a goal for the in-form Rooney, who is on a hot streak this month. That strike was his first goal at Anfield for 11 years but was well worth the wait. Another interesting statistic is that Rooney now holds the record for most Premier League goals for one club, 176.
Could United do what they couldn’t against Newcastle and hold on for the valuable win against their arch rivals for the final five minutes? Liverpool tried to find the equaliser but each time they attacked, they came up against a resolute United defence that battled away to clear every ball from the danger area.
Full-time and hold on they did to register their second win on the trot at Anfield and ease the pressure on the manager. The game was won by a fabulous strike from Rooney, United’s 100th goal at Anfield, which settled a match that had been short on goal attempts from both sides. All that doesn’t matter as in this fixture it’s only the winning that counts.
In all honesty, the result does cover over the fact that most of the United players were well below par and made Liverpool look too good at times. Liverpool is a team in transition under Klopp and were also poor, but United let them see too much of the ball and were fortunate that the majority of chances fell to the feet of Henderson and not the injured Coutinho.
There was only one player who fully deserved the man of the match accolade and that has to be David De Gea, who produced a string of saves to thwart the home side and in doing so saved the blushes of his defenders. Time and time again the Spaniard has come to his side’s rescue and he was quoted prior to the match to have said he wants to become a Red Devil legend well he is certainly on his way to realising that dream.
Not a performance to remember, but it is a result that will remain in the memory of all United fans for a long time as once again they have conquered their arch rivals on their home turf.
After a fantastic result thanks for reading.