By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool reclaimed top spot in the Premier League following a 3-1 victory over bitter rivals Manchester United at Anfield.
Sadio Mané opened the scoring for Jürgen Klopp’s men, but it was super-sub Xherdan Shaqiri, who came into the fray with 20 minutes left to play and secured all three points for the league leaders.
December continued to cause Klopp defensive problems, as Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold joined Joe Gomez on the treatment table. The lack of defensive options saw Nathaniel Clyne pick up his first league start for Liverpool since an away defeat to Chelsea in May, Dejan Lovren also joined the right back in a return to the starting line-up.
Anfield was electric within the opening minutes of the game, and the atmosphere was certainly rubbing off on the boys on the pitch. The Reds found themselves on the front foot straight from kick off – having the bulk of possession and not allowing United any time on the ball thanks to their high work rate and rapid pressing.
The Reds maintained their dominance and took the lead in the 24th minute through Sadio Mané. After missing a host of chances against Napoli mid-week, Mané silenced his critics by scoring Klopp’s first home league goal against Manchester United, but owed a lot of thanks to Fabinho.
The Brazilian midfielder was given the ball outside the United box by fellow countryman Roberto Firmino, before chipping a delightful through ball over the visiting back line and into the path of the arriving goal-scorer.
The Senegalese winger escaped the tight marking of Ashley Young, taking the ball on his chest, before dispatching it past David De Gea with a crisp left footed volley.
The lead didn’t last long however, with the visitors levelling the score against the run of play in the 33rd minute. A rare counter-attack saw Romelu Lukaku find space down Liverpool’s right flank where he whipped a low cross into the box.
The danger looked dealt with as Alisson came out to claim it but, unfortunately for the keeper, he spilled the ball straight into the path of Jesse Lingard who dispatched it into the empty Liverpool net.
Following the equaliser, the home side and their supporters seemed stunned. Although having the minority of possession, United began to grow into the match but were unable to trouble Alisson again.
Though, Liverpool continued to play most of their football in the visiting half, they were also unable to create any other major chances before the break and had to settle for a 1-1 finish to the half.
Liverpool started the second half in similar fashion, on the front foot and creating the first major chance – this time through Firmino. The Brazilian found the ball at his feet in the opposition area and proceeded to dance around four United players before testing De Gea, who was more than up to the task.
Following the fast start to the half, United reverted to their defensive style of play, limiting Liverpool to shots from distance as the Manchester rear guard held strong. This led Klopp to bring on Shaqiri, which would prove to be decisive as the Swiss superstar fired Liverpool into the lead moments after entering the field of play.
Andrew Robertson was found free in attack on the left wing and he fed the ball to Mané who tied the United defence in knots. The Senegalese winger ran into the box and beat his marker before attempting a cross which seemed to deflect off of every defender including De Gea who managed to keep out what would have been an own goal.
Unfortunately for José Mourinho, his superstar goalkeeper could only parry the bouncing ball into the direction of Shaqiri who connected sweetly, rifling it into the top corner which sent Anfield delirious in the 73rd minute.
The screaming Kopites didn’t have long to wait until they were celebrating again, with Shaqiri grabbing his second minutes later, sending Liverpool 3-1 up in the 80th minute. Shaqiri took the ball forward before finding Firmino who controlled the ball well and looked to feed Mohammed Salah. The pass to the Egyptian wasn’t a good one and the chance seemed gone.
However, Shaqiri appeared from nowhere, running from deep and connecting with the ball first time to bend it round the helpless De Gea. United could feel hard done by after the strike took a deflection off of Eric Bailly, but the home fans didn’t care and Anfield was rocking once again.
Despite resorting to long ball tactics for the remainder of the match, the visiting United side couldn’t muster a single attempt on target which meant Jürgen Klopp had finally secured his first home league victory over Manchester United since taking over at Anfield.
Now stretching their unbeaten streak to 18 games, Liverpool will look to continue this brilliant run of form when they take on Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on December 21st.