Klopp finally has his first win at Old Trafford as Liverpool manager, and it is a victory he will savour.
With a perfect run-in required to qualify for Europe’s top club competition next season, this was – on paper – the Reds hardest fixture remaining, against a Manchester United side full of confidence. Yet, the visitors past the test with flying colours, as they secured the three points in such a stylish fashion.
It was a refreshing 90 minutes of football compared to what has been generally seen over the second half of the season. Players looked hungry, shutting down United players high up the pitch and looking to capitalise at every opportunity.
People shouldn’t be fooled by the score line either. It could have been easily five or six for Klopp’s side, as was the brilliance from Liverpool all over the pitch, whilst the faltering backline of the Red Devils seriously hindered their own progress in the contest.
With fixtures against West Brom (A), Burnley (A) and Crystal Palace (H) remaining, there is a new found optimism within the squad and fans that a top four finish is within there grasp. However, many will realise that these are not easy games, after dropping points to West Brom and Burnley in the reverse fixtures earlier in the campaign.
Klopp will celebrate this result momentarily and swiftly move onto the game against at the Hawthorns on Sunday. It is just as big as the game against Manchester United, in the context of their season, and he will want his side to put in a similar – if not better – performance than they did on Thursday evening.
Back to events at Old Trafford and truth be told, it wasn’t the best start from Liverpool. Everyone was slow out of the blocks, losing their close duels with their opposite numbers and a clear inability to string three passes together. This messy start proved costly, as Solskjær’s side took the lead through the lively Bruno Fernandes, with a little help from Nat Phillips.
This first 15 minutes was the worst spell the team would have all game, as from this moment the Reds kicked into action and sprung a fight back and prolonged period of dominant football that had shades of the team which had triumphed over the last three seasons.
Chances quickly fell to Firmino and Salah but where wonderfully blocked before the Reds were given a penalty. This was eventually wrongly dismissed by referee Anthony Taylor after watching a VAR replay. Despite the missed chances and poor refereeing, this didn’t deter Liverpool and instead the chaotic period pushed United back before Klopp’s side finally got their reward for the sustained pressure.
After his mistake for the United opener, Phillips collected the ball in the six-yard box – showing composure that very few hold in that position – before dribbling into space and firing the ball towards the free Diogo Jota. The Portuguese made no mistake from close range, with a cheeky flick into the bottom corner to level things up.
Minutes later – and on the stroke of half time – Liverpool had a deserved lead. After inundating Dean Henderson’s area with crosses so far during the evening, Alexander-Arnold produced his best one yet with a deliciously curling effort to the back post. The beautiful effort was forcibly headed home by the incoming Roberto Firmino, with his first goal in 15 games.
Despite the good ending to the half, the tie felt that it could tilt either way. The respective team talks would be valuable and incitive to what to expect in the second period. Clearly Klopp delivered the talk needed to see his side kick on.
Within the minutes of the restart the Reds scored their third. After making several mistakes at the edge of their own area, United relinquished possession to Firmino, who subsequently found the wonderful Alexander-Arnold to have a strike at goal. With Henderson unable to gather the ferocious shot, Firmino pounced on the loose ball, dispatching it beyond the dive of Henderson and Lindelof.
With the team in dreamland, a fourth would have killed the contest but chance after chance went begging. Firstly, Jota struck the post from close range with a golden chance, before Alexander-Arnold found his one-on-one effort saved by Henderson. After the latters chance, a feeling of wastefulness came across and a worry this could give the home side an avenue back into the game.
Unfortunately, this would be the case in the ever-changing momentum of this encounter, as Rashford slotted home with under 30 minutes remaining to set up a tense final stage. Clearances off the line and game saving blocks followed from a determined Liverpool, as the clocked ticked down. The threat of the counter attack was still on but Klopp’s side couldn’t find an avenue out until the dying moments of the game.
As Curtis Jones and Thiago battled, the ball found its way to the former to clear. In doing so he put Mohammad Salah clean through on the Manchester United goal and a major chance to end the game. The Egyptian did this in fine fashion, tucking home into the bottom left corner to spark celebration amongst the Liverpool contingent.
It was a major boost to Klopp’s sides’ confidence moving into the final three games. With an already relegated West Brom up next, free of any pressure, it will be down to the eleven players sent out to get the job done and keep this team on track for that top four.
Klopp a single change from the side that defeated Southampton 2-0 at Anfield last time out. Sadio Mané dropped to the bench in favour of Roberto Firmino up front with Jota moving out to the left wing.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Trent Alexander-ArnoldEmbed from Getty Images
Outstanding all evening. Head and shoulders the best player on the pitch and a threat all evening down that right side. With the onlooking Gareth Southgate at Old Trafford, he put on a clinic in how to perfectly go about your business over a 90-minute game. Practically flawless.
From an attacking point of view, he was a nuisance that Shaw and Pogba could not handle. Cross after cross came in from that right with precision and even when he took the former on, he beat him comfortably before delivering into the box.
Much has been discussed about Alexander-Arnold’s defensive capabilities in recent months after his England omission, but at Old Trafford his defensive work was perfect. You wouldn’t have known that Paul Pogba was playing and even when Rashford came to the left side, he was nullified.
As previously touched upon, his deliveries into the area where crucial to the win, with his free-kick setting up Firmino for his first goal. His pressing and reading of the game were also outstanding, forcing the United team into several mistakes during the game, one of which leading to the Reds third and Firmino’s second of the night.
With fellow England right back hopeful Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the other wing, he outshone his competitor by some margin, truly showing the quality he holds and what the national team would miss out if not selected. He is not just England’s best right back, but arguably the best in the world in that position. Doubt him at your peril.
Roberto FirminoEmbed from Getty Images
After a difficult season which has seen him in and out of the team, this was arguably the Brazilians best performance in the campaign. After a lengthy goal drought, once his first strike went in, he went from strength to strength, becoming the player we have seen become a reliable asset in the Liverpool team.
His opening 20 minutes were poor in all honesty. Losing possession even at points when he was under no pressure, but from that moment a burst of energy seemed to hit him and with it came a 70-minute spell of football, that when put into a highlight package, perfectly shows what Roberto Firmino is all about.
Holding up the ball, playing perfectly weighted passes and being clinical when given the opportunity, all of a sudden didn’t look like a player who had been on a 15-game goal drought. He was playing with a swagger and it was great to see.
His first goal was a picture-perfect piece of play. As Alexander-Arnold’s deliciously searching ball was on its way to the back post, the 29-year-old brushed off the attentions of Paul Pogba to plant his header home into the roof of the net. If anything has gone to plan this season for Bobby, it is his heading ability. He once again provided a timely reminder of how deadly he can be when the ball is in the air.
His second was manufactured and then finished by him. After intercepting the ball at the edge of the area, he found the onrushing Alexander-Arnold. After the Englishman’s shot was parried by Dean Henderson, the former Hoffenheim man was perfectly placed to dispatch beyond the two helpless United players on the line, to spark his famous karate celebration.
This was a display that was desperately needed for Liverpool’s No.9. Him returning to some kind of form will have Klopp grinning from ear to ear going into the final three games. An in-form Roberto Firmino can only be bad for any opposition defence and positive for the fellow forwards that play alongside him.
AlissonEmbed from Getty Images
After his busy performance against Southampton, he had very little to do at Old Trafford but will be disappointed with his overall showing. He only faced three shots on target and was beaten by two, whilst his passing was erratic and he clearly lacked a little confidence after his early mistake.
This early error came out of nowhere as Alisson was under no pressure at all and inexplicably put his side in danger. His pass to Rhys Williams was massively under hit and if it wasn’t for Cavani’s profligacy, United might have had the lead earlier than they did. From this he took no chances and went long the vast majority of the time, each pass proving to be accurate and comfortable for each player to receive.
This isn’t the first time his short passing has come under pressure, with plenty of examples over the past season alone suggesting this is an area he needs to work on. However, with the rest of his game in magnificent touch, it will allow him to fully focus on improving this area and becoming a further impenetrable force in between the sticks.
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