Two goals from Juan Mata were enough to give Manchester United the three points against Liverpool this afternoon. A Daniel Sturridge effort on 69 minutes failed to cover the wound left by Steven Gerrard’s sending off on 45 minutes completed a miserable afternoon at Anfield.
Soccer legend Pele was in the stands and must have wondered what all the fuss was about following the prematch hype induced by Liverpool’s 13-game Premiership unbeaten run. He probably didn’t buy the “Magician” Coutinho label that’s been banded around recently.
Brendan Rodgers started with the eleven in the The LFC File Prematch Opinion earlier today which included Alberto Moreno at left wing back. And oh how I regret lending my expertise to the boss. I felt at the time the only weak link in the side was the Spaniard. “Don’t say anything, Ben” I thought… “He’s held out up until now…”. Yeah right! As it turned out, he was arguably at fault for both of Manyoo’s goals this afternoon. Some Leighton Baines-esque positioning allowed the visitors to profit and slip balls past him on a fair few occasions.
Granted, Juan Mata’s goals were top notch but given the free run of the green he was afforded, both could have been avoided. Add to that the fact that Louis van Gaal completely outwitted Rodgers for the first 30 minutes of the game meant Liverpool were always chasing the game through a six-man United midfield. The hosts did have their moments though.
Liverpool’s best effort on goal came in the first half when Sturridge unselfishly laid Coutinho’s ball into the path of Adam Lallana who’s shot went just wide of David de Gea’s right upright. I know it’s ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ but… well… if only…! This was the home side’s only noteworthy opportunity of the first period and Rodgers’ men deservedly went into the break 0-1 down after Mata shot across Simon Mignolet to open the scoring on 14 minutes.
The second half began with the scent of expectation still hovering in front of every Liverpool fan’s nose, despite the poor first half showing. The team did pick up toward the end of the first period, and me, being no exception had the whiff as strongly as anyone. We’re unbeaten in 13. Surely we can turn this around. Despite the fact that I generally play the reality card where LFC is concerned, even I was not ready for what would happen next.
Rodgers brought Gerrard on at half time in place of the ineffective Lallana and no sooner had the man taken 10 paces, he was shown a red card for a clear stamp on Ander Herrera. This was literally seconds after a bone-shuddering challenge on Mata. I came across this little gem (left) after the match which shows the departing captain’s “Heat Map”. I think in reality it should be more a yellow colour because the guy couldn’t have raised his pulse in the 48 seconds or whatever it was he was on the pitch for, let alone make any heat. And so the fixture had produced it’s usual sprinkle of madness and Liverpool were left to play out the remainder of the match with 10 men.
As usually happens, only then did the team look as if they wanted to get anything from this game. Following a period of sustained Liverpool pressure, United extended their lead. Again, the gap created by Moreno when he decided to leave Mata and wander into the middle of the goal area, leaving the Spaniard in plenty of space to delivery a spectacular scissor-kick finish past Mignolet.
Liverpool were as good as done for and the team’s body language couldn’t disguise it. The introduction of Mario Balotelli signalled a turn in attitude and the Italian’s part in joining Philippe Coutinho to hustlePhil Jones off the ball was instrumental in the latter playing into the path of Sturridge to lash in a close range shot past de Gea at his near post. For a time Liverpool looked in the ascendancy but a team with only 10 men is a team likely to lose against Manchester United.
The visitors coasted the game to full time. Mignolet saved a last minute penalty from Wayne Rooney after Emre Can brought Daley Blind down in the home penalty area on 92 minutes. The hosts continued right up until the end but in all honest, this was never going to be after the start they made and having a man sent off at the beginning of the second period.
There are two things I learned from this game today. Firstly that until Jon Flanagan comes back, Liverpool will continue to struggle on that left side. There is of course no guarantee that the 22 year-old will come back as good a player as he was and with this in mind, I think Rodgers needs to add a left wing back with some positional nous to his summer list along with a striker and perhaps, a central defender. In doing this, the side may well battle for the title this season. The second point is more positive.
There remains eight games to go this season. A potential 24 points to play for. Seeing as they don’t give the trophy out before that, and Liverpool are five point behind today’s winners, there is still a hell of a lot to play for. Life goes on. It’s not over until the fat lady sings and she hasn’t turned up yet.
Next up is a trip to the Emirates to take on Arsenal and what a game that’s shaping up to be!
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