Liverpool put in a performance worthy of the occasion as we beat Manchester United 2-0 in this evening’s first leg at Anfield to establish a healthy advantage in our Europa League last-16 tie.
A Daniel Sturridge penalty in the first half and another goal from Roberto Firmino ensured that the first ever European meeting between the two sides would be remembered fondly by Reds supporters.
The atmosphere was rocking from even before the first whistle, and it got even better as the game went on and the crowd realised just how superior we were to United in every department on this night.
There was some pre-match concern about the identity of the referee. Spaniard Carlos Velasco Carballo had shown 80 cards in his previous 12 games, including six reds, and when he booked Jordan Henderson in incredibly soft circumstances after only 90 seconds, there was a fear that he could ruin the spectacle.
But Carballo actually turned out to be excellent. He got the penalty decision spot on after 19 minutes. Memphis Depay’s grappling of Nathaniel Clyne started outside of the box, but carried on into the area and the England international when down the right sight of the 18-yard line – for us anyway!
With James Milner missing with the virus which the Liverpool Echo reports caused him to miss training yesterday, and Christian Benteke, who kept his cool from 12 yards in Sunday’s stoppage time win over Crystal Palace, only among the substitutes, Sturridge stepped up – unlike in the Capital One Cup final.
He stuttered in his run up, but beat De Gea to the United keeper’s right with a composed effort:
The Spanish stopper was proving incredibly difficult to find a way past in open play. He threatened to denied us the winning margin that we deserved with a string of excellent saves in the visiting net.
Coutinho scuffed what should have been a simple left-footed finish from inside five yards, six minutes after the goal, instead prodding weakly with the outside of his right and allowing De Gea to claw away.
— Manchester United (@ManUtds_News) March 10, 2016
A shot from Sturridge had plenty more power behind it, but De Gea blocked bravely at the back post, and then showed annoyingly good reflexes to save an Adam Lallana flick from point-blank range.
At the other end, were were looking solid and Simon Mignolet nowhere near as busy. His only save of note came on 51 minutes when Morgan Schneiderlin drilled a 25-yard shot which the Belgian held.
We continued to go close to a second. Coutinho and Clyne blasts from range forced De Gea to athletically parry away, and Henderson’s shot swerved away from the diving keeper, but wide of the post.
Thankfully, De Gea could do nothing to stop Firmino from scoring a ninth goal in 13 matches. Not for the first time in the game, Lallana showed silky footwork, and this time, crucially, in an area that mattered as he kept his composure to provide the bang-in-form Brazilian with the simplest of finishes.
Seventeen minutes remaining and there was the sense that we could virtually kill the tie off with a third goal. United were not looking dangerous and did not have the options on the bench to change the game.
Their last-resort plan was to throw a few crosses in the box towards Marouane Fellaini, who did manage to jump above Dejan Lovren from one 85th-minute delivery, but his header trickled a few yards wide.
You’ll Never Walk Alone rang out from the Kop as we ended a four-match losing streak against United. The job is half done. If we play like this again at Old Trafford next week, we should certainly go through.
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