Liverpool came into the crucial game at Old Trafford with everything to play for, Manchester United on the other hand did not. Truth be told, Liverpool were on top throughout the game and deservedly ran out 4-2 winners.
The game which was postponed two weeks back due to the fans protests which ended up with fans at Old Trafford, started well for United when Nat Phillips deflected in Bruno Fernandes’ curled effort past Alisson into the back of the net.
Liverpool thought they had a route back into the match when a reckless Eric Bailly challenge on Nat Phillips, which won’t surprise any Manchester United fan, led to a penalty being awarded by Anthony Taylor.
The decision was then overturned by VAR to United’s relief. Relief quickly turned to turmoil when Nat Phillips was allowed to dribble and drill a shot across the box, which was brilliantly flicked in by Diogo Jota.
Liverpool quickly took the lead through a fantastic cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold on a freekick, was whipped into the back post which was headed into the roof of the net superbly by Roberto Firmino. A goal late in the first half, which then turned into a goal early in the second half.
Fred gave the ball away in a silly area, a common trait of the two holding midfielders tonight. Luke Shaw tried to atone for the errors by the Brazilian but ends up giving the ball away to Diogo Jota, the Portuguese picks out Alexander-Arnold in the box.
The English full-back drives it at the near post, Dean Henderson spills the shot and Roberto Firmino was there for the rebound.
The Old Trafford side did bring the game back to 3-2 when a perfectly threaded through ball from Edinson Cavani found Marcus Rashford and he converted. Liverpool made the game safe late on when Curtis Jones played through Mohammed Salah when everyone was forward for United.
Henderson didn’t help himself, but Mo Salah scored to finish the game off and to put the race for the top 4 in their hands as we approach the final weeks of the season.
Defensive mistakes once again cost United
Harry Maguire before his injury had featured in every single Premier League game, based on tonight’s performances from Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, it’s clear to see why he’s an ever-present in the United side.
Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly individually are not bad defenders far from it, however together they do not look comfortable with each other whatsoever. They both miss the presence, progressive passing, defensive capabilities and leadership qualities that Maguire has in abundance.
For Maguire now, it’s a waiting game. The Manchester United captain could be seen barking orders from the stands, cajoling the players as best as he could.
Maguire still is wearing a foot brace which for United will be a worry. With just 12 days to go until the Europa League final, the former Leicester City defender will be in a race to be back fit for the game in Gdansk which will be his first final at Manchester United.
The race for Maguire to be fit for the final will be accentuated by the defensive mistakes with some of the goals, the second and third goals were calamitous pieces of defensive play.
Luke Shaw who has had a fantastic season and is one of the favourites for the club’s player of the year trophy looked a shadow of his fantastic best, without the leadership and defensive cover that Maguire offers him. For all of the critics for Harry Maguire, the hole left in the defence in his absence has been a big wake up call for Manchester United.
The Paul Pogba conundrum
Paul Pogba since the turn of the calendar year is in with a shout of being nominated for the club’s player of the year. After a difficult summer dealing with the effects of COVID-19, Pogba has been performing consistently well for a prolonged period of time, for the first time since his move from Juventus in 2016.
The Frenchman had been moved to the left-hand side of a three behind the striker, that change seemed to have been a masterstroke by Solskjaer. Lately though, despite his consistency remaining, other players performances have dipped.
Marcus Rashford from the right-hand side in the first half looked out of the game, when he was moved to the left he improved drastically. The Midfield two of Fred and Mctominay can be got at and succumb to the pressure of the oppositions press too easily.
The positives and negatives of Pogba playing on the left are simple. When the Frenchman is on the left, his defensive responsibilities are lessened hugely. The world-class midfielder also has a strong connection with Luke Shaw and can pick up pockets of space on the left-hand side. The negatives are that Rashford and the midfield two often suffer for it, United looked a different team when the world cup winner was moved centrally.
This result will leave Solskjaer with more questions than answers ahead of a European final and indeed a hectic summer, in which transfer business needs to be done.
Players need to come in the door and equally, players need to go out the door. It is going to be a hectic few weeks for the powers that be at Old Trafford.