A much more inspiring performance from the travelling red side from Merseyside was unable to defeat their fiercest Northern adversaries in the 4th Round of the FA Cup and exit their second cup competition of the season. Despite taking an early lead and coming back to level the game in the second half, it would be a substitute coming on for the Red Devils that would seal their place in the next tie and send Liverpool out of the tournament but the sparkle of both sides and the return of goals on the scoresheet for the Reds will be most important as Premier League fixtures come more testing in the near future.
Jordan Henderson was deemed not fit to play after sustaining a muscle injury in the last week and the absence of Joël Matip was put down to managing fitness and match minutes. As aforementioned, Liverpool’s fixture list is daunting as the return of Champions League football is on the horizon as well as crunch games that will almost definitely play a part in deciding the destiny of the league championship and qualification for next season’s European competitions – managing injuries has been a task all season for Jürgen Klopp so resting the Cameroonian centre-back is to be expected in this crucial part of the season for the Reds.
United opened the game with an early half-chance for youngster Mason Greenwood who got the better of Liverpool’s back four which includes fellow stalwart Rhys Williams. On this occasion, it was the positioning of Williams that did enough to dismay Greenwood into passing the ball into the box for Donny van de Beek to finish and took on the shot from an ambitious angle that was comfortably saved by Alisson.
The possession stats were in favour of the visitors and under 10 minutes after the first chance of the game they would have the lead – as Roberto Firmino picked up the ball in midfield and whose through ball was inciteful and true as it pierced through the Manchester United defence and into the path of Mohamed Salah who chipped the ball on his weaker right foot over the grounded Dean Henderson and into the back of the net.
8 minutes later, however, United would respond with a familiar face; Greenwood again would receive the ball on the right flank after Marcus Rashford lofted an inch-perfect and sublime pass over James Milner, tracking back after the counter-attack came through an advantage played on a foul on Paul Pogba, and onto the chest of the teenager to set himself up and hit his strike early into the bottom left corner.
Rashford remained a nuisance as Trent Alexander-Arnold was unable to contain his fellow countryman who was able to skip past several challenges to set up Paul Pogba on the stroke of half time, but the World Cup winner was only able to curl his effort wide of the post.
Pogba would also have a free header in the box from a corner as Curtis Jones was more occupied with the run from van de Beek, but the Frenchman only headered into the Stretford End.
Half time: Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool
No changes at the break from a personnel perspective but a change on the scoreline occurred 3 minutes after the restart – a role reversal as Greenwood this time the provider for Rashford from Liverpool’s half. Williams was left isolated and failed to get a touch on the through pass allowing United’s number ten to race in on goal, open up his body to side-foot the shot into the bottom right corner.
With the advantage for the home side Liverpool attempted to reply with an ambitious first-time effort from James Milner as Thiago’s lofty pass into the box was diverted by Lindelöf into the veteran’s path and the shot got plenty of connection but little direction.
Only seconds later, however, pressure on the United backline allowed Firmino to get ahold of the ball outside the box who passed inside the penalty area. This time Milner’s involvement led to Liverpool’s next goal, as his dummy-shot distracted Maguire leaving Salah to let fly for his and his team’s second of the night.
The pressure was mounting on Dean Henderson’s goal as in the 60th minute Salah drew out the defenders and put Alexander-Arnold in the position to shoot. Similarly, to Greenwood’s opening chance in the game, the angle favoured the goalkeeper who easily parried the effort wide.
A hattrick and potential chance to seal the win came in the 66th minute for the Kop’s Egyptian king when Firmino combined again with Salah and with less than 20 yards to goal it was the pressure from Shaw that pushed the forward onto his weaker right foot for the shot that was tame and straightforward for Henderson to save.
The winner would come in the 77th minute but with a price of controversy. Cavani backed into Fabinho and went to the ground outside the box with little to no deliberate impeding from the makeshift centre-back preventing the Uruguayan’s movement – Craig Pawson pointed for the freekick.
Substitute, Bruno Fernandes, still had to score and that he did by curling the ball around the Liverpool wall and past Alisson, into the bottom-right corner of the net. Once again, despite all of the pressure and chances from Klopp’s side, it would appear as if Liverpudlians would be on the receiving end of another defeat.
A late chance in the 88th minute from Cavani came and went. Fernandes’ cross from a standing position into the box crashed onto the post and was cleared away but the Reds would not use that let-off as a springboard for a final equaliser.
The game ended with many supporters believing that the spirit from both sides was brilliant to watch and, despite being knocked out of the competition, there were signs that Liverpool may yet be able to recover from their mid-season blues to keep the title race and European competition’s campaigns alive and kicking.
The first rematch of the Premier League season for the champions is next as they visit the home of a patchy Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday evening. Many before this game would have thought that Liverpool would struggle to match Mourinho in their next fixture – this spirited away performance provides proof that despite some flaws, the Redmen are not as sunk as some may think.
Full time: Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool
Man Utd: Henderson (6), Wan Bissaka (6), Lindelöf (6), Maguire (5), Shaw (7), Pogba (7), McTominay (6), Greenwood (7), van de Beek (6), Rashford (8), Cavani (7).
Subs: Fred (6), Fernandes (7), Martial (n/a).
Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (6), Williams (5), Fabinho (6), Robertson (6), Milner (7), Thiago (7), Wijnaldum (7), Jones (6), Salah (8), Firmino (7).
Subs: Mané (6), Shaqiri (n/a), Origi (n/a).
Man of the match: Marcus Rashford.