It was a night when a section of Manchester United support returned to the air charged with protests and, for a brief time, we wondered if the Liverpool team would make it to Old Trafford. But when they did and England’s classic game, which had been postponed the Sunday before the last one following demonstrations by United fans against their American owners, came to life, it was Liverpool who engineered what could prove to be a decisive victory.
They showed poise and character to bounce back from a slow start and, after a seesaw contest, the streak was left to Mohamed Salah at the end to secure the points. After a turbulent season, Liverpool are now in control of their own destiny regarding a Champions League final. If they can finish with wins over West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace, chances are they will get what they want, with Chelsea and Leicester to meet next Tuesday and one or both set to lose points.
Liverpool came to life in the middle of the first half and deserved the victory, whose platform was a wonderful goal by Diogo Jota and two by Roberto Firmino. For United, who are already sure of being in the top four, there was only misery, outside the stadium and on the field. Play like this and they won’t win the Europa League final against Villarreal.
The pre-match scene was tainted by the massive police presence outside the stadium coupled with surveillance in the skies and was fueled by the anger of United support, around 500 of whom lit flares and sang songs on the main concourse. A 10-foot barrier offered protection to the Munich tunnel, which had been breached by protesters prior to the original set-up.
The United players had arrived in their own cars at lunchtime – the club was taking no chances – but the visitors opted for a figurative shoulder drop. There was a red Liverpool team bus seen outside a hotel in the city center, which was hemmed in by cars before it finally departed, but the club’s actual transportation was a pair of dark-colored coaches sneaking through the parking lot W3, along with Manchester International Freight. Terminal just before 7 p.m. M., Instead of going up the usual John Gilbert Way route. The protesters charged late.
Liverpool’s lure worked, but their defense faltered at first, and Alisson was lucky to escape when he directed a direct pass to Edinson Cavani, whose shot was tame. United took the lead as they opened their opponents with two single passes: Marcus Rashford down the inside right channel for Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s run and the wing’s low cut for Bruno Fernandes. With little pressure on him from Fabinho, Fernandes went for the trivela and it was hard to tell if he would have snuggled up from the far pole. Nat Phillips’s lunge was secured, the defender inadvertently slicing through Alisson.
But if Liverpool seemed uncomfortable in the United press, they were dangerous when they got into the last third and were able to turn the game around before half-time. Phillips corrected his mistake with a left-to-right surge into the box after a shot from Mohamed Salah had been blocked and, when he worked the ball back into the six-yard box, Jota’s instinctive move for the tie was excellent.
Liverpool were worth it for their half-time lead, which was awarded to them when Firmino beat sleepy Paul Pogba to head in a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick.
It was all action, with Liverpool wanting a penalty in the third minute when Firmino’s shot went through Eric Bailly’s block and hit the defender’s hand; an award would have been tough. They then got one in 26 minutes only for the VAR to give it back.
Bailly had launched into a reckless challenge on Phillips after a shot from Rhys Williams struck Scott McTominay, possibly in the hand. Bailly brushed the ball before taking Phillips out and that contact saved him. Liverpool could also point to a couple of Jota efforts that got Dean Henderson going before the break.
United’s defensive ease was stamped on Firmino’s second goal at the start of the second half. First Fred gave up possession at the edge of the box only for United to hold out but, after Luke Shaw was stolen by Jota, Alexander-Arnold’s excellent angled attack drew a weak save from Henderson. Firmino swallowed the rebound.
It was shocking to witness United jump from a position of strength to disorder. They lost passes, misjudged the amount of time they had with the ball, and had their pockets repeatedly stolen as they tried to play from behind.
They were on hold when Jota rocked the post when he went one-on-one with Henderson after a Liverpool rapier counterattack and the keeper had to save Alexander-Arnold after Wan-Bissaka gave up possession to Salah. And yet they came back when Cavani played at Rashford for a clean finish. Liverpool should have been out of sight. Now they could feel the heat.
Mason Greenwood, as a backup, saw a shot cleared from the line by Phillips but the last word was from Salah.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism