- Manchester United took tenth minute lead after Bruno Fernandes shot was turned in by Nat Phillips
- After Liverpool had a penalty call overturned, Diogo Jota equalised with back heel from Phillips’ shot
- Roberto Firmino struck either side of half-time to help build a Liverpool lead and put Reds in control
- Marcus Rashford pulled a goal back with 22 minutes to play at Old Trafford after Red Devils response
- Mohamed Salah made three points safe for Liverpool with last minute strike on the counter attack
- Latest Premier League news, including fixtures and results
- Premier League table – as it stands
The climax to this strange season continues to prove the point of those protesting outside Old Trafford. If the richest clubs had their way a campaign like this would already be over. The title would be won, relegation decided and there would be no titanic scrap for Champions League qualification because the wealthiest clubs would all be in, regardless.
So Liverpool would have had no need to throw the kitchen sink at Manchester United, turning the game on its head with three goals in 16 minutes. Manchester United would have had scant motivation to inflict further humiliation on their great rivals, by trying to keep them out of Europe’s biggest competition. And this would have been a friendly with teeth, not an almighty scrap with six goals and end to end action. Chelsea versus Leicester, next Tuesday, is huge, too.
Liverpool must have thought they had done enough to win with an assault on Manchester United’s goal that began with a 34th minute equaliser, continued with a second in the third minute of injury time and concluded with a third two minutes into the second-half. Yet Manchester United pulled one back and made them battle all the way to the finish line. Holding on, it was a win that has blown the fight for the top four wide open again, given events at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. Liverpool are up to fifth, but could be a point behind Chelsea after playing West Brom on Sunday.
United were leading and Liverpool wobbling defensively when Diogo Jota brought them back into the game. His was a lovely, cheeky goal, full of wit and intuitive thinking.
Mohamed Salah’s shot was blocked but then United’s defence allowed defender Nathaniel Phillips to sweep up the ball and dribble in the area with it, before shooting on the turn. The ball flashed across Jota who finished with a sly backheeled flick, diverting the trajectory and giving United goalkeeper Dean Henderson no chance.
And as they do at their best, Liverpool then took the game away from United. Deep in first-half injury time, Liverpool won a free-kick. Trent Alexander-Arnold struck it deep towards the back post where Roberto Firmino had lost his man, Paul Pogba. His header again left Henderson powerless.
Only Robbie Fowler has scored more with his head for Liverpool in the Premier League era, even if this was Firmino’s first goal of any kind in the competition since January. More worrying is United’s record when defending dead ball deliveries. It is the worst on aggregate in the Premier League with 23 per cent of goals they have conceded coming this way.
By now, United were in disarray and the break did little to compose them. The game had barely restarted when they fell further behind. The errors were piling up. First Fred made a mistake and then, having recovered from this, Luke Shaw compounded it, caught in possession by Jota. He fed Alexander-Arnold whose shot was saved before Firmino mopped up from the rebound. All over? It would have been had Jota not hit a post with the goal begging after 59 minutes.
Instead, United raised the tension a notch after a lovely move involving Shaw’s pass, a Bruno Fernandes dummy and a one two between Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford, which ended with the younger man finishing smartly past Alisson. Liverpool now had to last 22 minutes defending the Stretford End; twice Nathaniel Phillips cleared off his line, most notably from substitute Mason Greenwood.
It was that type of game. Chaos reigned outside, but inside too. Protests against the ownership from fans, protests against responsible defending from the teams. Gifts were offered at both ends, proving it is not just off the field that these teams have a surprising amount in common.
Missing key figures in the defensive line, they have surprising frailty. Liverpool’s central pairing Phillips and Rhys Williams lack experience, United’s back line lacks consistency and concentration which is probably why they go behind in so many games. Not here, but it wasn’t for want of trying.
In the third minute, Firmino was put through in a good position but chose to pass rather than shoot on goal and the ball was blocked by Eric Bailly. It struck his body first but ricocheted onto an arm. Liverpool protested furiously but fruitlessly. Referee Anthony Taylor was having none of it and, indeed, it was hard to imagine how Bailly could have intended this event or what he could have done to avoid it, beside leave his arms in the dressing-room.
At the other end, a cross by Aaron Wan-Bissaka was headed over powerfully by Edinson Cavani and then came a muddle that should have given the Uruguayan the first goal. Alisson, normally so reliable with the ball at his feet, tried to play out from the back, under-hit his pass terribly and directed it straight to Cavani. He tried to steer the ball back towards an untended goal, and missed. Next time, the confusion would be even more costly.
It was, to be fair, a fine move from Manchester United that gave them the lead. Marcus Rashford put Wan-Bissaka in on the right and he held the ball up, waiting for the cavalry to arrive. It did in the form of Bruno Fernandes who strode into the penalty area and attempted to curl a shot in at the far post. Phillips was caught into two minds.
He was too near the goal to safely block but too fearful of what lurked behind to not get involved. He stuck out a leg and diverted the ball into his own net from point blank range. By the time Alisson got his arms up to even attempt a save, the ball was already in the net. It is to the defender’s credit that he recovered from this calamity to enjoy a good game.
Liverpool thought they were back in it after 26 minutes when a Bailly tackle on Phillips just inside the area sent the Liverpool man high in the air and was met by an instinctive penalty award from Taylor.
Of course VAR checks these things. Paul Tierney ran the replays and suggested Taylor should do the same. Slowed down, it could easily be seen that Bailly got the ball before the man. No nonsense about follow-throughs here either. Taylor immediately and rightly reversed his decision. Liverpool weren’t going to need his help anyway.
Yet the game could have changed in the 31st minute, before Liverpool scored. Shaw took a corner, finding Fernandes on the edge of the area. He whipped in a cross which Pogba met at the far post, his header dropping narrowly wide. Had that gone in would Liverpool have found the spirit for revival? Just 16 minutes later they were 3-1 up.
Fast forward to the 90th minute and, as often happens, pushing for an equaliser was United’s ultimate downfall. Nemanja Matic was caught in possession by Fabinho and Liverpool broke.
Substitute Curtis Jones fed Salah and he sped away, only Henderson to beat. There was only going to be one winner from there. That cannot be said of the scrap for a top four finish. How dare anyone try to neutralise it?