LIVERPOOL 1, MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Double strike by Juan Mata seals victory for United
Rooney penalty miss in added time
Manchester United extend lead over Liverpool to five points
Half-time sub Steven Gerrard sent off 38 seconds after coming on, apologises to his team-mates and fans afterwards
Steven Gerrard’s final appearance for Liverpool in a game against Manchester United lasted less than a minute after the half time substitute was sent off for retaliating against a tackle made by Ander Herrera.
United had already taken a 1-0 lead into half time but ran out 2-1 winners in a fractious game which was settled with two quality goals by fan favourite Juan Mata, now assured of legend status, with a belated Liverpool reply scored by Daniel Sturridge.
Louis Van Gaal named an unchanged side to face Liverpool and the side that impressively demolished Tottenham 3-0 at Old Trafford last week also dominated the first half at Liverpool.
Van Gaal was pleased with the first half but not so pleased with United’s second half against Liverpool.
“They were in fantastic shape but we beat them with their own weapons – pressure on the ball.”
“We had the best first 45 minutes but in the 2nd half we were not so good. We played 11 v 10 and it should have been easier but it was not.
“Liverpool should press us and they did but we played them off the pitch in the first half and scored a fantastic goal.
“Juan Mata played as a false right winger, he was one of my most consistently playing players in the game and I am happy with him.”
United starved Liverpool of possession in the early stages, with Juan Mata shining especially brightly as he gave Alberto Moreno a torrid time down the United right flank.
Moreno had already been robbed by Mata in the 8th minute and conceded a foul trying to win it back before Mata got the better of him again, running behind him to collect a perfectly threaded forward pass by Ander Herrera which bisected Moreno and Mamadou Sakho.
Mata had plenty of time to cut inside and beat Simon Mignolet with a shot that went past him and inside the far post.
Despite their domination of the game from midfield, United had very few opportunities to test Mignolet, and Wayne Rooney was virtually anonymous after winning an early corner for United.
Liverpool picked up the pace in the final third of the first half, with Liverpool finally picking up some fluency, and Raheem Sterling’s crossfield pass to Daniel Sturridge was laid off to Adam Lallana who should have at least tested David De Gea in the United goal but his effort was wide.
Liverpool had picked up the pace at the end of the first half and Anfield was pulsating when Steven Gerrard was introduced into the fray at half time.
Gerrard’s final appearance against United was to be litte more than a cameo, however, after he was dismissed with a straight red card after retaliating against Herrera’s foul tackle.
Gerrard had been mercilessly heckled by United fans as he warmed up during the first half and by the time he was introduced into the fray the midfielder was fired up.
Just 38 seconds had elapsed, a good deal less time than Anfield special guest Pele spent on the pitch at half time, before the infuriated Anfield legend was shown his marching orders.
The drama wasn’t over as Juan Mata extended United’s advantage over Liverpool with a Mark Hughes-esque scissor kick after substitute Angel Di Maria chipped a pass up into the area for the Spanish midfielder to score his second of the match.
Liverpool could have been 3-0 down in the 67th minute after Simon Mignolet tried to outsmart Rooney with some footballing skills as the United forward tried to steal the ball off him.
Ex-Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli was introduced as a sub and promptly went into the referee’s notebook for a needless foul on Phil Jones as he ran towards his own corner flag with the ball, as Liverpool looked set to implode.
The arrears were instead reduced two minutes later when Philip Coutinho released Sturridge with a crossfield pass and the England forward beat Jones to the ball and De Gea was beaten at his near post with a quick finish with just over 20 minutes to go.
It had been Liverpool’s first and only shot on target during a very eventful game which ended with Emre Can conceding an injury time penalty when fouling Daley Blind.
Rooney stepped up to take the penalty kick but Simon Mignolet dived to his right and clutched the spot kick gratefully, leaving the former Evertonian to rue a decade without a goal against Liverpool.
And there was incident even after the final whistle when David De Gea was enraged after Martin Skrtl appeared to stamp on the Spanish ‘keeper as he chased Liverpool’s final fruitless attack.