LIVERPOOL 2, MAN UNITED 0
It was far from the rout many pundits had predicted, but Manchester United still failed to halt the Liverpool juggernaut that is rolling relentlessly and unimpeded towards a first-ever Premier League title.
Goals from Virgil van Dijk early in the match and Mohamed Salah in the dying seconds helped Liverpool move an impressive 16 points clear at the top of the table as they continue to brush aside opponents.
Having taken 64 points from a possible 66 – United are the only team to have taken points off them this season – there was never going to be a second slip against United who had been unbeaten against top-four teams going into the game.
Liverpool played some delightful football, had two goals ruled out and struck the frame of the goal, but just couldn’t put the game to bed until the third and final minute of stoppage time when Salah scored their decisive second.
The elation, as well as the relief, was palpable inside Anfield as Liverpool were aware one slip would have let United back into the game. Liverpool had, after all, beaten United only once in their last 11 Premier League games.Embed from Getty Images
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised his side: “The players gave us everything and I felt we could have taken something from the game.
“They had chances, but we also had big chances but overall they deserved to win. We lacked quality with the final pass or cross.
“We hung on a bit at the start of second half, but the last 25-30 mins we pressed them and pushed them back.
“I’m disappointed with conceding from a corner and with the last kick – but very many positives. I felt in the second half we performed really well against a good team and at a difficult place.
“We didn’t have quality with our finishing or last pass. Fred was absolutely top and David de Gea. As a team we worked together as a unit.”
On Rashford’s injury, which will keep him out for up to three months, he explained: “Rashford will be out for a while. He got a new injury against Wolves. We’ll not see him for a little while.
“We’re always looking at chances to improve the squad – with Marcus out for a while we have to look at it closely.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, described it as one of the best derbies for a long time, despite not sealing victory until late on.
He said: “It’s a big relief. I was really happy with 85-90 per cent of the game. We were brilliant. We dominated the game, especially in the first half. The energy they put on the pitch was incredible.
“On a normal day we would have scored three times in the first half and in the second half until 65 minutes we should have been further clear.
“But then United have obvious quality, played a bit more football and we had to defend. There we little mistakes here and there, we didn’t use possession well enough and so the game stays open.
“Then we scored a wonderful, wonderful goal at the end, a really good feeling.”
United suffered a huge pre-match blow with top scorer Rashford ruled out through injury, not only for this match but long-term.
The striker, who has 14 Premier League goals, was hurt after coming on as a substitute in the Emirates FA Cup, third-round replay against Wolves in midweek.
And it was revealed he has a double stress fracture of the back and floating bone in his ankle and will be out for between two and three months.
Solskjaer made three changes from the side that started that match as David De Gea, Andreas Pereira and Luke Shaw returned.
Shaw, usually left back, became a third centre back in a bold 3-4-3 formation.
The players to lose out were Sergio Romero, Juan Mata and Mason Greenwood.
Liverpool fielded the side that won at Tottenham last weekend as they fielded all their big guns as they attempted to extend their lead over City which stood at 13 points before kick-off.
After an uneventful opening, Liverpool went ahead in the 14th minute with their first clear-cut chance of the match.
Van Dijk rose majestically to head Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner high into the net from seven yards as Anfield erupted into a cauldron of noise to mark his fourth goal of the season.
Liverpool were denied a second goal by VAR after referee Craig Pawson had initially allowed Roberto Firmino’s brilliant goal to stand.
But after checks at Stockley Park, van Dijk’s challenge on De Gea was deemed a foul. The keeper had been booked for protesting too vociferously after the initial decision.
Liverpool’s pressure was relentless and moments later Salah crossed for Firmino to scuff his shot disappointingly wide.
Klopp’s side had a second goal chalked out in the 36th minute, but this time there was no issue as Georginio Wijnaldum was clearly offside as he ran on to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s through ball to slot a shot low past De Gea.
United had to patiently wait until the 40th minute for their first goal attempt when Anthony Marrial’s shot flew wide.
That was followed by an even better opening when Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross was almost converted by Pereira who, sliding in, just failed to make contact from three yards when he looked certain to equalise.
Pereira’s drive then forced a diving save from Alisson Becker as United rallied towards the end of the half.
But Liverpool almost made it 2-0 when Sadio Mane was put through and his shot was kept out by the legs of De Gea as an enthralling opening period came to an end.
Liverpool, attacking the Kop after the restart, ought to have doubled their lead within minutes when Salah somehow contrived to shoot wide from seven yards following a low cross from Andrew Robertson.
Mane then blazed over and a drive from Jordan Henderson struck the upright as a second L:iverpool goal was providing elusive.
Oxlade-Chamberlain then forced a decent diving save from De Gea as Liverpool carved out four decent openings in the first seven minutes of the second period.
United survived the onslaught and had chances to equalise as Fred fired narrowly wide and Martial blazed just over when he ought to have hit the target.
Liverpool had yet another chance when Henderson and Wijnaldum combined to release Sane whose shot trickled agonisingly wide.
United made a double change with 16 minutes left as Pereira and Brandon Williams made way for Mata and Greenwood.
And their last substitution with three minutes left saw Shaw replaced by Diogo Dalot.
Liverpool had to endure some nervy moments late before sealing victory in the third and final minute of stoppage time.
With United committed to all-out attack, Liverpool caught the visitors on the break.
Alisson’s long clearance released Salah who ran from inside his own half and raced clear to slot a shot low past De Gea. It was his 15th goal of the season but his first in five attempts against United.
Becker raced the length of the field to embrace Salah who was booked for removing his shirt in his joyous celebrations as Liverpool knew they had overcome a huge hurdle in their quest for a first league title since 1990.