Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino shine as Liverpool punish Swansea 5-0

Carl Markham 27/12/2017
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Philippe Coutinho provided the style and compatriot Roberto Firmino the substance as Liverpool‘s brilliant Brazilians dispatched rudderless Swansea 5-0 in clinical fashion at Anfield.

Things looked bleak for the Premier League‘s bottom side, still searching for their next manager after sacking Paul Clement last Wednesday, when Coutinho curled home a superb sixth-minute opener.

The hosts’ sluggishness prevented Jurgen Klopp‘s scoring further until early in the second half when Firmino volleyed in Coutinho’s free-kick before adding his second after Trent Alexander-Arnold drilled in a half-volley off the underside of the crossbar, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain firing in the fifth seven minutes from time.

It allowed Liverpool to regain fourth place after Tottenham’s victory earlier in the day but left Swansea five points from safety after a seventh successive away defeat.

Whomever comes in has a huge task on their hands turning around a side which has conceded 12 goals in four matches and scored just two but a quick decision is essential to prevent further separation from their fellow relegation candidates.

Under caretaker boss Leon Britton they did not have the game plan to cope with the creativity of Coutinho, Liverpool captain in the absence of the injured Jordan Henderson, and the movement of Firmino.

Roberto Firmino

Coutinho’s moment of brilliance lit up an otherwise dull first half, scoring the 250th goal of Klopp’s reign, and it was a trademark finish.

Jordan Ayew stumbled in midfield to gift Firmino possession and in two passes the ball arrived at Coutinho’s feet via Mohamed Salah, with the Brazilian taking one touch to shift it out in front of his right foot and another to bend it into the top corner.

It was his 19th Premier League goal from outside the penalty area and only Steven Gerrard (33) has now scored more from distance for Liverpool.

That should have paved the way for the onslaught but what followed was a succession of shots from outside the area – none anywhere close to matching Coutinho’s magic – from the likes of Andrew Robertson, Emre Can and Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It meant the visitors enjoyed a relatively easy opening 45 minutes, with their one chance a far-post header from Ayew which Simon Mignolet saved at the second attempt.

But in added time Roque Mesa almost threw it away by giving away possession to Salah and although his pass put Firmino clean through with only the keeper to beat he dragged his shot wide.

The Brazil international made up for that with a close-range volley from his compatriot’s free-kick seven minutes into the second half.

Liverpool could even afford top-scorer Salah’s radar to be off with two chances in the second half as academy graduate Alexander-Arnold smashed home a half-volley off the underside of the crossbar at the Kop end.

A minute later Firmino tapped into an empty goal from Salah’s square pass before Oxlade-Chamberlain completed the rout.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Jesse Lingard double rescues point for Man United against Burnley

Rory Dollard 26/12/2017
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Jesse Lingard

Jesse Lingard came off the bench to spare Manchester United a Boxing Day defeat at the hands of Burnley, scoring twice to rescue a 2-2 draw for Jose Mourinho‘s side.

Lingard answered a half-time SOS with United staring down the barrel at 2-0 down but pulled one back with an instinctive back-heel before striking through a packed box in added time to cap a frantic finale.

In salvaging a share of the spoils the England winger, who also had a shot deflected off the crossbar from point-blank range by Nick Pope, robbed the the spotlight from Burnley’s Steven Defour, who bent it like Beckham with a sublime free-kick following Ashley Barnes’ opener.

Defour was a United target back in 2009 but saw his dream move shattered along with his metatarsal and received a letter of commiseration from Sir Alex Ferguson instead.

He has waited a long time to enjoy a moment in the sun at Old Trafford but Lingard meant it did not lead to a first Burnley win at the ground since 1962.

It was, nevertheless, a world away what Mourinho must have planned when he paired Romelu Lukaku with Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the first time, and rivals Manchester City can now extend their Premier League lead to 15 points on Wednesday.

Having conceded costly goals in the dying moments of their last two matches, against Bristol City and Leicester, United varied the theme somewhat by going behind inside three minutes.

Marcos Rojo was culpable, barging Jeff Hendrick from the game’s first foray on goal.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson delivered the free-kick and United, Lukaku in particular, dallied and dithered until Barnes accepted the invitation to poke home.

The away end exploded, Barnes erupted and United players shook their heads before beginning a frenetic but unfocused riposte.

Ashley Young was at the heart of it, but his selection of whipped crosses went unconverted.

In the meantime Burnley almost doubled their lead when Scott Arfield’s instep volley crept over David De Gea and skipped off the crossbar. 

United skipper Paul Pogba was doing his best to lift the hosts, and saw a deflected header pawed clear by the excellent Nick Pope, but by then the Clarets contingent had already started comparing the £90million man unfavourably to Dean Marney. It was becoming that kind of afternoon.

Another free-kick, Young transgressing this time, handed the visitors an appealing sight of goal and Defour produced a stunner.

The Belgian struck his 20-yard effort as sweetly as possible, leaving De Gea groping at thin air and United staring at a humbling reverse.

Marcus Rashford and Ibrahimovic were both denied by last-ditch defending before the break, Ben Mee with a goalline clearance and Kevin Long a timely block.

Mourinho swung the axe at the break, removing the Swede and Rojo in favour of Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. As part of the remix, Nemanja Matic found himself reassigned to central defence.

Paul Pogba 2

If that had a hint of desperation to it, Lingard’s arrival lifted United. He somehow failed to score from point-blank range with one of this first touches, Pope effectively glancing the winger’s shot off his face on and on to the top of the crossbar. Was it bravery, anticipation or dumb luck? Burnley could not have cared less.

But there was no preventing Lingard’s next attempt. The England international showed a brilliant awareness of angles as he moved to meet another Young cross, flicking into the bottom corner with an elegant back-heel.

The heat in Old Trafford immediately soared, with players, fans and staff from both sides seemingly raging against every decision.

Five minutes of added time opened the door for late drama and it was Lingard who provided it, smashing a shot past the unsighted Pope following an uncleared free-kick.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Player ratings as Lingard brace salvages point for Man United

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Jesse Lingard came off the bench to strike twice and rescue a 2-2 draw for Manchester United against Burnley at Old Trafford.

A third-minute effort from Ashley Barnes and a brilliant Steven Defour free-kick had put the Clarets, who also hit the bar, on course for a stunning first away win over United for 55 years.

But while the final result may still prove another blow for United’s faltering Premier League title challenge, Lingard spared his side’s blushes by pulling one back and then levelling through a crowded box in injury time.

Tweet of the Match

Star Man – Jesse Lingard

The introduction of Lingard undoubtedly improved United’s attack. The England international was more dynamic than Zlatan Ibrahimovic and proved more adept at getting in the right place when it mattered.

His first goal was a superb back-heeled finish and he might have had another before he fired the equaliser through a crowd of bodies.

Moment of the match

Beating David de Gea has proved an almost impossible task for many fine players but Defour did so with a brilliant curling free-kick before half-time.

It was undoubtedly a sweet moment for the former Standard Liege and Anderlecht player, who saw hopes of a possible move to United evaporate after breaking a bone in his foot in 2009.

At the time, then United manager Sir Alex Ferguson wrote him a letter urging him not to be discouraged. He may not have expected the player to prove the point to him so close to home. 

View from the bench

United manager Jose Mourinho showed his frustration after a number of decisions by referee Martin Atkinson but his own initial team selection was perhaps a mistake.

United did have several chances in an open first half but Ibrahimovic looked laboured. The team were much more fluent after the introduction of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and, especially, Lingard at half-time.

His changes salvaged the game, but Mourinho will ultimately still be frustrated at the dropped points. Sean Dyche could have nothing but praise for his hard-working side, particularly the way in which they seized their early chances and defended stoically.

Jose

Ratings

Manchester United

David de Gea 6

Ashley Young 7

Phil Jones 6

Marcos Rojo 6

Luke Shaw 6

Paul Pogba 7

Nemanja Matic 7

Juan Mata 7

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 5

Romelu Lukaku 5

Marcus Rashford 6

Subs

Jesse Lingard (for Ibrahimovic, 45) 8

Henrik Mkhitaryan (for Rojo, 45) 6

Burnley

Nick Pope

Nick Pope 8

Phil Bardsley 7

Kevin Long 7

Ben Mee 8

Charlie Taylor 7

Johann Berg Gudmundsson 7

Steven Defour 7

Jack Cork 6

Scott Arfield 7

Jeff Hendrick 7

Ashley Barnes 7

Subs

Sam Vokes (for Defour, 67) 6

Jonathan Walters (for Barnes, 81) 6

Who’s up next?

Manchester United v Southampton (Premier League, December 30)

Huddersfield v Burnley (Premier League, December 30)

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