The visitors did pull a goal back in the second half when Sadio Mane’s cross was deflected in by Eric Bailly but the hosts still saw out the win.
The encounter served up an intriguing tactical battle between Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp. Here, we dissect the tactical inputs of both managers as the Portuguese emerged victorious at Old Trafford.
Goals – 2
Shots – 5
Possession – 32%
Tackles – 22
Dribbles – 6
Goals – 1
Shots – 14
Possession – 68%
Tackles – 16
Dribbles – 12
The United boss set his side up with in a 4-4-1-1 formation but as soon as they had the ball, that changed as Juan Mata drifted centrally. The double pivot of Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic ensured United remained compact without the ball.
Between Ashley Young (predominantly), Chris Smalling and one of either Matic or McTominay, Mohamed Salah was kept quiet while Liverpool’s counter-attacking threat was negated by United’s deep back-line. Meanwhile, Alexis Sanchez closed down spaces ahead of the central midfield two and held the ball up on the break.
Predictably, the German tactician didn’t stray from the 4-3-3 system that has blown away many an opposition this season. His side struggled to make their possession count in the first half though. In the second period, Liverpool began crossing the ball earlier and asked questions of the United defence.
Salah started to get into more central positions as well with Roberto Firmino’s movement into wide areas pulling defenders out of position. They threw numbers forward as the closing stages descended into a mad scramble, but to no avail.
TACTICAL TALKING POINTS
Liverpool’s young full-backs have been lauded for their attacking play but Mourinho certainly put their defensive prowess to the test. The diagonal ball was United’s go-to move to release Rashford down the left or Romelu Lukaku when he peeled off to the right.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was particularly targeted with the pace of Rashford who stole in behind him to latch onto Lukaku’s flicked header, cut in and score the opener. In Liverpool’s 4-3-3 system, the wide men aren’t going to support the full-backs and Mourinho took full advantage.
NEGATING THE PRESS
David De Gea’s kicking is nowhere near as bad as his pass accuracy of 25 per cent in this game suggests. However, the reason for the Spaniard’s insistence on going long was clear. One of Liverpool’s strongest assets is their high-press, the very same that made Klopp so successful at Borussia Dortmund.
Mourinho completely eliminated that particular threat by instructing his team to go long, deciding against playing out from the back almost entirely. In attack, Lukaku’s physicality made the long-ball game work, as evident in both goals.
Klopp has been accused of lacking a Plan B but in the second half, he did make a couple of changes that helped his side push United all the way. Neither Liverpool full-back had the best of games and were hooked with James Milner going to left-back and substitute Georginio Wijnaldum slotting in at right-back.
In possession though, both tucked in and operated as auxiliary central midfielders to ensure they dominated the ball and kept United pinned back while the forward players were able to whip balls into a box flooded with white shirts.
Typically calculating and neutralised Liverpool’s best attributes. His players were well drilled and carried out instructions perfectly. Ensured United had a bit of bite up front as well in what was an efficient performance.
Rating – 8/10
Didn’t have an answer to Mourinho’s tactics in the first half. He did react in the second and showed that he does have a few tricks up his sleeve but it was too little, too late.
Rating – 6/10
Rashford twice exposed weaknesses in right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold’s play to put the hosts at Old Trafford 2-0 up by 24 minutes.
Liverpool fortuitously earned a way back in when returning Ivory Coast centre-back Eric Bailly put through his own goal after the hour mark. They then saw strong penalty shouts for Ecuador right-back Antonio Valencia’s handball and substitute Marouane Fellaini’s challenge go without punishment – both incidents involved Senegal forward Sadio Mane.
A second defeat in 21 top-flight matches now leaves Jurgen Klopp’s men five points behind second-placed United, with eight matches left.
Here are our ratings for the Reds.
Loris Karius – 6: All the German goalkeeper had to do was pick the ball out of his net. On both occasions, was blameless. Made one superb tackle to kill a United counter-attack.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 4: A harrowing afternoon. Annihilated by fellow youngster Rashford. Also lacked any composure in possession. Fell over several times.
Dejan Lovren – 5: Was simply bullied by Lukaku. Lack of physicality made him culpable for both goals. Always has these nightmare games in his locker.
Virgil van Dijk – 6: Failed to properly connect with a glorious corner before United’s first. Took too long to take responsibility for Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku, but improved.
Andrew Robertson – 6: A nondescript performance from the Scotland international. No glaring weaknesses, but will regret fact completed none of three crosses.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 6: Were more guilty parties who stayed on the pitch. Made one key pass and had three shots. Precision was the issue.
Emre Can – 6: Possesses great quality, but didn’t show it at Old Trafford. Couldn’t get better of Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic, plus lack of pace was telling.
James Milner – 5: Made a nuisance of himself, three tackles a joint high for Liverpool. Yet his usual precision at dead balls left him after a promising start. Lucky to play full 90 minutes.
Mohamed Salah – 4: The defining player from Liverpool’s season disappeared at the worst time. The man with 24 Premier League goals only had one wild shot in the dying embers of injury time.
Roberto Firmino – 7: Easily the Reds’ best-performing attackers. Floated across United’s defence trying to sow seeds of doubt. Only regret was lack of bite behind his two shots on target.
Sadio Mane – 6: A mixed bag. Looked utterly clueless against United’s deep defence at times. Yet on another day, would have won two penalties for his side. Erratic, but always capable of magic.
58 - Only Manchester United (67) have profited from more own goals in the Premier League than Liverpool (58). Misdirected.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 10, 2018
Adam Lallana – 6: Still finding his way back from injury. Had negligible influence, but his time will come.
Georginio Wijnaldum – 6: Seemed to be brought on at right-back, despite presence of much better options.
Dominic Solanke – 6: Had only five touches in just more than 10 minutes on the pitch.
Marcus Rashford scored twice in the first 25 minutes as Manchester United held off a Liverpool fightback to move five points clear of their visitors in second place in the Premier League with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.
United also close to within 13 points of Manchester City, but barring a late season collapse by the runaway league leaders that gap looks unbridgeable. More significantly Jose Mourinho’s men moved another huge step closer to guaranteeing a top-four finish by opening up a 12-point lead on fifth-placed Chelsea.
Liverpool were left to rue a slow start as Rashford twice finished impressively after Romelu Lukaku had outmuscled Dejan Lovren.
The visitors dominated after the break, but could only find a response via a United player when Eric Bailly turned into his own net 24 minutes from time.
Just a second defeat in 21 Premier League games leaves Liverpool still in third, but they could drop to fourth if Tottenham win at Bournemouth on Sunday.
Rashford may not have even have started but for an injury to Paul Pogba suffered in training on Friday.
Without the £89 million ($123 million) French international, Mourinho moved Alexis Sanchez inside behind Lukaku and handed Rashford his first league start of the year on the left.
The Portuguese coach’s plans worked to perfection when Rashford brought the game to life with a superb finish after 14 minutes.
Lukaku beat Lovren to a long ball and the England international skipped inside Trent Alexander-Arnold before smashing a shot past the helpless Loris Karius.
Liverpool had chances for an immediate response as Sadio Mane just failed to get on the end of Roberto Firmino’s dangerous cross before Virgil Van Dijk skewed a header wide from close range when unmarked from a corner.
But soon Liverpool’s task became doubly difficult as United’s power and pace again proved too much.
Lukaku shrugged off Lovren once more and when his ball through to Juan Mata was cut out by Van Dijk, Rashford swept home the rebound.
An eventful afternoon for Rashford continued moments later when he escaped with just a yellow card for a late lunge on James Milner.
And he should also have had an assist to his name before half-time when a dinked cross picked out Mata perfectly only for the unmarked Spaniard to sent an acrobatic effort well wide.
Liverpool enjoyed almost complete control of the ball in the second-half but failed to find a way through the mass ranks of United defence.
The visitors did have two strong appeals for penalties waived away as Ashley Young pulled at Mohamed Salah’s shirt before an Andy Robertson cross rebounded off Antonio Valencia’s arm.
When Liverpool were handed a lifeline, it came via a United boot as Bailly — who had excelled on his first start since November — flicked Mane’s cross into his own net.
Mourinho then drew the ire of his own fans as he replaced Rashford with Marouane Felliani 20 minutes from time to see the game out.
But once again Mourinho was justified as the hosts held out for six minutes of stoppage time.