Liverpool lost 3-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, but their performance was not as bad as the scoreline suggests.
Manchester United 3-0 Liverpool
Premier League / Old Trafford / Sunday, 14th December 2014
Goals: Rooney (12), Mata (40), Van Persie (71)
By Henry Jackson
Liverpool travelled to Old Trafford for one of the most eagerly anticipated games of every season, knowing that defeat would be a big blow to their top-four aspirations.
Brendan Rodgers made four changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Basel on Tuesday. Simon Mignolet was dropped in place of Brad Jones, while Alberto Moreno, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana replaced Jose Enrique, Lucas Leiva and Rickie Lambert respectively.
The Reds started in a 3-5-2 formation, with Raheem Sterling up front and Coutinho and Lallana either side of the 20-year-old. Jordan Henderson and Moreno started on the wings. It was a bold-looking team selection from Rodgers.
Liverpool made a decent start to proceedings, pressing well and using the ball better than the hosts. Sterling had a great chance to open the scoring, but the Reds were behind seconds later. Wayne Rooney fired past Jones from 18 yards, after good work from Antonio Valencia, and the visitors had it all to do.
Rodgers’ men continued to enjoy more of the ball. Gerrard tested David de Gea from range, while Sterling also forced the Spaniard into a good save. Kolo Toure replaced the injured Glen Johnson after 25 minutes.
Man United looked threatening whenever they attacked though, particularly Valencia, and it wouldn’t be long before they added a second.
In the 40th minute, Juan Mata headed home at the back post, but he was offside by a mile following Robin van Persie’s flick-on. It was a desperately unlucky end to the half, and the Reds had actually played reasonably well.
Half-time: Man United 2-0 Liverpool
Mario Balotelli was brought on for the second-half in place of Adam Lallana. It was slightly baffling though, as the 26-year-old had arguably been Liverpool’s standout player in the opening 45 minutes. However, the England international had been playing through two cracked ribs.
Henderson had a glorious chance to reduce the deficit straight away, but headed over. Sterling then should have made it 2-1 but was thwarted yet again by De Gea. The 20-year-old’s finishing was poor all afternoon.
The visitors had almost all of the possession, but their final ball and general decision-making was constantly their downfall. It was still 2-0 on the hour mark.
Van Persie almost added a third from close-range in the 64th minute, while at the other end Balotelli was brilliantly denied by De Gea.
With 20 minutes to go, the game was put to bed. Dejan Lovren‘s poor clearance fell to Mata, who teed up Van Persie to make it 3-0. United had actually been extremely average, but Liverpool had gifted them goals.
The rest of the game petered out somewhat, with Balotelli testing the unbeatable De Gea, shooting just wide and failing to beat the Spain international once more.
As the final whistle blew, Liverpool could think themselves a little unlucky. A mixture of inept defending and poor finishing had proved to be their downfall.
Liverpool: Jones, Skrtel, Lovren, Johnson (Toure 25), Moreno (Markovic 68), Henderson, Allen, Gerrard, Coutinho, Lallana (Balotelli 46), Sterling.
Subs not used: Mignolet, Lambert, Lucas, Can.
Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Jones (McNair 89), Evans, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney (Falcao 78), van Persie, Wilson (Herrera 71).
Subs not used: Lindegaard, Blackett, Fletcher, Januzaj.
Referee: Martin Atkinson