A second-half brace by Liverpool forward Xherdan Shaqiri was enough to see off Manchester United after Sadio Mane’s opener and Jesse Lingard’s equaliser following an error by goalkeeper Alisson.
The North West Derby presented Liverpool with an opportunity to continue their fine form. They were also looking to return to the top of the table, after Manchester City’s 3-1 victory over Everton saw the champions regain the lead in the title race.
Conversely, the visitors travelled to Anfield off the back of a loss in Valencia – which Jose Mourinho claimed he was not surprised by. This led to a second place finish in Champions League Group H.
An injury sustained in the warm-up saw Chris Smalling, the recipient a new contract in the week, replaced by Eric Bailly. More intriguingly, Paul Pogba was benched for the game. Meanwhile, main point of interest surrounding Liverpool’s team news was a first Premier League appearance of the season for full back Nathaniel Clyne. He was appearing in the absence of injured trio Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and James Milner.
Liverpool dominate early on
An early chance for the visitors saw a free-kick from the left nestle in the back of the net. This was ruled out due to Lukaku’s interference with play from a distinctly offside position. This aside, Liverpool dominated the opening period, with Firmino forcing a good save from David De Gea and him and fellow Brazilian Fabinho blazing shots over from range.
The opener followed soon after, with a delightful ball from holding midfielder Fabinho controlled expertly on the chest by Sadio Mane. He followed this up with a smart finish below the onrushing goalkeeper, to give his side the lead.
A good chance to double the advantage was squandered by Dejan Lovren, who fired high and wide from close range following a free-kick situation. This miss proved costly, as United equalised just after the half hour mark. The goal came courtesy of a composed close range finish by Jesse Lingard. It only came about, however, from Alisson spilling Lukaku’s cross into his path.
Lukaku was booked soon after for a late challenge on Naby Keita. In addition, Firmino was fortunate not to also go into the book after a tactical foul to prevent a counter attack for the away side.
The half-time whistle left Liverpool frustrated by their costly mistake at the back, whilst Manchester United would have been satisfied with the scoreline against a top opposition. What they would not have been satisfied with, is their inaccurate passing and lacklustre attacks.
Could United hold on for the second half?
The second period saw Mourinho make a change. Diogo Dalot was replaced by Marouane Fellaini – so often Mourinho’s go-to man.
De Gea was forced into another good save early on in the second-half to once again deny Firmino. Following this, a lengthy delay saw Bailly receive treatment for a knock.
The Red Devils defence grew into the game, frustrating Liverpool’s attackers. Liverpool were reduced to making efforts from longe range by defenders Clyne, Lovren and Van Dijk in an increasingly bizarre passage of play.
Frustratingly for the home side, a succession of corners led to nothing. This was due to a combination of good blocking by United’s defence and ongoing poor deliveries from the set pieces, many of which didn’t beat the first man. United’s turn to test Liverpool’s organisation from set pieces followed, but their corners were equally fruitless.
Xherdan Shaqiri being readied on the touchline on the sixty-fifth minute was a welcome sight for Liverpool fans. His direct style of play was perhaps the answer to unlocking United’s defence during a passage where the game became more open.
Georginio Wijnaldum, who was lively throughout the match, shot straight at De Gea before Liverpool made the change. Keita made way for Shaqiri.
Shaqiri introduction makes the difference
It didn’t take long for the Swiss to leave his mark. Good work from Mane on the left led to a low cross deflecting to Shaqiri inside the box. His fortuitous weak-foot effort cannoned into the roof of the net off Ashley Young’s leg.
The mood of the game shifted immediately, with United now exhibiting new attacking momentum. This was reflected in the substitution of midfielder Ander Herrera for forward Anthony Martial. A tense final fifteen minutes seemed to await the home side.
However, Liverpool nerves were soon calmed, with another Shaqiri strike deflected beyond De Gea into the corner of the net. The Reds were fortuitous once more, but Jurgen Klopp wasn’t complaining.
Late on, Jordan Henderson took the armband from Virgil Van Dijk, with goalscorer Mane the man to make way. Liverpool saw out the final few minutes without trouble until the full-time whistle
Liverpool had come out of the blocks slowly in the second half, resorting to efforts from range and struggling to penetrate the United defence. However, patience – and a good amount of luck on deflections – saw their performance earn three points it warranted. This fixture, against their bitter rivals, is one they have struggled in in recent seasons.
Clyne, despite lacking match going into the match, played well. Furthermore, the £13m singing of man of the match Shaqiri continues to look like incredible business.
Contrastingly, the Red Devils’ woes this season were compounded at Anfield. They managed only six shots compared to Liverpool’s thirty-six and their defence, although unlucky with the deflections, looked shaky.
Debate regarding Pogba’s relationship with Mourinho will also continue after the high-profile midfielder played no part in the match. This result leaves Manchester United in sixth position as fixtures over the festive period continue to intensify.