MANCHESTER: Manchester United are back. They may not be playing with the old swagger and power but they have regained the knowledge of how to win matches and proved it by dismissing Liverpool 3-0 at Old Trafford.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers may wonder how his team lost so decisively when United goalkeeper David De Gea rivalled skipper Wayne Rooney for man-of-the-match plaudits. But if he is realistic he will recognise that his team lacked efficient in both attacks and defence.
Rooney and Juan Mata both scored in the first half then created the second-half third for Robin Van Persie. It was complete revenge for the 3:0 defeat which Liverpool inflicted on David Moyes’s United last March, also at Old Trafford.
Neither United or Liverpool had been playing well. The difference was that United had scraped out five successive wins and started out third in the table while Liverpool had won only two out of their last five league games.
United had also not played since winning at Southampton last Monday while Liverpool had experienced the spirit-sapping distress of being knocked out of the Champions League by Basel. Managerially then, all the pressure was on Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers.
His answer was to copy United and switch to a three-man central defence. But, without the requisite wingbacks, the ploy was exposed in the opening exchanges. Once Raheem Sterling had wasted an early opening so United responded with a deadly counter-attacking raid.
Once Antonio Valencia had nutmegged Joe Allen there was no defensive cover and the Ecuadorian’s pull-back cross was driven home by Wayne Rooney. Brad Jones, controversial replacement for Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal, stood no chance.
Just 25 seconds had elapsed between David De Gea saving from Sterling and Rooney firing United in front.
Five minutes before half-time and United were two-up. This time the assault came from the left. Ashley Young crossed, Van Persie glanced the ball on and Juan Mata stole in at the far post to head home from close range.
Sterling generated an even worse miss early in the second half after seizing on a poor back pass but De Gea foiled the England forward again with his legs.
Liverpool, now with Mario Balotelli brought into the attack, were enjoying more of the play but United not only held firm but hit decisively on the break once more.
Liverpool’s defence was again caught at sixes and sevens and Mata slipped the ball wide to his right for Robin Van Persie to slide the ball past Jones.
Balotelli was foiled three times in the closing minutes by De Gea who earned praise as “brilliant from start to finish” from Van Persie after the game.
Rodgers drew consolation from De Gea’s brilliance saying: “We did enough to win the game but what happened epitomised our season. We created so many chances to win the game but we also made defensive mistakes and that is what has cost us. David De Gea was man of the match so that tells you everything about the game.”
** Christian Eriksson was the hero for Tottenham in their 2-1 win at Swansea. He provided the corner from which Harry Kane headed them ahead then struck a 20m winner in the last minute after Wilfried Bony had pulled one back for the Welsh club. Eriksson is Spurs’ six-goal leading scorer.