Football Features

Liverpool 2-0 Man Utd: Five things learned as champions-elect open 30-point gap over rivals

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:45, 19 January 2020

In an inevitable afternoon of football, Liverpool beat Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield.

The win moves Liverpool a staggering 16 points clear of Manchester City in second place and a frankly ludicrous 30 points ahead of Man United themselves. The Reds now need just 30 points to win their first Premier League title since 1990. What did we learn?

1. Virgil Van Kompany

Vincent Kompany made a habit of scoring big, decisive goals against Man United. The goals often marked City staking a claim to being Premier League champions and singled Kompany out as the most imperious centre-back in the division. Tonight Virgil van Dijk did the same, felling the great Man United.

The goal was simple, a towering header where the Dutchman’s movement left poor Brandon Williams clawing at thin air and Harry Maguire desperately trying to get off the ground with all the grace of a rhinoceros. The Englishman could do nothing and was left floundering and watching as the graceful Van Dijk thundered Liverpool into the lead.

It was breathtakingly beautiful, and if Van Dijk is going to start scoring Kompany-esque title clinching goals as well as being a Rolls Royce of a defender then you may as well give him the Player of the Year awards yet again.

2. Solskjaer gets his tactics right

Liverpool away at Anfield is a monstrous fixture for anyone, let alone Man United missing their best striker, best midfielder and their defensive enforcer. The possibility of the hosts absolutely massacring the Red Devils was very, very real – but that isn’t what happened.

Alright, Liverpool were clearly superior to Man United prior to the game as well as after the game. And for a couple of spells in either half they unleashed the whirlwind on their visitors and dominated them to an absurd degree (that they only scored twice is just one of those football “things”) but for the vast majority of the game, if you were watching with no knowledge of this season, you’d be surprised to learn that Liverpool were 27 points better off than Man United.

Liverpool vs Man Utd | Premier League

That is because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got his tactics spot-on. Man United set-up in a 3-5-2 and this shape allowed them to commit men to deal with Liverpool’s full-backs. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Williams effectively shut down the attacking output of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, or at least limited it to such a degree that the Reds looked disjointed.

From there, Man United funnelled as much as they could through the middle where their three centre-backs stood a much greater chance, along with their two midfielders, of clearing.

3. Salah finally gets his goal

It seems fitting that Mohamed Salah has finally scored against Man United now that Ashley Young has left the club. The Englishman marked Salah on more than one occasion, shutting him out of the game and helping to perpetuate the narrative that the Liverpool front three can’t “get it done” against Man United. The trio had just one goal (Sadio Mané last season) against Man United, despite a host of games against them.

And today they all missed chances, perhaps none moreso than Salah who somehow skewed wide from six yards. Roberto Firmino and Mané were removed and Salah was left all alone in attack. And it was through this that he scored. With Man United pushing everyone forward to grab an equaliser, Salah got in behind the defence despite being inside his own half.

Alisson pinged a long pass out to him, Salah raced through, Daniel James declined to “do a Fede Valverde” and chop him down, leaving the Egyptian to slot home, kill the game, bare his chest and finally, finally, score against Man United.

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4. No Rashford No Party

Marcus Rashford, it emerged during the game, has a double stress fracture in his back. He has literally broken his back carrying the Red Devils this season. Rashford missed this game as a result and is expected to be out for a couple of months, as confirmed by Solskjaer during his post-match interviews. That is absolutely brutal for Man United’s prospects of making the Champions League next season, as the game at Anfield proved.

Liverpool vs Man Utd | Premier League

Without Rashford, Man United lacked any sense of cutting edge in the final third. They had chances, with Andreas Pereira and Anthony Martial both passing up gorgeous looks at goal – the kind of chances Rashford would undoubtedly have buried. They just didn’t ever look like seriously hurting Liverpool even though Fred was the best midfielder on the park and constantly driving the ball into the final third.

None of the Man United forwards have the combination of skill and killer instinct that Rashford does, and now they have to play for so long without him that is going to be a genuine problem for Solskjaer to solve.

5. They’re gonna win the league

Anfield has been as cautious as the Liverpool players this season. They’ve sung about the glory of being European Champions, they’ve sung “Allez, Allez, Allez” but they’ve not uttered that famous song “we’re gonna win the league,” which is odd, because they’ve looked a fairly sure thing to win the league for a while now.

But today’s win, over their hated rivals, over the only side to prevent them from winning so far this season (no seriously, Liverpool are 22 games into the season and have won 21 of them – twenty one!) has given them license to believe that finally is their time. After Salah made it 2-0, Anfield erupted. Their 30-year wait is at an end, Liverpool Football Club will be Premier League Champions.

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