Three draws in the last four Premier League appearances against Liverpool was good enough reason to expect another pitiful defensive display by Jose Mourinho’s barricades, more so because two of the three draws had been joyless and all the more goalless.
Furthermore, the absence of Paul Pogba through a last minute injury compounded with the already sidelined Anthony Martial massively stifled United’s creativity going forward.
Given that Liverpool had a clean bill of health, with the trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah firing on all cylinders, the hosts would be lucky to get anything from the fierce derby.
In stark contract however, it was Manchester United who reaped maximum points as a textbook Jose Mourinho masterclass saw his side emerge 2-1 winners over their bitter rivals.
Got the job done
For all the talk about penalty appeals and a possible sending off, or two, Liverpool barely had a go at United. And even when they did, David de Gea was barely tested between the sticks.
Marcus Rashford, who was making his first start in the League since Boxing Day, carried the day as his brace in the first half guided United to their third consecutive win in the Premier League.
The victory momentarily trimmed Manchester City’s lead at the helm of the Premier League to 13 points, but most pertinently comes as a timely shot in the arm ahead of Tuesday’s clash with visiting Sevilla, for a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Near-perfect defensive display
Jose Mourinho’s plan was executed to perfection, so much that even Liverpool’s consolation strike was an own goal.
Sadio Mane’s cross was miscued by Eric Bailly in an attempt to clear it to the near post, inadvertently finding its way past de Gea and into the back o the net.
Despite the comical own goal, the Ivorian brought a sense of calmness and reassurance on his recall to the starting eleven, as his successful blocks during the final quarter of the match helped United protect their lead.
The hosts showcased utmost defensive diligence, maintaining a compact back four with a man marking scheme that gave Liverpool little space on the ball.
Despite having the lion’s share of possession, the Reds could do little to rally a comeback as United were in cruised control of the game on and off the ball.
Solidify second place
Liverpool were punished for committing two defensive mistakes while Manchester United needed only two shots on target in the entire match to register the win.
Victory over their arch rivals now has Jose’s side second on the log with 65 points, four points above Spurs in third and five [points] above Liverpool who now occupy the last Champions League qualification spot.
Although a lot could still happen in the eight remaining games before the close of the current campaign, the race for second place is not as open as it previously was.
Written by Brian Humphrey
Follow Brian on Twitter @brihum
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