Juan Mata scored twice as Manchester United ruined Steven Gerrard’s final Merseyside derby with a just about deserved 2-1 win in the big Sunday lunchtime game.
The hosts who’s last defeat came against the Red Devils in December, were unchanged – which meant club captain Gerrard would have to come off the bench to appear in this one. As for the visitors United who looked to have returned to form after an impressive win over Tottenham last week, they make just the single change as Ashley Young comes in – but the returning Angel Di Maria who was sent off in the FA Cup against Arsenal starts this one from the bench.
As for the match itself, United got out of the blocks the quicker. The visitors midfield of Fellaini, Carrick, Mata and Young were slick in their passing – and were operating at the tempo which blew away Tottenham last week.
Liverpool had no answer – and despite having the majority of the possession, it was indeed Louis Van Gaal’s side who looked more fluent in attack – and it was a little of surprise that United would take the lead in the 14th minute.
Juan Mata who was brilliant in last weeks win at Old Trafford, was equally as brilliant here. The Spaniard who had been subject of transfer speculation at the start of the season , latched on to a fantastic Ander Herrera through ball- and beat the on rushing Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet with a brilliantly placed finish into the bottom corner.
The visitors at the point were in complete control – but rather naively took their foot off the pedal, which allowed the hosts to come back into the game. After going a goal down Liverpool’s response was good as Adam Lalana missed a great chance to level the scores before halftime.
The former Southampton captain who earned a reputation for scoring goals by arriving late in the box did that here – but disappointingly fired wide when maybe he should have scored. That missed chance was one of the last bits of action of the first half as United went in at the break a goal up.
Liverpool who have been in brilliant for since that defeat to United were in dire need of shaking things up in midfield. So who better to bring on at the start of the second half than club legend Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool skipper who has only just returned from a hamstring injury, would have been determined to end his associations in Merseyside derbies on a high – but there was no fairy tale ending for the Liverpool captain here.
Gerrard who was brought on to provide a calmness into the Liverpool midfield that was lacking the first half, inexcusably lost his head – and was sent off. The 34 year old Gerrard who had barely been on the pitch for more than two minutes was involved in a 50/50 challenge with United’s Herrera – and then rather foolishly stamped on the United midfielder’s leg, which didn’t go unnoticed, all be it with some assistance by the referee’s assistant.
That Red card was to prove costly as Juan Mata scored with a wonderful goal to apparently put the game beyond doubt. The Spaniard started a well worked move – and the 28 year old passed to Di Maria which lead to the Argentine to provide a well judged chip over the Liverpool defence – and set Juan Mata up to acrobatically place a left strike in the bottom corner of Mignolet’s goal.
With the game seeming out of Liverpool’s reach, United became complacent – and despite having 10 men it was Liverpool who looked the better side, despite having 10 men. The visitors sloppiness allowed Daniel Sturridge to pull a goal back with a near post strike, which David De Gea maybe could have done better with.
Fortunately for United there were no more goals in this one. The visitors did have time to win a penalty in the dying minutes as Emre Can clumsily brought down Daley Blind in the box. The resulting penalty kick was missed however as Wayne Rooney’s kick was at a nice height for Liverpool keeper Mignolet to save.
Advantage United then in the ‘rat race’ for fourth, as Man United manager Van Gaal put it -but with both sides needing to play the big sides such as Arsenal and Chelsea, the race for fourth isn’t over just yet.The