In a stark contrast to Liverpool’s results against the top six last season, this time around their four losses have come against three of their direct rivals, with a loss to Swansea thrown in to keep everyone honest.
The latest defeat came in the early kick-off on Saturday when, in typically Jose Mourinho fashion, Liverpool’s attack was spectacularly choked, cutting off the air supply to their normally fluid forward play.
Add two goals from local boy Marcus Rashford to the equation, and Manchester United walked away with a hugely satisfying three points against their old enemy.
It didn’t take long for United to capitalise on some poor defending by Liverpool, when David De Gea’s goal kick found Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian outmuscled Dejan Lovren before playing it on for Rashford down the left who turned Trent Alexander-Arnold all too easily to fire past Loris Karius.
A minute before Rashford scored his second, Virgil Van Dijk shouldered James Milner’s corner kick wide of the post. Had he connected with the ball, the score could have been level.
As fine margins would have it, another De Gea goal kick saw Lukaku beat Lovren in the air. In previous encounters, the Croatian has been able to keep Lukaku quiet but was bullied in the key moments, costing Liverpool dearly.
Marcus Rashford ends a run of 10 PL apps without a goal, his 5th this season (had scored in only 2 of 13 starts).
Lukaku’s assist was his 7th in PL this season, 2nd only to Pogba (9) for Man Utd pic.twitter.com/VPJJzH15VQ
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) March 10, 2018
A lucky ricochet off Van Dijk by Juan Mata added to the Reds misery when Rashford’s shot took a deflection off Alexander-Arnold and into the goal.
Mata was inches from making it three for the home side when he was left embarrassingly unmarked in front of Karius’ goal. Luckily for the visitors, the Spaniard’s overhead kick sailed over the bar.
From that point onwards, Liverpool fought an uphill battle to get back into the game. Jose Mourinho’s defenders threw themselves at every shot and cross, denying the Reds multiple times. Ashley Young in particular produced a stellar display at the back keeping any danger at bay.
Although the threats from Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mané were largely nullified, Liverpool did have some chances to get back into the match.
In the second-half, the visitors were much improved and looked to push forward at every opportunity. Van Dijk headed over from another corner, and at the end of the game Salah volleyed wildly over the bar.
The referee also overlooked several penalty appeals. Young handling Salah in the box, a Valencia handball, and a Fellaini foul on Mané were all waved away by Craig Pawson, leaving Liverpool frustrated by more than Mourinho’s tactics.
Aside from the Portuguese’s specialty of setting up teams to cripple any audacious attempts at playing free–flowing football, his players were also well drilled to use sneaky strategies to break up the game.
None were more genius than Eric Bailly’s decision to immediately go down injured after scoring an own goal in the sixty-sixth minute to let a resurgent Liverpool back in the game.
The game didn’t resume until four minutes later when the Ivorian had finally recovered and Mourinho used the time to make an all important substitution, breaking Liverpool’s momentum.
Chris Smalling did the same in the eighty-seventh minute when Liverpool were piling the pressure on again. It may be these kind of ploys that Liverpool could learn from when things aren’t going their way.
Jurgen Klopp says #LFC should have had at least one penalty.
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) March 10, 2018
Manchester United now sit five points ahead of Liverpool in second place with eight games to go.
It’s still all to play for with Liverpool’s top four fate very much in their own hands. As the three previous defeats have shown, Klopp’s team have demonstrated an ability to bounce back well from adversity.
United at Old Trafford was always going to be a difficult fixture and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but the soft manner of the goals conceded will have irked the fanbase after the defence promised so much in recent weeks.
Most importantly, however, is that Liverpool return to winning ways and close the gap they have created.
There’s no better place to do that than at Anfield against Watford next week while United are on FA Cup duty.