Liverpool defeated Manchester United 2-0 as the two sides met in a European competition for the first time in history. A penalty from Daniel Sturridge and a second half goal from Roberto Firmino, who can’t stop scoring seemingly, keep Liverpool in the lead before the two sides meet in Manchester next week.
The two clubs would have definitely hoped that the competition they were engaging in would be the illustrious Champions League but Anfield rose to glory and ensured the Europa League tie also looks as grand considering the teams involved.
Here are three things we learned from the first leg of the round-of-16 clash.
Liverpool’s defence is getting better
While it was the two goals that do eventually count, Liverpool’s defence has cleaned up their act in recent weeks. After keeping a cleansheet against Manchester City in the last Premier League game, the Reds ensured Manchester United don’t get the advantage of an away goal in this tie.
In a series of tweets, Joey Barton summed up what everyone thinks about Sakho’s defensive performances.
Watching him is similar to viewing a clown spin plates. You are just waiting for them to smash on the floor. Yet, somehow he keeps it going.
— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) March 10, 2016
The Frenchman was tumbling at the back at a time where Manchester United really should have capitalized, but Sakho quickly recovered and for the rest of the match, ensured there weren’t as many scary moments. His partner in defence, Dejan Lovren has looked extremely solid in recent weeks and this was not the day where he was going to change that. The Croatian was effective alongside Sakho and the fact that Liverpool go into the away leg with a 2 goal advantage is as much credit to the defence as it is to the attack.
Manchester United would have been romped without David de Gea
Liverpool’s two goal lead seems too little for the way they operated in the game. From the get go, the home side was all over Manchester United and were it not for some truly impressive goalkeeping from David de Gea, the tie wouldn’t even need to go to Old Trafford. After the controversial Daniel Sturridge penalty, which Memphis Depay conceded in the softest of circumstances after a challenge on Nathaniel Clyne, David de Gea managed to keep United in the game, making great saves. He made world-class saves from Coutinho, Sturridge, Lallana and Clyne to ensure the home leg for the Red Devils holds some significance. The question on most minds after the game was where Manchester United would have been were it not for the Spaniard. Consequently, will the 20 time league champions be able to keep the player in the summer considering the season they are enduring?
The two clubs are in the exact same place so why didn’t van Gaal’s side turn up?
Liverpool’s only realistic hope of a trophy went when they lost the shootout to Manchester City in the League Cup. The word realistic is only how someone decides to use it and Jurgen Klopp is ensuring the Europa League can also remain a “realistic” aim for his side. The fact that the winner of the competition gets a berth for the Champions League means that doing well in the second tier competition has more significance than just a morale boosting trophy win. Liverpool and Manchester United both have the Europa League as their main, if not only, resort for the competition. One side decided to show up and act like they knew that while the other didn’t.
Liverpool didn’t treat the Europa League as a lesser competition and even the fans didn’t. Anfield was unbelievable on the night, so much so that alongside Klopp, even Louis van Gaal acknowledged it and asked Manchester United to try and imitate their rivals in the home leg. Jurgen Klopp was visibly delighted at the end as his team not only won, but also displayed his philosophy on the pitch. They tirelessly pressed and ensured they combined it with precision. Liverpool exercised control over the match and deserved the win, if ever this term was applicable in football.
Manchester United, au contraire, didn’t decide to show up. Bar the first 15 seconds, where they were on the front-foot, there was a lack of commitment on the pitch. David de Gea’s performance and effort aside, the visitors as a collective unit showed a feeble attitude on the pitch. There was a perceivable lack of personality and character on the pitch. It seemed as though the side had recently turned a corner, but the West Brom loss seems to have put them back into an undesirable place.