Debutant Anthony Martial caps second half United sparkle to see off lacklustre Liverpool
Manchester United 3 Liverpool 1
Louis Van Gaal pleaded for Anthony Martial to be given time to justify his £36 million fee. The French teenager needed only 20 minutes of his Manchester United debut.
Martial put the seal on United’s victory over Liverpool with a virtuoso solo goal in a 3-1 win.
Van Gaal’s red army are not yet convincing they are on the march, but it was a sweet victory in the battle of the Premier League’s fallen giants.
Daley Blind and Ander Herrera had erlier put distance between United and a Liverpool team for whom an encouraging start to the season is now a distant memory, although Christian Benteke’s volley – which momentarily offered hope – was the goal of the game.
This was a contest that began in first gear and ended in fifth. In a much improved second half performance United upped the tempo. Blind struck a brilliant first on 48 minutes after a well-worked set-piece, before Herrera’s 69th minute penalty seemed to make the game safe ahead of a frantic finale.
Rodgers could point to opportunities in the second half, but it the defects were plentiful in his team’s performance.
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There may have been more disheartening times for these clubs to meet during the rich history of this fixture, but it’s hard to recall one. Usually one is on the rise, or consolidating years of dominance, while the other is plotting a way back, but not on this occasion.
Both Van Gaal and Rodgers remarked on the weight of the past upon taking these jobs, and those loads have become heavier recently with the shadows of Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard’s long-term managerial ambitions previewing the game.
They were also missing their most creative players as they sought to wake their respective footballing beast from its slumber. Van Gaal’s preparations were hindered by an injury to Wayne Rooney, offering Marouane Fellaini the chance to repeat the bullying of Martin Skrtel he engaged in at Anfield last season.
Liverpool were without the suspended Philippe Coutinho – “the catalyst” as he has been christened by Rodgers. How Rooney and Coutinho were missed as the game initially struggled to get going.
Danny Ings made his first start for the Merseyside club since his summer move from Burnley. The absentees suggested the re-introduction of the swashbuckling style both sets of supporters crave would be delayed. As the first half played out amid wave after wave of ponderous insipidness, the temptation was to check if this really was a Manchester United versus Liverpool game. Only the names on the match ticket offered much of reminder. There wasn’t even a feisty tackle to get the supporters shouting at each other.
The only rousing before half-time came when it was confirmed pre-match United could call upon their number one again, David De Gea’s ‘mental issues’ disappearing as soon as he was offered a £60,000 a week pay rise. Who needs club psychologists when the accountants can offer an instant cure?
De Gea was given the kind of welcome that would have made the Prodigal Son blush, Old Trafford shaking when the Spaniard’s name was read over the tannoy.
It was the lack of striker that was more prominent in the early stages, however, Fellaini’s tendency to drop deep offering little outlet upfront.
He joined in the five-a-sides in the centre-circle with Juan Mata and Ander Herrera, enabling Liverpool’s centre-halves to mark thin air.
Simon Mignolet must have been feeling sorry for his compatriot’s isolation on six minutes when he gifted the first sight of goal. The Belgian’s throw bounced of Juan Mata’s heel straight to Fellaini, who chipped tamely into the keeper’s arms. It was a sign of the visitors’ nervousness, but this would be the only threat in the first 45 minutes.
Liverpool were as lousy, the link between midfield and Benteke severed. On those occasions Rodgers’ side had the chance to break, Emre Can and Roberto Firmino displayed all the turn of pace of a crab. At that stage, De Gea must have been thinking he could have taken another day off. It was becoming the battle of the long ball to the big Belgians.
Van Gaal had to act to find some penetration and opted to send on Ashley Young at half-time, withdrawing Memphis Depay. The impact was instant. Young immediately tested Nathaniel Clyne, the right back booked for checking the winger’s run into the penalty area.
From the free-kick, Mata found Blind unmarked on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area and he picked his spot into the top corner, Mignolet standing only to admire.
United had finally started to play. Rodgers, who’d promised it was only a matter of time before his new look side acquainted itself with some kind of identity, was seeing nothing but familiar flaws.
But Liverpool should have been celebrating an equaliser on 56 minutes after hesitation between De Gea and Blind. Firmino’s cross was intercepted before Benteke could tap-in.
The Spaniard was then forced to save from Ings’ volley, an awkward bounce compensating for the striker’s lack of power in the strike.
Firmino then somehow failed to convert from two yards when Blind’s goalline clearance provoked a scramble. This was the Brazilian’s last contribution after an poor performance. Jordon Ibe replace him on 65 minutes, but Old Trafford also rose at the first sight of Martial.
United doubled the lead after Gomez’s lunge on Herrera, the midfielder picking himself up to convert the penalty, before Benteke’s stunning volley on 82 minutes ensured a finale out of character to how the game had started.
Martial had the last word with another stunning individual goal, evading Clyne’s challenge and picking his spot clinically past Mignolet.