What a difference two well timed goals can make. The first half started very promisingly for both teams. Liverpool’s passing was crisp, while Manchester United looked very structured as a team. Both teams pressed religiously. It was United who made the first good attacking move. Around the 5th minute, United crossed from the right into Hernandez, who mishit it. This type of move was a core strategy in United’s game. United would overload one of the wings, drawing in the opposing defense to that side, leaving the opposite wing open for a cross. It was an effective tactic for much of the game.
The deadlock was broken in the 13th minute when Raheem Sterling was brought down in the box for a penalty, which was coolly finished by Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. This left United’s defense shaken, losing the ball in some dangerous areas to a rampant Red attack. Liverpool’s control of the game continued for much of the 1st half, with United’s midfield two being outnumbered by Liverpool’s midfield and failed to impose itself on the game. Coutinho had a magnificent shot in the 23rd minute that was well saved by De Gea. Liverpool fans lament. Had that ball gone in, this game probably would have been over. The rest of the half was largely Liverpool’s, with another penalty shout in the 33rd minute incorrectly waved away, but failed to take advantage of their control. They really missed Sturridge this game.
The second half started out much of the same. Very early on, Lambert was put in on goal but could only manage a weak shot on net. The moment that changed the game, though, was in the 55th minute when Chicharito made a brilliant pass to leave Rooney with a simple tap-in to tie the game up. Liverpool were caught on the break here, playing a little too ambitiously and United punished that ruthlessly. It was their first shot on goal of the game. Two minutes later, through some bad defending from Liverpool (you can blame Gerrard for not picking up Mata, Sakho for not closing him down earlier, or Skrtel for ball watching on the pass), Mata was able to put United ahead with a well taken shot. Second shot on goal of the game for United. Liverpool’s defense looked shaken and the team never fully recovered.
There was a moment of confusion in the 64th minute when an overhit United cross bounced off the top of the side post of the goal and bounced back into play. Rooney put it in the net, but the goal was rightfully called out of play. After this, the game looked more like a preseason game, with a much slower pace as fatigue set in. Liverpool started to get back into the game around the 80th minute but it was too little too late and the game was sealed when second half sub Lingard put in United’s 3rd goal after only their 3rd shot on target of the game. Clinical. In the end it was a game of two halves that showed the best and worst of two of English soccer’s greatest enemies. Who else is ready for the Premier League to start after that display? Opening day can’t come soon enough.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Kelly, Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho (Toure, 74), Gerrard (Lucas, 63), Allen (Can, 63), Henderson, Coutinho (Peterson, 77), Lambert (Ibe, 63), Sterling.
Manchester United: De Gea, Evans (Blackett, 46), Smalling, Jones, Valencia (Shaw, 8), Herrera (Lingard, 78), Fletcher (Cleverley, 46), Young, Mata (Kagawa, 69), Rooney, Hernandez (Nani, 69).
Goals: Gerrard, 14; Rooney, 55; Mata, 57; Lingard, 87