Liverpool progress into the next round of the Europa League over their fierce rivals Manchester United following a 1-1 scoreline atOld Trafford giving an overall 3-1 aggregate victory.
Liverpool and Manchester United, those great and bitter rivals of the North West, met at Old Trafford in the second leg of their last-16 Europa League tie with United needing to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first game after a poor performance at Anfield.
Whilst both teams are going through transitions which see them, by their own standards, struggling to come to terms with their status in football as other teams such as Tottenham, Manchester City and Leicester threaten the old order; this clash has still the weight of history hanging over it.
Yes, the Europa League that poor relation of European competition may not be what either side had in mind considering both are past Champions League winners, but times change yet try telling the fanatical supporters on Merseyside and Manchester that this game does not matter.
United could take inspiration from nearly 32 years ago, when, trailing 2-0 to Barcelona in the European Cup Winners’ Cup they won 3-0 at home to reach the semi-finals. But that was then and Louis van Gaal’s team have failed to win in their last three matches in all competitions.
Meanwhile Liverpool have had a full week to prepare for the game whilst United were in FA Cup action against West Ham on Sunday and also have the prospect of facing neighbours Manchester City this weekend to consider.
This was a European game in name but Premier League in terms of frenetic action with the home side doing all the pressing and Liverpool content to sit back and hit them on the break. Perhaps the quality was lacking at times but there could be no doubt about the commitment of the players and the wall of noise from both sets of supporters.
United almost took the lead as keeper Simon Mignolet hesitated but recovered to make a fine save from Anthony Martial’s free header. The host were on a roll now and Juan Mata shot wide before their pressure paid off as Nathaniel Clyne bundled over Martial in the penalty area. The Frenchman picked himself up and blasted the spot kick home.
Moments earlier Philippe Coutinho brought a brilliant stop from United custodian David de Gea and it was the Brazilian who was to silence Old Trafford on the stroke of half time.
After Marco Rojo had contrived to shoot wide from eight yards and bring the tie level Liverpool broke quickly and Coutinho it was who collected the ball before racing into the area and clipping the ball over De Gea from a tight angle putting the Merseysider’s ahead 3-1 on aggregate and a vital away goal. Cue euphoria and flares from the Liverpool fans.
To turn this game around United needed to score three more goals and keep the Reds quiet. Perhaps they needed the luck of the Irish, this being St Patrick’s Day. Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp cut an animated figure open the touchline as the Red Devils poured forward looking to remain in the Europa League.
Yet for all their pressure United failed to test Mignolet with some wayward finishing and all the while Liverpool looked capable of taking advantage on the break. And as the game entered its final quarter it was the away fans who knew that they had earned the bragging rights. Coutinho almost made their night complete but again De Gea was United’s saviour.
But the supporters who made the journey down the East Lancs Road continued to goad the home fans who began to leave the ground with ten minutes remaining knowing the game was over.
MAN UTD 1 Martial pen 32
LIVERPOOL 1 Coutinho 45
Liverpool go through 3-1 on aggregate