Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes sinks Liverpool in FA Cup thriller

Jamie Jackson at Old Trafford
·4-min read

This was a thriller of a Cup tie, Manchester United emerging on the right end of a 3-2 scoreline courtesy of Bruno Fernandes’s late winner. It means Liverpool have only one win from their last seven outings – and this against Aston Villa’s kids in the previous round – and United roll on in the competition to face West Ham here next month.

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For Jürgen Klopp the questions mount. The truth is that United were the dominant force, while the visitors were never truly composed, neither able to control the ball or deal with the home team’s pace. The manager may be quietly relieved Liverpool can now focus solely on the Premier and Champions League but this sixth failure to claim victory at Old Trafford while in charge could not have been timed worse: Klopp and his team need to start winning again and quick.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær was left praising a win on “our terms”, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Paul Pogba and the outstanding Luke Shaw to the fore as the visitors were toyed with despite Klopp including a clutch of A-listers in Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

The last of these opened the scoring in the 18th minute, the goal deriving from clever movement from Firmino, who dropped off the front and hit a pinpoint pass into the Egyptian, whose chip over Dean Henderson oozed class. For a brief passage Firmino was chief orchestrater: he next drew a foul from Scott McTominay, but Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick sailed over and moments later United equalised.

The ball went to Rashford on the counter and as Salah backed off, he turned infield and lifted a 40-yard diagonal to Greenwood on the right, the ball barely missing James Milner’s head. From here the forward’s right-foot strike was cool-eyed, his fourth of the season allowing Alisson no chance.

Bruno Fernandes sends a free-kick past the Liverpool wall to score Manchester United’s winner
Bruno Fernandes (left) sends a free-kick past the Liverpool wall to score Manchester United’s winner. Photograph: Phil Noble/EPA

Liverpool remained a danger. Curtis Jones pickpocketed McTominay in traffic, the move swept left, Robertson lobbed the ball over, but there was Shaw to head away.

The good news for Liverpool was the scores were level as the second half began, although that lasted only three minutes. United were again ruthless on the break: Edinson Cavani tapped to Greenwood and Rhys Williams made a mess of his through ball. Rashford took over and the strike was never in doubt, the 23-year-old’s 15th goal of the campaign going in to Alisson’s left.

The home side were in the ascendancy so were particularly upset at how they contributed to Liverpool’s second, just before the hour. Henderson fed a goal-kick to Harry Maguire, who found Cavani in midfield, but he carelessly ceded possession to Milner. The ball went left to Firmino, his delivery was dummied by an on-running Milner, and Salah again made no mistake.

A Klopp fist-punch was followed by the introduction of Sadio Mané for Georginio Wijnaldum, a move Solskjær answered by swapping Donny Van de Beek and Greenwood for Fred and Fernandes.

For a passage Liverpool had become the aggressor, United pocked by errors from among others McTominay, whose loose ball was indicative of the turnaround. Pogba skated down the right but the midfielder spooned the ball into Alisson’s gloves.

This season’s United have definite backbone, though. So it was that Cavani won a free-kick under Fabinho’s challenge and up stepped Fernandes to drill home a sweet 16th goal of the season for the Portuguese, as this entertaining contest took its latest and decisive turn.

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Solskjær said of the irrepressible Fernandes: “When you leave him out like I did today, he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free-kicks so I was pretty confident he could score one if he got the chance. He’s never happy with me when I tell him to go inside after training when he’s playing the next day so he got some practice yesterday.”

Both sides had chances to score in the last 10 minutes but this was the right result as United’s campaign continues upwards and Liverpool’s in the opposite direction.

“I’m happy because we win, nothing more,” said Fernandes. “Most important was going to the next round. It doesn’t matter who scores but if I score I am happy. I work hard on free-kicks. Cavani told me to try on the other side of the keeper. We played well and over the 90 minutes it was a good game for both teams. I know now the fans are happy and will have a good week.”

United’s supporters may do so but Liverpool’s must ponder if this is a blip or if there are more deep-rooted issues at play that Klopp has to solve.