Xherdan Shaqiri saved Allison’s blushes as Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League table with a 3-1 win over Manchester United in a pulsating clash at Anfield.
They were good value for victory, yet they made it harder than it probably should have been thanks to a terrible blunder from the Liverpool keeper, who spilled an innocuous cross from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard pounced to cancel out Sadio Mane’s 24th-minute opener just nine minutes later.
But it was super-sub Shaqiri who finally broke the deadlock with two second half goals – both via deflections – to leave United 19 points behind their bitter rivals.
AS IT HAPPENED: Liverpool v Manchester United
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Manchester United were on the back foot from referee Martin Atkinson’s first whistle, with Jurgen Klopp getting exactly the desire, work-rate and penetration he wanted from his Liverpool side.
Roberto Firmino headed wide after pulling off his marker after only six minutes, he had another shot turned around the post by a fully-stretched David de Gea after an awful blunder by Nilsson Lindelof, and Ashley Young had to make a desperate block on the line – all in the first 10 minutes.
It was relentless stuff from the Reds, whose pressing and quick passing made life wholly uncomfortable for an uncertain United defence. Firmino peeled away from his marker again after 14 minutes and as United backed off, he blasted a rising shot over the bar.
United did have the ball in the net early on from a free-kick, but Romelu Lukaku was adjudged to have made an attempt to play the ball and was correctly given offside. Yet Nemanj Matic and Ander Herrara looked overrun in the centre of the pitch against Liverpool’s trio.
Young was again called into action to block Mohammed Salah’s cross, but seconds later, Liverpool made the breakthrough that had been coming – and Young was the culprit.
In the 24th minute, Fabinho picked up the ball 30 yards out on an angle and picked a deft pass to Mane, who had ghosted into the space between Lindelof and Young, who has failed to track his run. Mane chested down and volleyed under De Gea. It was a neat finish and no more than the hosts deserved.
It was all too simple and showed exactly why United manager Jose Mourinho has been pushing for a central defender or two since he arrived at Old Trafford.
Yet for all their defensive frailties, they have a good record against Liverpool and United pulled level completely against the run at play.
It was an early Christmas gift from Liverpool goalkeeper Allison. Lukaku was played down the left and he pulled over a low cross-come-shot which Allison inexplicably spilled after stretching for the ball . Lingard was there, six yards out and in front of the Kop, to clip the ball over the keeper and over the line. Lingard, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Saturday, could not believe his luck.
In truth, United gained a lifeline that they had barely deserved. Liverpool had dominated possession and Fabinho was invariably in the thick of it. He side-stepped a tackle on the edge of the area and set up Mane, who curled a shot goalwards, only for De Gea to hold comfortably.
Yet Liverpool were undoubtedly rocked by Lingard’s goal and the air went out of the balloon a little before the interval, with United going in level at half-time with more than a sense of relief. Or was it disbelief?
Mourinho made a change at half-time with Diogo Dalot, who had been booked for a challenge on Andrew Robertson, being replaced by Marouane Fellaini.
It did not seem to make much of a difference to the shaky United defence, however. De Gea was forced into another superb stop after a posse of United players failed to deal with a twisting, turning Firmino, who toe-poked the ball towards the far corner. De Gea scrambled to tip the ball away and Naby Keita’s follow-up was blocked by Young. The status quo was briefly maintained.
Liverpool, looking for their first win in nine Premier League matches against United, gradually ratcheted up the pressure and they almost went in front again when Georgino Wijnaldum’s short corner allowed Salah to pick out Lovren at the far post, only for Matteo Darmian to do enough to thwart the danger.
United were content to rely on the break and they gained their first corner with 65 minutes gone, after Robertson got just enough on the ball to divert a super cross from Young that was travelling towards Fellaini. Yet their attacking intent was sporadic at best.
Firmino thundered a shot from distance after not being closed down, but De Gea plucked the ball out of the air with confidence, as Liverpool turned the screw.
The game then turned on a substitution. Liverpool replaced Naby Keita with Xherdan Shaqiri on 69 minutes and he made the desired impact after just four minutes.
Mane cut the ball back across the face of goal, having left Ander Herrera for dead. While he had no teammates to pass to, De Gea got a touch with his foot and Young was too slow to close down the on-rushing Shaqiri. Young turned his back and Shaqiri’s shot cannoned off the United captain’s knee, off the underside of the bar and into the net.
It was the 28th goal conceded this season by Manchester United, equalling the number the Red Devils conceded in the entirety of the 2017/18 campaign.
Liverpool had their tails up and Shaqiri grabbed a second to put the game beyond United. Firmino, who had another superb outing, teed up the Swiss, and although his powerful shot was heading towards De Gea, the ball took another wicked deflection off the toes of Eric Bailly and flew into the side of the United net with 10 minutes left.
It was no more than they deserved. Liverpool were in rampant form and they will relish their clash with Manchester City on January 3, which could go a long way to settling the title.
There is a lot of football to be played before then, however and as for United, this was their fifth defeat of the season, and one that puts them miles off the pace with Mourinho now appearing to be on borrowed time at Old Trafford.
Premier League title odds from GentingBet: Manchester City 1/3, Liverpool 9/4, Tottenham 28/1, Chelsea 40/1, Arsenal 100/1.
Key Opta facts:
– Liverpool are now 19 points ahead of Man Utd – their biggest ever lead over them after the first 17 games of an English top-flight season (based on relevant points for a win rules).
– Liverpool have recorded their biggest Premier League victory over Manchester United at Anfield since also winning 3-1 in March 2011.
– Manchester United have now conceded 29 goals in the Premier League this season; one more than they did in the entirety of the 2017/18 campaign (28).
– Manchester United have conceded 29 goals in their opening 17 Premier League games this season – the most goals they’ve conceded at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1962-63.
– Liverpool recorded 36 shots against Manchester United – the most the Red Devils have faced in a Premier League match since Opta started recording shot data in 2003-04.
– Man Utd manager Jose Mourinho has tasted defeat at Anfield for the first time in the Premier League since January 2007.
– Xherdan Shaqiri has become just the second Liverpool player to score at least two goals in their first ever match against Manchester United for the Reds, and the first since Nigel Clough did so back in January 1994.
– Jesse Lingard’s strike for Manchester United is the Red Devils’ first Premier League goal at Anfield since Wayne Rooney netted the winner back in January 2016.
– Liverpool’s Alisson has made as many errors leading to goals in the Premier League this season as Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius combined in 2017-18 (2).
Liverpool’s final pre-Christmas fixture sees them travel to Wolves on Friday, while United head to Wales for a tussle with Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City.