Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Liverpool left punch drunk by Wayne Rooney in Manchester United loss

Liverpool 0 - Man United 1

By Ian Herbert

Published 18/01/2016

Sweet strike: Wayne Rooney scores Manchester United’s winning goal against Liverpool.
Sweet strike: Wayne Rooney scores Manchester United’s winning goal against Liverpool.

A Dog & Duck v Red Lion occasion, if ever there was one. It's a year or so since Gary Neville told us that is what the fixture which once fired the soul had been reduced to, but here was the evidence in plain view.

It was a school field kind of spectacle at times - scruffy, naive, mindless; two groups of players conceding possession time and time over and one of them scrambling home with the afternoon's singular moment of class. Manchester United knew this.

There was none of the characteristic joy in Sir Alex Ferguson's face as left the directors' box after a last 10 minutes which had seemed, from the gestures accompanying his animated conversation with club executive Ed Woodward in the next seat, to be consumed with the team's failure to play with common sense, once their goal had come. Wayne Rooney was not punching the bitterly cold afternoon air when the whistle sounded.

The agony for Liverpool is rendered all the greater by both the ease and predictability of Rooney's winner, from another of the corners to which they are now so painfully susceptible.

The four defenders clustering around Marouane Fellaini in that moment were mesmerised; oblivious to the goalscorer who lurked behind them in wait. But the sense of an opportunity spurned compounds the grief which was tangible when the Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, arrived, shell-shocked, to discuss it all.

Rooney's goal, dispatched imperiously into the roof of the net, was the first United strike on target in a game which seemed to be there for the taking. Even his manager, Louis van Gaal, confessed at the end of it all that "I have to admit we survived the first half" and there were a few moments in that period when the most elementary plan looked enough to unpick a defence in which he actually claims some pride.

A lollipop lob over the top from Lucas Leiva, beyond the wit of United's centre-halves, required a sharp David De Gea reaction stop to repel the ball the chasing Adam Lallana tried to lift past him. Another lofted pass, left flank to right side of the area, sent United's defence chasing behind them again, nowhere remotely near James Milner, who took on Roberto Firmino's pass. Milner's free strike on goal did not remotely threaten the target. It was not the last time that De Gea - Van Gaal's man of the match once again, in this season of rearguard actions - would be called upon. A strong right hand was required to repel Emre Can's shot after he had burst through the area after the break, with more instinctive goalkeeping when Firmino followed up.

The unfathomable aspect of Van Gaal's post-match assessment was his reticence, bordering on rudeness, to praise the Spaniard: "I cannot say that today he has done a lot. He has stopped the balls that he had to stop. Maybe the one with one hand? Maybe. But I think he has to save it."

The manager would have been wise to focus on those, like De Gea, who had delivered for him in this match because they were few and far between. The central midfield was loose and untidy, with little to choose between Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin.

Fellaini was marginally the more significant by virtue of his physical presence and a temperament to resist what appeared to be Leiva's attempts to provoke a red card reaction from him.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring his side's first goal with team mate Daley Blind during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring his side's first goal with team mate Daley Blind during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.
Manchester United's English striker Wayne Rooney (L) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates victory with Daley Blind after the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal with Morgan Schneiderlin of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool looks dejected during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Anthony Martial of Manchester United takes on the Liverpool defence during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Manchester United's French striker Anthony Martial (C) reacts after a missed chance during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Anthony Martial of Manchester United takes on Jordan Henderson of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Manchester United's Dutch midfielder Daley Blind (L) tackles Liverpool's English midfielder James Milner (R) during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera (L) plays the ball under pressure from Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino (R) during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Wayne Rooney of Manchester United takes on Kolo Toure of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Manchester United's English striker Wayne Rooney controls the ball during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield
Manchester United's Anthony Martial rues a missed chance during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.

With Liverpool's defence anchored by Kolo Toure and more prone to conceding corners than any other Premier League team, finding the way to score did not seem like a feat of science. Yet it was not until the game's 78th minute that Fellaini threatened from the significant set piece. Rarely could Anthony Martial (pictured) be set free to test the full-backs Nathaniel Clyne, for whom this was a professional appointment best forgotten, or Alberto Moreno.

The game intelligence of United's first half was encapsulated by the piece of decision-making seconds after Ashley Young had been struck down with the muscular injury which Van Gaal admitted had meant he ought to have missed this match. He received treatment, dragged himself to his feet - and was promptly treated to a hospital pass by Chris Smalling, the rigours of which he did not recover from.

Fortunately for United, Liverpool's own intelligence was barely any better. Firmino screamed at Simon Mignolet not to clear the ball to him in the second-half wind, but he did so anyway, setting off the train of events by which possession was turned over and a corner won which - taken short to substitute Juan Mata - delivered the match-winning cross.

United made the opportunity pay because they possessed Rooney, the game changer. Since he was dropped to make way for Herrera at Stoke at Boxing Day, it has been hard to find fault with him. "A striker who scores is always very important and now he is scoring in a row and we are winning in a row," Van Gaal said.

"This game will give a big boost to the the environment of Manchester United," reflected Van Gaal.

But no one is fooled. There is a long road ahead for both sides.

Belfast Telegraph

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph