Belfast Telegraph

Marouane Fellaini set game's tone as Steven Gerrard lost control

By Steven Beacom

It was the speed of it. One minute he was there to perform another rescue act for his team. The next he was gone. Steven Gerrard's final match for Liverpool against Manchester United lasted 38 seconds. Talk about fast and furious.

A kettle takes longer to come to the boil than Gerrard against United, who let's face it have never been his cup of tea.

In his fleeting time on the pitch, the Liverpool skipper, a half-time substitute, pinged a perfect crossfield pass, showed urgency that had been lacking from his team-mates, launched into a crunching challenge on Juan Mata and then reacted horribly to a tackle from Ander Herrera.

Desperate to stamp his authority on the biggest fixture in English football, he stamped on Herrera instead. In that moment of madness, Gerrard lost control and had to go.

In the past he's broken United hearts with goals, assists and stunning performances.

This time he didn't even break sweat before his red card.

Gerrard fronted up and apologised after Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to United, which may have a huge bearing on which one of these bitter rivals secures a Champions League place next season. He even took responsibility for the result, though the sorry performance from the home team in the first half was to blame just as much.

You can imagine Gerrard sitting there seething on the bench, watching those selected ahead of him produce their worst 45 minutes of football in 2015 - and against United, of all teams.

Alberto Moreno, Joe Allen, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling in particular were all found wanting in that period, while in contrast United had star performers in Mata, Herrera and the outstanding Marouane Fellaini.

Like Gerrard in the second half, Fellaini made an impression early in the first, though in the right manner, winning duels with Emre Can, who couldn't cope with the Belgian's presence. That set the tone, allowing United to gain territory and take a grip of the game.

Fellaini has gone from being a laughing stock associated with David Moyes to the most important player in Louis van Gaal's side, so sharp in the first half, beating Liverpool at their own pressing game. They were unlucky only to lead at the interval by Mata's fine finish.

After the red mist descended on Gerrard, Mata, with 30 minutes left , netted a breathtaking strike, of which the watching Pele would have been proud. Liverpool fans feared a hammering.

Surprisingly though United's levels dipped and Daniel Sturridge fired in to offer the Kop hope in a frantic finish in which Simon Mignolet saved Wayne Rooney's injury-time penalty.

Rooney looked upset by that but Van Gaal wasn't bothered. This was a massive victory for his side in the 'rat race' for the Champions League. For Liverpool and Gerrard, it was a day to forget.

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