Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool's magical Coutinho dumps Manchester United out of Europe

Man United 1-1 Liverpool (Liverpool won 3-1 on aggregate)

By Mark Ogden

In the end, it was a victory for Brazilian flair over Belgian belligerence as the class of Philippe Coutinho, rather than the recklessness of Marouane Fellaini, ensured Liverpool progressed to the Europa League quarter-finals at the expense of Manchester United.

Jurgen Klopp's team, who triumphed 3-1 on aggregate after Coutinho cancelled out Anthony Martial's penalty opener, will take their place in today's draw because they simply wanted it more than their bitter rivals, who ended the game fortunate to have 11 on the pitch despite the best efforts of Fellaini to throw his arms and elbows around.

Little wonder that Ryan Giggs, the United assistant manager, cut an agitated figure. His team were schooled by Liverpool.

United now face Manchester City in the Premier League at the Etihad on Sunday knowing that a defeat will all but close another route into next season's Champions League. Not that Louis van Gaal's men deserve to be there on this evidence.

Liverpool, meanwhile, can now contemplate returning to Europe's top table by winning the Europa League.

Relations between the two sets of supporters took a further nosedive as chants outside the stadium from both sets of fans, referring to Hillsborough and the 1958 Munich air disaster, injected a further unsavoury element to this meeting before a scuffle broke out in the stand between opposing fans towards the end of the game.

The opening moments were largely centred on Fellaini and Emre Can, with the two midfielders renewing the battle which had ended at Anfield last week with Fellaini appearing to elbow the Liverpool player.

Can could count himself fortunate, however, that Serbian referee Milorad Mazic waved away United appeals for a penalty on eight minutes after the German had shoved Fellaini.

The Belgian was at the heart of the action again two minutes later when he escaped punishment for a stray arm in the face of Roberto Firmino.

United, without the injured Ander Herrera, settled into the game quickest, though, and they dominated the first-half, with Jesse Lingard forcing the first save from Simon Mignolet with a header from Marcos Rojo's 18th-minute cross.

Juan Mata then shinned a volley wide from six yards and United continued to press, with Marcus Rashford and Martial linking before the French forward shot over.

Liverpool were falling into the trap of defending their lead rather than going for the kill and they sat too deep.

Aside from two efforts from Coutinho, one of which brought a fine save from David de Gea, Liverpool were impotent until Martial put United ahead.

On this occasion, referee Mazic did point to the spot after Martial had been tripped by Nathaniel Clyne and the United forward stepped up to convert.

Old Trafford shook, but United still needed one more to level the tie and Daniel Sturridge almost put it beyond them when he rattled the crossbar with a 35th-minute free-kick.

Jordan Henderson then wasted a golden chance to level on the night when he shot over from 10 yards after being set free by Coutinho.

Coutinho was Liverpool's best hope of a breakthrough, with the Brazilian offering Klopp's team pace and invention in the final third.

He was knocking at the door and, after both Rojo and Firmino had gone close to scoring in the dying seconds of the first-half, the Liverpool No.10 hauled his team level and left United needing a further three goals.

It was a killer goal in every sense, but it was also one of the highest quality. Guillermo Varela, United's Uruguayan right-back, has done well in recent weeks after being promoted to the first-team, but he was outdone by Coutinho on numerous occasions before the Liverpol ace scored.

Coutinho simply ghosted past Varela as though he wasn't there in the 45th minute, but faced with De Gea he did not panic. Instead, Coutinho coolly lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net.

It ended the tie as a contest and United stumbled through the remainder, Fellaini missing a chance when he shot over after being set up by Rashford.

Liverpool just coasted to the draw which took them through, and deservedly so.

MAN UTD: De Gea, Varela (Valencia, 46 mins), Smalling, Blind, Rojo (Darmian, 62 mins), Carrick (Schweinsteiger, 70 mins), Fellaini, Lingard, Mata, Martial, Rashford. Unused subs: Romero, Depay, Schneiderlin, Williams.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Milner, Lovren, Sakho, Clyne, Coutinho, Can, Henderson (Allen, 71 mins), Firmino (Benteke, 85 mins), Sturridge (Origi, 68 mins), Lallana. Unused subs: Ward, Toure, Ibe, Smith.

Man of the match: Mamadou Sakho

Match rating: 6/10

Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)

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