After beating Chelsea and Crystal Palace in their previous two matches, Manchester United had to fight hard to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday and contributing writer, Nathan Quao, of Citi Sports, Accra, Ghana highlights the lessons from the tie.
Rashford and Lukaku lead brilliantly
Since the acquisition of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal, Marcus Rashford has not had as many starts as he did at the start of the season but he got one against Liverpool as a result of an injury to Anthony Martial and he took the opportunity with all the hunger and desire in the world.
He used his pace and scoring instincts to great effect to get a very good first goal after cutting inside Trent-Alexander Arnold and he was there to direct a second one home.
He was alive to his role and responsibility and his judgments were very good on the day.
But his efforts cannot be praised without mentioning Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian forward reprised his assist from the 1-0 home win over Tottenham and he rose to flick on a long ball from David De Gea towards Rashford.
He was heavily involved in the second goal too. Apart from the scoring situations, Lukaku was very good in running the channels, holding up play and giving the Liverpool central defensive pair lots to do in the game.
He may not have scored but his output was very valuable to the team.
Midfield and defence were solid
Taking on Liverpool is always a very challenging prospect and keeping them at bay is even more challenging but Man United’s defence and midfield put out a very good showing.
It was very helter-skelter towards the end of the match but until then, the Red Devils knew exactly what they were doing.
Matic and McTominay worked their shifts greatly to allow Smalling and Bailly to sweep up and be ready for whatever came their way. That was very important especially in dealing with the slick movements of Salah, Firmino and Mane.
In the wide areas, Valencia and Ashley Young handled their tasks well and Liverpool did not find any joy down those ends until Mane’s burst and cross got them back in the match via an Eric Bailly own goal.
It was a performance that showed how prepared the players were for the match.
2nd place almost in the bag
With the title gone, Jose Mourinho has made it clear that second place is what he wants at the end of the season and the victory over Liverpool provides a 5-point cushion ahead of the final 8 matches.
The results against Chelsea and Crystal Palace prove that the player quality and coaching guidance needed to secure 2nd are largely there.
What is left is the passion and hunger to get the results. The will to go and fight to the end has been missing in some of the matches this season.
The players need to fire themselves up for the run-in if second will belong to Man United. It is very possible.
Not only will Champions League football be secured but it will be a reminder to everyone at the club- from manager to playing body- that some progress has been made but a lot more can be done. Jose Mourinho’s second stint at Chelsea illustrates this. He finished second in one season and went on to win the the title in the next.
An encore at Old Trafford would be welcomed.