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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Man United Knock Liverpool Out of FA Cup

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This was the first time that Manchester United beat Liverpool under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and while the immediate result is knocking them out of the FA Cup there may be greater ramifications for the rest of the campaign.

Psychologically this could be important with Liverpool playing well at times only to have their vulnerabilities exposed while United’s talisman, Bruno Fernandes, came off the bench to score the stunning free-kick which secured a fifth round tie at home to West Ham United.

Liverpool are out while it is not a crisis for them – not yet anyway – it is certainly a crisis in their defence. Strangely, Jurgen Klopp is still to win at Old Trafford while only once in his six seasons in charge has he reached the fifth round of this competition.

Worryingly it is just one win in seven for Liverpool – against Aston Villa’s kids in the previous round – in all competitions with serious concern about the centre of their defence. With Klopp searching for solutions the brutal truth is that Rhys Williams is not the answer, while Fabinho was also at fault. Can Liverpool afford not to buy before the transfer window closes?

Undeniably it is coming together for United at present with Solskjaer’s tactics, attacking the space left by Liverpool’s full-backs proving effective. Paul Pogba was again outstanding and Fernandes came off the bench to score a wonderful winning goal with a free-kick in a contest that was far more open and attacking than last weekend’s Premier League stalemate at Anfield.

After not scoring in their past four league games, with their only goals coming against Villa’s third string in the previous round, Liverpool took the lead with a sumptuous strike. Roberto Firmino collected possession, there was no pressure on him and he took advantage with an incisive pass between Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw for Mohamed Salah to run onto and calmly lift the ball over the onrushing Dean Henderson and into the net.

Lindelof was at fault, having lost Salah, as was Shaw who did not react. But it was still an accomplished finish for the forward’s first goal at Old Trafford.

However, United hit back superbly with Pogba determined to win the ball back on the edge of his own penalty area, taking it off Firmino who fouled him with referee Craig Pawson playing on as Donny van de Beek quickly found Marcus Rashford. Salah sprinted back to close Rashford down but he smartly switched play with a cross-field pass over James Milner’s head for Greenwood to chest down. As the 19-year-old steadied himself Liverpool defenders tried to get back but Greenwood drove the ball unerringly across Alisson to equalise.

It was as good as Liverpool’s goal and the sides were level with United exploiting Andrew Robertson’s desire to get forward while Curtis Jones just ambled back. The same applied to the other flank as Rashford stayed high with Trent Alexander-Arnold upfield.

It was clearly a tactic as earlier Greenwood’s pace had taken him away from Thiago Alcantara down the United right with Alisson blocking his angled shot with his outstretched right foot. After that a mistake by a ponderous-looking Williams had allowed Edinson Cavani the chance to run at goal and set up Greenwood who, after a couple of extravagant step-overs, shot wide. From corners the ball reached Pogba who miscued a volley and then headed over before a header from Scott McTominay also cleared the cross-bar as Liverpool lived dangerously.

They did so again when Alisson’s loose pass towards Fabinho was almost intercepted by Greenwood with the defender lunging at him, conceding a free kick on the lip of the area that Pogba curled past the post. Soon after Thiago blocked a goal-bound shot by McTominay which appeared set to beat Alisson. On half-time Rashford set off again and skilfully skipped past Williams for Greenwood to find Pogba who again shot wide.

It was from another mistake by Williams from which United took the lead. Cavani fed the ball to Greenwood who struck a first-time pass towards Rashford. The 19-year-old Liverpool centre-half should have cut it out but fluffed his chance with Rashford running on before sidefooting beyond Alisson.

Liverpool were desperate for a response and Milner almost provided it when he reached Firmino’s flick on but could only half-volley over at full stretch. However, he was heavily involved as Liverpool drew level with Milner intercepting a lazy pass by Cavani to surge forward and then intelligently dummy a low cross from Firmino to allow Salah to sweep the ball home. Soon after and Alexander-Arnold drew an alert save from Henderson at his near post.

Both managers tried to seize the initiative. On came Sadio Mane and then Fernandes and Fred and it was Liverpool who threatened again with Firmino threading the ball through to Salah whose low shot was parried by Henderson with Harry Maguire fortunate when his poor clearance struck Lindelof on the back and bounced away.

Just as it looked like Liverpool were going to overwhelm United it was the home side who hit back. And what a hit it was. Cavani rolled Fabinho on the edge of the area, winning a free-kick. Fernandes took it and struck a fierce right-foot shot around the wall, with Pogba ducking out of the way, to beat Alisson’s dive and restore United’s lead.

They almost extended it when Fernandes picked out Cavani only for his powerful header to come back off the post with Alisson beaten. Liverpool could not take advantage, could not respond and it was United who went through.

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