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    Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United Match Report

    A late Wayne Rooney strike gave Manchester United the smash and grab victory they so desperately needed and condemned Liverpool to their seventh league defeat of the season. It was a match the home side dominated in terms of chances and possession but were ultimately left in a vulnerable position in the latter stages having failed to convert the many opportunities that had fallen their way.

    Liverpool once again showed their susceptibility at defending deliveries from wide areas and were powerless to stop Marouane Fellaini from attacking Juan Mata's cross, which led to Rooney's winner 12 minutes from time. United only offered fleeting glimpses of their attacking capabilities and it was the home side who posed the greater threat without managing to score the all-important goal their build-up play deserved. The visitors had David De Gea to thank for keeping them in the game but were grateful for the profligacy of their opponents, who succumbed to the same failures that have plagued the club all season.

    The Reds went into the match in confident mood having produced one of their best performances of the season in Wednesday's 3-3 draw with Arsenal, which culminated in Joe Allen's last-gasp equaliser. By stark contrast, United had conceded a last minute leveler against Newcastle the evening before, albeit in a performance where they showed more attacking vigour than in previous matches. Lucas Leiva replaced Jordon Ibe in the only change that either side made from midweek, with the likes of Christian Benteke, Juan Mata and Memphis Depay remaining on the bench.

    Liverpool began the game on the front-foot and should have taken the lead after nine minutes when Adam Lallana attempted to head Lucas's through ball past the onrushing De Gea, but was unable to generate the pace in order to beat the Spaniard. Lallana did well, however, to set-up Roberto Firmino from the rebound but the Brazilian international fired wide of goal with De Gea trying desperately to retreat his position. Minutes later, James Milner could have given the Reds the lead when played in on goal by Firmino but his decision to delay the strike allowed Matteo Darmian the chance to get back, resulting in him firing over the bar from a tight angle.

    With the half-hour mark approaching and Liverpool still on top, Lallana and Lucas combined well with the overlapping Jordan Henderson, whose right-footed effort was fired two yards wide of De Gea's right-hand post. At the other end, in a rare attacking foray in the Liverpool half, Memphis beat Nathaniel Clyne and Toure on the left-wing but his left-footed effort from 12 yards was blocked by Mamadou Sakho. It proved to be the last meaningful action of the half, with the visitors failing to score before half-time for the 18th time this season.

    Liverpool's dominance showed no signs of abating early in the second half and Dea Gea once again had to be at his best to save Emre Can's left-footed strike with his feet from eight yards. United were happy to play on the counter-attack and their best chance of the match at this stage fell once again to Martial, but his left-footed effort from just outside the six-yard box went wide of Mignolet's far post.

    The importance of David De Gea to the Manchester United team was evident throughout the second half and he needed to be alert to save Henderson's effort from 20 yards just after the hour mark. Three minutes later and De Gea once again kept United in the game, diving at full-stretch to save Can's 20-yard strike before reacting quickly to claw away Firmino's effort from the rebound.

    In a bold effort to win the match, United brought on both Juan Mata and Memphis Depay and they were rewarded for their positivity with only 12 minutes remaining. Mata's cross from the left was attacked by Fellaini, who towered above three Liverpool defenders to head against the crossbar and Wayne Rooney was the quickest to react by rifling the rebound past Mignolet from seven yards. The strike was Rooney 176th league goal for Manchester United, which puts him one ahead of Thierry Henry's 175 for Arsenal as the highest scorer for a single club in Premier League history.

    Liverpool's best chance of the match came five minutes from time, with Can, Benteke and Milner combining to provide Firmino with virtually a tap-in from five yards. Believing he was in an offside position, the Brazilian let the opportunity pass by before looking on in disbelief as the flag of the referee's assistant remained down by his side. It was the last meaningful action of the game as United held on to record only their third win in their past 12 matches.

    Although Rooney's goal was scarcely deserved, it could be his most important strike of the season as it reduces the gap between the Red Devils and fourth-place Tottenham to just two points. The victory will do little to dispel the consensus that the United team is primarily set-up to achieve results, and not to entertain, but they may be forgiven on this occasion as the game plan was well-executed and resulted in all three points. It was a day where substance prevailed over style in an effort to achieve the bragging rights in what is often described as the biggest game in world football.

    The win in such an important match should increase confidence levels at Old Trafford and also release the pressure from under-fire manager Louis van Gaal. When United won the league 20 years ago under Sir Alex Ferguson, they relied heavily on Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona to carry them through matches in which they were largely second best. Today's United team bear similarities to the class of '96, with the contributions of David De Gea and Wayne Rooney invaluable in United's current plight. De Gea made five saves to keep United in the game and as Liverpool's threat subsided late on, it allowed Rooney the chance to score his fifth goal in his past four matches.

    It was an all too familiar tale for Liverpool, with the lack of a killer instinct in the final third of the pitch and an inability to defend crosses denying the club a victory that their all-round performance otherwise deserved. The Reds have lacked the consistency since Klopp arrived at Anfield and his record of five wins and five defeats in 14 matches will need to be addressed if the club still harbours ambitions of Champions League qualification. The defeat leaves them in ninth position, eight points behind fourth-place Tottenham, with a vastly inferior goal difference.

    After Wednesday's FA Cup third round replay at home to Exeter City, Liverpool travel to 16th place Norwich City at Saturday lunchtime. The Canaries have lost their past three matches, although they did record a 1-1 draw at Anfield earlier in the season. United return to action on Saturday afternoon when they entertain Southampton, who occupy 10th position. The Saints have returned to form with two consecutive victories after their recent slump, although they lost the reverse fixture 3-2 at St Mary's in September.
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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