Manchester United strengthened their grip on second place with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Two first-half goals from Marcus Rashford, making his first Premier League start since December, were enough to give Jose Mourinho’s men all three points – and although Liverpool huffed and puffed in the second, an own goal from Eric Bailly was all they had to show for their efforts.
Mourinho gets one over on Jurgen Klopp once again, and can go into next week’s clash with Sevilla in high spirits. For Liverpool, meanwhile, preserving that place in the top four remains the main aim in the Premier League (as well as going as far as they can in Europe).
But what did we learn from Saturday’s encounter?
When Mourinho gets his tactics right, he gets them spot on.
Mourinho has come in for plenty of flak for his tactics, often perceived as negative. However, time and again he has got results with them. Against Liverpool the the early tactic was clear, contain, stifle and punish. They saw the weakness in defence between Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dejan Lovren early on and exploited it twice. By the time Klopp adapted, the damage was done.
Mourinho employs these tactics for a reason. They may not be pretty – but results like Saturday’s are why he will never feel the need to change them.
Liverpool’s defence still can’t be fully trusted
Liverpool’s defence has looked a lot more settled since the arrival of Virgil van Dijk, as well as uoturn in form of goalkeeper Loris Karius, but neither are miracle-workers. Both could do little for the goals, primarily as the responsibility for that are of the pitch fell to centre-half Lovren and right-back Alexander-Arnold. They were easily beaten twice and were punished badly as a result.
Lovren had shown signs of improvement recently but this was a big step back for the Croatian, while TAA gave a reminder that he is still just a teenager. Klopp still has work to do to make the defence as solid as he would like it to be – another centre-back in the summer could well be on the shopping list.
Marcus Rashford needs to be let off the leash far more often
Making his first Premier League start in over two months, Rashford gave Mourinho a timely reminder of his ability by scoring twice and looking a serious threat to Liverpool’s defence throughout. The England man has not enjoyed the best of seasons this year, but hopefully for him, this will kick-start his campaign and convince Mourinho to give him more of an opportunity.
The return of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba will complicate things for the youngster, particularly if Alexis Sanchez is moved back to the left from his more central role on Saturday, but Rashford needs starts to ensure that his development does not begin to stagnate – and if this the result, Mourinho simply can’t afford to keep leaving him out.
Both of these sides are more than good enough to finish in the top four
Granted, Manchester City are still comfortably ahead of both of these two sides, but Saturday showed that both have the necessary quality to lead the list of also-rans. Liverpool were stifled brilliantly by Man United but will be fine if they don’t let it derail the remainder of the season for them, while Jose Mourinho’s side continually show enough resilience and determination to get them through tough situations, as they also displayed against Crystal Palace last Monday.
Chelsea and Tottenham of course remain in the mix, but right now Liverpool and Man United have to be the favourites to nail down two of those three remaining Champions League spots.