In many ways, Liverpool’s 4-0 win over Manchester United showed us exactly what we expected to see.
It was a rapacious, merciless display from Jurgen Klopp’s men in the first half and they were as good as they needed to be in the second – a brief period of adjustment to United’s formation switch was followed by Sadio Mane’s third goal for Liverpool. Any slim hope of prolonged United resistance was snuffed out.
But underneath another emphatic scoreline between these two sides are an array of talking points that could prove pivotal to Liverpool’s short-term future and United in the long run. Sportsmail takes a closer look.
Mohamed Salah scored twice as Liverpool thrashed Manchester United 4-0 at Anfield
THIAGO IS LIVERPOOL’S KEY
Thiago Alcantara deserves the thousands of words of adulation that are going to be written about him after his Anfield masterclass on Tuesday night. In the first half, he nearly outpassed the entire United team – completing 60 passes to their 91.
But in the bigger picture, Liverpool are 10 games away from the quadruple, a level of greatness no other team has achieved before. If they manage it – if they manage to win any other trophy this season (and as good as they are, it still remains an if) – Thiago will be integral.
He brings a lot more than slick passes to this Liverpool setup. As Klopp remarked in his post-match interview on Sky Sports, he was often leading the counter-press against United.
It was a monumental standing ovation Thiago received when he was substituted for Naby Keita in the 80th minute.
‘They keep singing for him today,’ Mohamed Salah joked at full-time. ‘He’s the only one they were singing for today!’.
Thiago Alcantara gave Klopp an injury scare by holding his leg – but it was due to ripped shorts
The midfielder produced a magnificent display as Liverpool swept their fierce rivals aside
Klopp also stressed how important it is for Liverpool to have him ready for as many games as possible between now and the end of the season.
Thiago hasn’t had the most flawless injury record in his two years at Liverpool and the games are coming thick and fast now. As it stands, the current break from Tuesday and Sunday, when Liverpool host Everton, is the longest they will get between now and the end of the season.
There were fears Thiago had tweaked something before he came off as he appeared to be holding the top of his hamstring. Klopp gleefully cooled those fears in his post-match press conference.
‘Thiago ripped his shorts!’ Klopp explained. ‘I thought it was something else. He’s fine.’
NOTHING TO PLAY FOR, BRUNO?
Bruno Fernandes deserves some credit for fronting up to the cameras after United had endured such a humbling, but he should have thought through what he was going to say.
A reason, Fernandes claimed, for the difference in the teams was that ‘Liverpool are fighting for the title, that is the difference. We are not fighting for nothing.’
Except that’s not really true, is it? United are still in the running for a Champions League place and even a point at Anfield would have been a boost to their hopes.
And furthermore, as much as Harry Maguire didn’t want to acknowledge it in the build-up, taking anything off Liverpool on Tuesday night would have been a major dent to their hopes of winning the Premier League and in turn, the quadruple. United fans would have been thrilled if they had been the team to derail Liverpool’s title hopes, make no mistake.
Bruno Fernandes said United have nothing to fight for – despite a top four finish being possible
KLOPP’S BEST FRONT THREE
There can’t be much debate about it now – Liverpool’s best front three is the one that started against United in Luis Diaz, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
Diaz has slotted in so seamlessly to the Liverpool setup it is as if he has spent the last six months training precisely for his role. His interchanges with Mane and Salah are of an understanding that belies the three months they have been playing together – and the same can be said of how he links up with Andy Robertson on the left, as well.
Diogo Jota came on and assisted Salah’s second goal on the night and the Portugal star has scored 21 goals for Liverpool so far this season. It’s remarkable that a player with that return might not make the strongest line-up.
Luis Diaz has already established himself as part of Liverpool’s strongest front three
That’s not forgetting Roberto Firmino, either. One of Klopp’s most trusted players, whose movement and pressing has been essential to Liverpool’s success over recent years.
‘I think we all play very well in the front three, even when Bobby comes in we play very well. Me, Sadio and Bobby know each other very well after playing five years together,’ Salah said on Sky Sports.
‘Sadio is now playing No 9 but he is doing an unbelievable job and scores goals as well. Everybody up front is playing a good game all the time.’
DON’T PLAY RASHFORD ALONE UP FRONT
Meanwhile, United’s attack at Anfield was led by Marcus Rashford – a thankless task given that Ralf Rangnick started with a five-man defence.
Rashford has been struggling to recapture his finest form in the last few months. He hasn’t scored since January 22 and has only netted five times in 30 games for United this season. There is speculation over his long-term United future but it is far too strong to suggest replacing Rashford will help solve United’s long list of problems.
That said, Roy Keane was deeply unimpressed by what he saw from the 24-year-old at Anfield.
‘Rashford up front, he played like a child,’ Keane fumed on Sky Sports. ‘There’s no surprise at the result. Over the two games this season it’s 9-0 to Liverpool. United are so far off it – the opposite of what you want in a top team.
‘There is no leadership, no characters, no fight, no determination. It’s a long way back for this club. Whatever we had when I played – that bit of pride – has gone.’
Marcus Rashford had a thankless task in starting alone up front for United at Anfield
HENDERSON IS STILL LIVERPOOL’S HEARTBEAT
It looked like Jurgen Klopp had picked his best midfield in Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City on Saturday – and it didn’t include captain Jordan Henderson.
Naby Keita and Fabinho partnered Thiago Alcantara in the three-man midfield against City in another blistering display by Klopp’s men at Wembley that saw them race into a 3-0 lead at half-time.
But captain Henderson was back in the starting line-up for United and had a little bit of a point to prove. He did, in style.
‘Hendo set the tone in the first five to 10 minutes with his pressing and with his high energy, everyone just followed suit,’ Andy Robertson said. ‘That’s what a captain does, and Hendo’s done it many a time for us, he did it again tonight. We all fed off his energy.’
Jordan Henderson led by example as his Liverpool side recorded another emphatic victory
STICK WITH SANCHO
It was a surprise to see Jadon Sancho named as a substitute for United and even less of a surprise to see him brought on at half-time with his team reeling from their shambolic first half.
He was the cause of a 15 minute period of respite for United – their change in formation took Liverpool a short while to adapt to. He even got a shot on target for United, even if it was straight at Alisson and met with ironic cheers from the Anfield crowd.
But the England international played with a bit of impetus and drive, which is far more than can be said of his team-mates who started at Anfield. United are better when he is in from the off.
Jadon Sancho showed some tentative signs of life when he came on at half-time for United
MO PROBLEM WITH SALAH
Did anyone ever really doubt Salah coming back? After failing to score from open play since February 22, Anfield’s Egyptian King was back among the goals with a double against United.
The first was sumptuous – 25 passes around the Liverpool team, rounded off with a phenomenal through ball by Mane that wouldn’t have looked out of place coming from Thiago and a slick finish into the far corner from Salah.
As is often the case, one brings two and Salah was at the double with another strike in the second half. A return to form for the final 10 games could not be more timely. That’s 30 goals and counting from Salah in all competitions this season.
Salah snapped his recent scoring drought by scoring twice for Liverpool against United
POGBA’S LAST UNITED MINUTES?
He hobbled off after just 10 minutes at Anfield, with a calf issue curtailing his involvement on the night. Some United fans clapped but many others showed far less appreciative gestures towards the France international.
Pogba is destined to leave United on a free transfer this summer. It can’t come soon enough for both parties. A calf injury will curtail his involvement for the next few weeks at least.
It would be a sad ending if those 10 minutes chasing shadows at Anfield were Pogba’s last in a United shirt… and yet it would be an apt way to bring the curtain down.
Paul Pogba lasted only 10 minutes at Anfield before a calf injury forced him off early on
GIVE MEJBRI A RUN
‘That kid came on at the end and he showed something, the basic, basic principles of being a football player, compete!’ Gary Neville proclaimed on Sky Sports.
‘There’s only one kid who came on and demonstrated he had the heart and the soul to play for Man United, him!”
Hannibal Mejbri did seem to set himself a task of kicking whatever moved when he came on in the 84th minute but the 19-year-old midfielder looked hurt by the shambles that had preceded his entrance on the pitch.
Why not give him a few more minutes between now and the end of the season? He’s already a Tunisia international, so it’s clear he can play as well as kick. If not now, then when?
Hannibal Mejbri produced a combative cameo appearance when came on in the 84th minute
WATCH OUT EVERTON!
When Thiago and Salah were speaking to Sky Sports after the final whistle, there was a brief moment that would have raised a wry smile among the Liverpool fans.
‘The first half was unbelievable, we played a high level and also the second half,’ Thiago said, before a smiling Salah intervened.
‘Wait for the next one, he never played a derby here so wait for the next one, it is going to be more fun than this,’ Salah said, referencing Sunday’s encounter with Everton at Anfield.
The Toffees have been warned.
Salah told Thiago after the match that the Merseyside derby will be more fun than United