Steven Gerrard sees red as Liverpool’s Champions League hopes suffer a major setback against bitter rivals Manchester United at Anfield…
Both sides named unchanged teams after winning their previous fixtures which meant Steven Gerrard and Angel Di Maria were amongst a pair of star-studded benches.
United started the brighter and bossed possession, although Liverpool initially carried the greater threat through dangerous Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho solo runs.
The opening goal duly arrived in the 14th minute and it was expertly executed by the visitors with Juan Mata nearly slotting home after an excellent through-ball by Ander Herrera.
In truth, Luis van Gaal’s side fully merited the lead after dealing with the hosts’ quick pressing by keeping compact and calmly passing the ball around; at times they were leaving the men in red chasing shadows.
The pattern continued for much of the opening half an hour with Liverpool largely pinned back in their own half and relying on counter-attacks to get up the pitch.
Almost out of nowhere the hosts went close to equalising with a sweeping 35th minute move involving Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge but Adam Lallana‘s effort was fractionally off target.
It was the precursor to an overdue period of Liverpool pressure as they began to win the 50/50 challenges and force mistakes out of a previously composed United.
Despite the improvements, David De Gea remained largely untroubled while up the other end Michael Carrick forced Simon Mignolet into a smart stop on the stroke of half time.
Unsurprisingly Kop boss Brendan Rodgers made a proactive change during the interval by introducing Gerrard for Lallana.
It was to backfire spectacularly though as the fired-up midfielder saw red within 45 seconds for inexplicably stamping on Herrera after the Spaniard had mistimed a tackle on him.
Initially the Reds overcome the numerical deficit pretty well by switching to a back four and threatening an equaliser through Coutinho.
Phil Jones was also a little lucky not to follow Gerrard down the tunnel and make it 10 vs. 10 after a wild challenge on Henderson.
With Liverpool on top, Mata dramatically calmed United nerves in the 58th minute after linking up brilliantly with Di Maria, who had only just come on for the injured Ashley Young.
The 26-year-old’s acrobatic volley was a moment of sublime quality and a better ball from Wayne Rooney moments later could have given him a hat-trick.
Maverick Italian Mario Balotelli was sent on with 25 minutes remaining and immediately received a yellow card after tangling with Jones.
Liverpool were given hope of an unlikely recovery shortly afterwards though when Sturridge fired past De Gea from a tight angle with the aid of a slight deflection.
The goal, setup by Coutinho, breathed new life into Rodgers’ men and they began to push forward with greater regularity and belief.
However, despite being spurred on by a vociferous Anfield crowd, an equaliser never really looked like arriving.
In fact a couple of nervy moments at the back, primarily involving Mignolet, could easily have produced a third for United.
They certainly should have made the game safe in stoppage time when Emre Can bundled Danny Blind to the ground but Mignolet managed to save Rooney’s weak spot kick.
The miss ultimately mattered not though.
An awful day for Liverpool. We were second best for much of the contest and must now regroup and make up a five point gap to the top four with just eight games to play. United expertly countered Liverpool’s wing-back setup, making the most of the space in behind Sterling and, in particular, Alberto Moreno – perhaps not a massive surprise given van Gaal’s intermate knowledge of the system.
There can be no complaints about the decisions either with referee Martin Atkinson getting the big ones correct. The desire of the players to keep fighting after the red card was admirable but they created very little, even with a full compliment on the pitch.
Gerrard, who was man enough to apologise to all concerned at full-time, will still depart a hero at the end of the season but his moment of madness could prove costly for a club who really need Champions League income to sustain their upward trajectory under Rodgers.
Mamadou Sakho – Not too many standout performers today but the Frenchman read the game well and repeatedly stepped in to break up United attacks. Becoming a real leader on the pitch.
Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Moreno (Balotelli 66′), Lallana (Gerrard 45′), Henderson (c), Allen, Coutinho, Sterling, Sturridge.
Unused subs: Jones, Johnson, Toure, Lucas, Lambert.
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