Manchester United 1 – 1 Liverpool. A Messi-esque finish from Coutinho on the stroke of half time settles the tie for Liverpool after a Martial penalty earlier in the first half had revived United’s faint hopes.
Liverpool deservedly qualify for the Quarter Finals
Having been the only team that showed up last week’s 2-0 win at Anfield, Liverpool headed to Old Trafford brimming with confidence of a repeat result. Manchester United had the heroics of United keeper David De Gea to thank for keeping the score down and he would again prove crucial in keeping the tie alive in the second leg as Liverpool created chance after chance.
27th minutes into the game and Liverpool had their first big chance of the match. De Gea continued where he left off at Anfield, producing stunning save from Coutinho. Good build- up play from Liverpool eventually found Coutinho outside the box and he sent a firm shot towards the bottom corner only to find De Gea’s left hand in the way as the Spainard proved yet again to be the best player in a United shirt.
As the first half wore on, Liverpool would come even closer to a goal. Having gone behind after Anthony Martial’s penalty, Liverpool then came inches away from an immediate response that would seal the tie. A quick break saw Daniel Sturridge played into space as he tore forward, only to be fouled at the edge of the box by Daley Blind. Opting to take it himself, Sturridge’s free kick was a thing of beauty, hit with enough dip and power that De Gea was left grasping at thin air before the ball thundered agonizingly off the cross bar and clear.
With 5 minutes to go, Jordan Henderson had Liverpool’s best chance of the half to get their away goal. Picking up the ball in the United half, Henderson moved forward with the ball before playing it into Coutinho. A quick one-two saw Henderson completly unmarked in the box. Both Jurgen Klopp and the travelling Liverpool faithful must have been expecting the ball to hit the back of the net but his first time effort somehow sailed harmelssly wide.
As the first half looked set to end with a 1-0 United lead, sheer class from Coutinho slammed the door shut just as United were beginning to believe. One on one against Guilermo Valera, a burst of acceleration saw him sprint clear of the United fullback. With the angle closing quickly and Liverpool players charging into the box, it looked for all the world that a square pass was his only option. Coutinho though had a different idea and expertly chipped the ball past a statuesque De Gea for a truly magical goal.
Coutinho would continue his duel with De Gea in the second half to no avail but his moment of magic would prove more than enough to see Jurgen Klopp’s side deservedly go through into the last eight of the Europa League
Too little too late for Manchester United
After being thoroughly outclassed during their shambolic performance at Anfield, Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United were desperate to make amends at Old Trafford. Off came Schneiderlin and on came Lingard as Van Gaal opted for an attacking line up compared to the team that started last week.
Unsurprisingly, United were quickly off the block and eager to make an impression. Pressing high up and snapping into tackles, United swarmed around with intent as Liverpool struggled to cope. Indeed for the best part of the first half an hour, it was all United.
With 17 minutes on the clock Manchester United finally get a golden opportunity to go one up. Jesse Lingard ghosted into the box to meet a tantilizing cross from Marcus Rojo completely unmarked. His header though lacked either the power or the direction to beat Simon Mignolet, allowing the Belgian to make a brilliant save. The subsequent corner saw Juan Mata flash a shot wide after the ball bounced around in the box as Liverpool struggled to get the ball clear.
Having won the penalty that Daniel Sturridge eventually converted in the first leg, Nathanial Clyne turned villlian as he tripped Martial in the box on the half an hour mark. Dusting himself off, Martial displayed ice cool composure to tuck his penalty unerringly to the keepers right with Mignolet diving the wrong way. 1-0 to United and Old Trafford was rocking.
Then came the hammer blow of Coutinho’s equaliser and try as they may, United were reduced to half chances the entirety of the second half. In the end, it simply was too little too late.
Risk adverse Van Gaal looks to be on his way out
Watching Van Gaal glued to his seat passively taking notes even as United flailed about to little avail in the second half essentially summed up the Dutchman’s 2-year reign – cerebral and methodological while lacking passion and emotion.
Valencia replacing Valera on half time, Darmian for Rojo after an hour and finally Schweinsteiger for Carrick with 20 minutes to go. With United needing 3 goals to progress, Van Gaal’s decision to opt for like-for-like substitutions was baffling. While he might argue that a lack of options limited his choices, Memphis Depay remained languishing on the bench even when United were crying out for inspiration. Depay’s time at United has been underwhelming to say the least yet 3 goals in 7 starts in Europe mean that he should have come on at some point.
With absolutely nothing to lose, Van Gaal should have thrown caution to the wind in typical Ferguson style that had so often brought comebacks aplenty over the years. Watching a United side resigned to a defeat without the belief that they could do the impossible was a distinctly depressing affair for the Old Trafford faithful.
The Manchester United derby this Sunday now takes on even greater significance as finishing in the top four has become the sole chance for United to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Lose and the outcry to sack Van Gaal will hit fever pitch. Yet even if United win at the Ethiad, the doom and gloom surrounding Van Gaal means that it is almost impossible that Iron Tulip will still be at the Theatre of Dreams come next season.