My 3 Thoughts on Manchester United-Liverpool
Young Englishmen Sancho and Rashford spark a stunning 2-1 win over Liverpool that could change the trajectory of Man United's season
In a stunning result befitting a wild start to the Premier League season, Manchester United roared back from a miserable opening two games of the campaign with a 2-1 win over archrival Liverpool at Old Trafford with goals from Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• Sancho and Rashford will be the keys to a United revival, and they showed it today. One of the most depressing parts of United’s first two games, which put the team in dead-last place, was seeing the shells of their former selves that Sancho and Rashford had become. They played with no confidence to match the obvious talent we have seen from the young Englishmen in recent years. Their verve and ability to make a difference came back with a vengeance at the best time possible, with Sancho putting United ahead on a phenomenal first-half finish showing composure in the box. Then Rashford struck on the counter in the second half with the burst of speed and pinpoint finishing ability that we have seen in the past but not much of late. How important was it that United coach Erik ten Hag benched Cristiano Ronaldo? It was huge. Ronaldo sucks all the air out of the room and makes it difficult for his fellow forwards. Sancho and Rashford were liberated by Ten Hag’s decision. Ronaldo is a tremendous player, one of the greatest of all time, but he’s a net-negative for United and needs to be moved from the club immediately.
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• Man United defended well for the most part, too. I’m still scratching my head that Raphaël Varane hasn’t been a first-choice starter from the opening whistle of the first game. He’s absolute class, just as much now as he was during his successful tenure at Real Madrid, and he was terrific on Monday. The smartest decision Ten Hag made on the back line was to bench Harry Maguire, who has been too off the pace at club level for far too long a time. And while newcomer Lisandro Martínez had a poor game against Brentford (which United player didn’t?), he was solid against a dangerous Liverpool front line (and even saved a wild own-goal attempt by Bruno Fernandes) and showed why he was somebody Ten Hag wanted to bring to the club. Yes, Liverpool was able to get back into the game with Mohamed Salah’s late goal and made the final minutes awfully nervous for United fans, but United made the plays it needed to. The result is one of the biggest in United’s recent history, arresting its recent freefall, and it deals a harsh blow to its greatest rival, Liverpool, which now finds itself looking upward at Man United in the standings. It’s just one game, of course, but it’s the kind of game that can alter the trajectory of entire seasons.
• What’s wrong with Liverpool? Three games, two points. No wins in the opening three matchdays of the Premier League season is something nobody expected for Liverpool, but there were signs in the opening-game tie against Fulham that something was amiss with Jürgen Klopp’s team. For starters, Virgil van Dijk wasn’t himself against Fulham and conceded a penalty of the kind that we’ve almost never seen from him. On Monday, too, Van Dijk was off his game, never more so than on Sancho’s goal when Van Dijk allowed Sancho to take far too many touches on the ball in the box. At one point, James Milner even laid into Van Dijk, which is something completely unusual to see. Liverpool also clearly misses the injured Thiago Alcántara, who brought so much smoothness and rhythm into the central midfield. And Liverpool has to do better when it comes to covering the space that Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves behind him when he ventures forward. (That was the space that Rashford ran into on the counter for United’s second goal.) What’s more, Sadio Mané is missed more than a lot of people want to acknowledge. Mané was such a reliable goal-scorer and creator that you can’t expect to just plug someone else in. (It hasn’t helped that Darwin Núnez got a red card last week and is missing three games as a result.) The wheels haven’t fallen off for Klopp’s team, but there’s no way it can afford to keep dropping points if Liverpool wants to play any part in the title race.
What are your thoughts on the game? You can join the discussion in the comments below.