Manchester United have been criticised for their style of play this season, while some have suggested they are a team of individuals. However, they delivered a very good performance to beat rivals Liverpool to build up a five-point lead in second place.
Jose Mourinho will be delighted with the effort and cutting edge of his team, as he got the better of Jurgen Klopp in a huge game to strengthen his team’s position in the top four.
Paul Pogba missed out through injury, which would have been a disappointment before a ball was kicked. However, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic dominated the midfield areas with 13 ball recoveries in the ninety minutes. Ahead of them, Juan Mata added creativity and an attacking threat, especially in the first-half.
The Spaniard came close to scoring before the break with an overhead kick effort and his distribution was nearly faultless, as he finished the match with a 90% pass success rate.
The 29-year-old has had problems with Mourinho in the past, but he has emerged as a great squad option, especially in big matches. In addition to his nice touches on the ball, he made three ball recoveries. This underlines how he has bought into the style of his manager.
Marcus Rashford was another player to come into the team and he showed why he was selected as he scored twice to put Manchester United into a commanding first-half lead. His two goals were similar as they both came from Romelu Lukaku knock-ons. Mourinho knew Liverpool could be targeted with a direct approach and it worked.
The first showed great movement from Rashford as he gambled on his team-mate winning the ball and that gave him the march on the Liverpool defenders. He then coolly dropped a shoulder and cut inside before firing past Loris Karius. It showed impressive composure and skill in the final third. The England international has sometimes struggled with his final ball, but he was back to his best on Saturday.
He then added a second that once again showed his excellent finishing ability. Another long ball caused chaos, but it didn’t go directly to Rashford this time. When it did drop at his feet on the edge of the area, he delivered a perfectly measured shot to make it 2-0. It is now up to the 20-year-old to push on over the coming weeks to become a regular starter for club and country.
Jose Mourinho flourishes when he is defending a lead. He prefers to control matches without possession and that was the case on Saturday as his team had only 31.9% of possession. Liverpool had 14 attempts to Manchester United’s five, but the result was never in doubt.
That is highlighted by the expected goals. Michael Caley’s model valued the home side’s chances created at exactly 1.0, while it valued Liverpool’s opportunities at 0.8.
To put this into context, Manchester United had less possession and had fewer attempts, but they created the better chances and kept an in-form Liverpool attack relatively quiet.
The finish was made nervy by an unfortunate own goal from Eric Bailly. The defender couldn’t repeat what he managed even if he tried and it is difficult to prepare for such a bad piece of luck. Luckily for Mourinho, his side had a two-goal lead and the own goal didn’t push them.
The majority of Manchester United players can be pleased with their performances, but Ashley Young was perhaps the standout player. The 32-year-old made 10 ball recoveries and made five clearances to help the defensive effort.
Mohamed Salah was rarely in the game and the England international deserves huge credit for his role in that. He was disciplined and rarely ventured forwards. If he can continue to perform to that level, he would emerge as a great World Cup option for Gareth Southgate.
The past week for Manchester United has been a positive one and it should provide them with momentum to finish the season strongly. They showed great spirit to fight back from 2-0 down at Selhurst Park to get three points and they displayed excellent game-management to dispatch of one of their rivals.
They are now in a good position to finish second and that would be an achievement of sorts given the consistency of Manchester City. In addition to that, they can target Champions League success.
They aren’t one of the frontrunners for the competition, but they are good at managing games and have beaten now Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham at Old Trafford. If they can improve away from home, they could reach their peak at the perfect time.
Jose Mourinho has a record of doing that and this result should encourage supporters that this season could follow a similar pattern.