Player Ratings, Reaction and Highlights : Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool

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Manchester United defeated Liverpool in an entertaining FA Cup game, with Bruno Fernandes coming from the bench to score a sensational winner.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got his team selection and changes just right – with Paul Pogba excelling in a deep midfield role and Marcus Rashford in electrifying form down the left.

United had two breaks down the right early on; from the first Greenwood kept on going and forced a save from Alisson. From the second a minute or so later, Van De Beek deliberated in the same position when it seemed as if a strong attack was in the offing.

In the 18th minute Liverpool benefitted from a United attack; Maguire ran back and took the right hand side of the centre. Lindelof looked like a full-back pulled to the other side of the pitch he was so uncomfortable; Liverpool exploited the space between him and Shaw and Salah clipped the ball over Henderson. You would be harsh to describe it as an error; it is such momentary lapses which are punished in games at this level.

And it is at this level where United’s midfield needed to show itself capable of stepping up a gear. It had been passing McTominay by, and his partner, Pogba, has traditionally struggled in a two, especially in big games.

But it was Pogba’s dirty work which sprung a surprise; his tackle on the edge of his own area was superb, and Van De Beek found Rashford on the left. The number ten’s flighted pass was perfect for Greenwood on the edge of the Liverpool box; and the number eleven’s finish was equally accurate. 1-1.

United then had a period of superiority. McTominay and Pogba headed over from corners. Pogba went close with a free-kick. McTominay had a shot cleared after a scramble in the box.

When performances are gathering momentum, half-time is often the worst thing to happen – but the home players were not disturbed, and got the lead their efforts deserved two minutes after the break. It was roles reversed as Greenwood now played a clever ball through, Rashford took a touch and then slid the ball past the goalkeeper to give his side the lead.

Liverpool’s response was good; James Milner missed a great chance, but from the resultant goal-kick, the visitors punished that short-playing-out-from-the-back routine. Maguire was deep when he played the ball to Cavani, and he was too deep for his flicked ball to come off. Liverpool seized possession – Firmino found Milner, who found Salah, who found the net.

Suddenly it was Liverpool with their heads up and Alexander-Arnold forced a save from Henderson. United seem to be facing new questions every week and here was a new one for them – did they have the discipline to continue to do the hard stuff when it seemed like they were in the ascendancy?

Solskjaer made changes to prove the point, although Greenwood would have felt hard done by to be replaced; within seconds of the introduction of Fred and Fernandes, Salah had a chance to get his hat-trick but was denied by Henderson.

With Liverpool looking likelier to get the next goal, United’s call for inspiration was answered by the man who answers it most regularly. Cavani was wrestled to the ground right on the edge of the area by Fabinho. The free-kick required pinpoint accuracy – which is exactly what Fernandes provided, striking the ball into the corner beyond the reach of Alisson.

Marcus Rashford had to come off with a knock just before the end in a rare negative; but United were anything but, defending from the front as the game entered injury time, never allowing Liverpool a moment’s peace.

Selection

Solskjaer rung the changes and with it being a cup game, there could be fewer complaints than usual – although, with it being Liverpool, there were always bound to be some. Dean Henderson was back in goal as he has been for the domestic cups. Lindelof was back in defence as he was at Anfield last week. Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial were rested, as was Fred.

The nature of the beast is that criticism can boil for the hour from team announcement to kick off. But we only ever know how things work, or don’t, with the benefit of hindsight.

Pogba’s performance, after the first twenty minutes, was exceptional, and almost infuriating in its delivery – if he is capable of being this influential in this position in big games, where has this player been for so long?

If there was a down spot, it was in the ineffectual display of Van De Beek, although it’s not the fairest game to judge him, considering the size of the occasion.

Solskjaer brought off Greenwood, which seemed unfair on the player who had scored and created a goal – but Fred was a sensible replacement at just the right time.

It was as big a night for the manager as it was for Pogba and Rashford, as well as Luke Shaw who was again fantastic – who deserve the headlines just as much as the match-winner.

Ratings

Henderson 7

Wan-Bissaka 7

Lindelof 7

Maguire 7

Shaw 8

McTominay 8

Pogba 8

Van De Beek 6

Greenwood 8

Cavani 7

Rashford 8

Subs :

Fred

Fernandes

Martial

Goals

Wayne Barton

Wayne is a writer and producer. His numerous books on Manchester United include the authorised biography of Jimmy Murphy. He wrote and produced the BT Sport film 'Too Good To Go Down'. In 2015 he was described by the Independent as the 'leading writer on Manchester United' and former club chairman Martin Edwards has described him as 'the pre-eminent writer on the club'.

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