Goals from Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino gave Liverpool a 2-0 victory in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 clash at Anfield on Thursday night.
Sturridge penalty gives Liverpool lead
De Gea makes a string of top-quality saves
Firmino finish sees Reds seize advantage
Fellaini closest for United with late header
Liverpool drew first blood when Sturridge, who had been recalled to the line-up, struck home from the penalty spot in the 18th minute after Memphis Depay was deemed to have held back Nathaniel Clyne in the box.
Jurgen Klopp’s men then doubled their lead in the 73rd minute when Firmino fired in from close range, but not before Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho spurned glorious opportunities to put the tie out of sight.
Manchester United struggled to create any meaningful chances against the Reds, with Marouane Fellaini’s late header the closest they came. The Red Devils now face an uphill battle in the return leg next Thursday.
The two bitter rivals were greeted by deafening noise as they headed out under the lights at Anfield, but the Kop almost fell silent within the first 15 seconds as breakthrough star Marcus Rashford looked poised to connect with Memphis Depay’s teasing cross. However, he hesitated, causing the ball to bounce off his knee, much to Liverpool’s relief.
A scrappy affair ensued until the 18th minute when Depay was adjudged to have fouled Clyne in the Liverpool area. The referee, allowing himself a few seconds to mull over the decision, pointed to the penalty spot. Sturridge looked to plant the ball in the left corner, and he did so despite the faintest of touches from United goalkeeper David De Gea.
The Spaniard got a firmer hand on the ball just four minutes later when he was forced to claw Philippe Coutinho’s awkward tap-in away from the goal-line. Sturridge was the architect of the move with his quick feet deep inside United territory.
An ill-timed slip from Chris Smalling gave Sturridge an invitation to double Liverpool’s lead on the half-hour mark, but De Gea once again came to the Red Devils’ rescue by coming quickly off his line and narrowing the angle. The Spanish international needed to be alert just before the break, too, as he denied Adam Lallana from point-blank range with a smart stop.
Louis van Gaal’s side did not pose much of an attacking threat in the first half, with Depay and Marcos Rojo seeing highly ambitious efforts fly way off target.
The introduction of Michael Carrick after the break saw Manchester United switch to a back three. The tactical switch quickly began to take effect, and Morgan Schneiderlin registered the visitors’ first shot on target with 51 minutes on the clock.
However, Liverpool continued to show that they were the more threatening of the two sides as a scorching shot from Coutinho needed to be tipped over by a full-stretched De Gea.
The Reds finally doubled their lead when Jordan Henderson and Lallana exchanged pinpoint passes down the right flank before the latter squared to Firmino to rifle in from close range.
The Manchester United fans did not have much to get excited about as they watched their side struggle to carve out any clear-cut chances.