Marcus Rashford’s double fired Manchester United to victory to claim bragging rights over Liverpool.
The England international marked his return to the starting XI with a first-half brace to put the Red Devils in command at Old Trafford.
Eric Bailly’s own goal after the break gifted Liverpool a lifeline, but Jurgen Klopp’s men were unable to find an equaliser, despite six minutes of added time.
The win extends United’s lead over their rivals to five points.
Here’s five talking points from the game:
1. Rashford makes his mark
Marcus Rashford was handed his first Premier League start since Boxing Day and proved his enduring value with a stunning opener and followed that up with a second shortly after.
For his first, Rashford timed his run to perfection, ran to Romelu Lukaku’s headed flick-on, cut inside Trent Alexander-Arnold and then buried an unstoppable angled shot beyond Lorius Karius.
Rashford showed great awareness for his second, picking up a loose ball and scoring via a deflection.
Rashford has suffered since the arrival of Alexis Sanchez, but proved once again his pace and ability to run at opponents, allied to his deadly finishing, can be a major weapon for United.
The only time he erred was when he flung himself at James Milner in the first-half to earn a caution.
2. Lukaku steps up to the plate
Romelu Lukaku may not have scored the goal he needed to join the exclusive Premier League 100 goals club, but the United striker was unplayable at times and played a big role in the opening two goals.
It was Lukaku’s headed flick-on that set Rashford free to open the scoring, while United’s second owed everything to the Belgium striker’s superb build-up play.
Lukaku used his physical strength, surge of pace and desire to create the opening from which Rashford was able to plunder his second.
Lukaku’s remorseless work-rate for United often gets overlooked, but even when he isn’t scoring, he brings so much to the table.
3. Bailly shines on return
Eric Bailly’s last Premier League start prior to this one was way back on November 5 in a 1-0 defeat at Chelsea, after which the Ivory Coast defender was sidelined with an ankle problem which required surgery.
Bailly, unquestionably United’s most accomplished central defender, was thrown back in at the deep end against Liverpool, but was imperious, his only blot coming when he inexplicably used his left foot instead of his right to try to clear a cross from Sadio Mane, and ended up spinning the ball into his own net beyond the helpless David De Gea.
Bailly injured himself in the process of scoring the own goal, but insisted on carrying on, his determination epitomising the hunger and desire that saw United over the line after the result was put in the balance following his inadvertent goal at the wrong end.
But having Bailly back is a huge boost for United as they continue their double assault on the Champions League and FA Cup, with a top-four place now all but assured.
4. Salah kept quiet
Mohamed Salah may have plundered 32 goals this season to put himself in the frame for the Player of the Year awards, but Liverpool’s star man was shackled throughout by Ashley Young, who was outstanding for United in front of watching England boss Gareth Southgate.
Young received a call-up from Southgate last November, four years after he was last involved in the international set-up under former Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson.
And the 32-year-old can surely expect another call-up for the forthcoming World Cup warm-up games against Holland and Italy.
Of the candidates to fill the left-back void for England, Young is the one in the best form and deserving of the jersey, ahead of Ryan Bertrand and Danny Rose, while Unite team-mate Luke Shaw has once again been frozen out by Jose Mourinho after enjoying a mid-season revival and a run of games.
Young made a series of key blocks and clearances, none more so than in the first-half when he intervened as Salah prepared to pull the trigger, and his versatility in being able to play a variety of positions makes him an attractive option for Southgate.
5. United defence stands firm
Liverpool’s free-scoring season was stopped in its tracks by United, with Mourinho’s side putting the brakes on the menacing forward trio of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino, even though a cross from Mane yielded Bailly’s own goal.
Young stuck to Salah throughout, while Mane and Firmino were rarely given the time or space to wreak havoc, as they have done to devastating effect this season, although they should have had a penalty in the second-half when Antonio Valencia clearly stopped the flight of the ball with an outstretched arm.
But sloppy defending on two occasions ultimately cost Liverpool, who must recover for next weekend’s visit of Watford, followed by a trip to Crystal Palace, before the Merseyside derby at Everton after the international break.
A top-four place may still not be certain after this defeat, with Chelsea lurking behind Liverpool and Tottenham, but Jurgen Klopp’s side have their destiny in their own hands and can see the job out with a favourable run-in, with only Chelsea to face of the sides in the top-half of the table.
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