It’s very rare that a team wins 3-0 and their goalkeeper is man of the match, but that’s testament to just how good David De Gea was – even better than he has been most of the season (with the possible exception of the Everton game). Raheem Sterling was left head-in-hands after the game as he saw three one-on-one situations saved, and there was another one-on-one stop – and a fine reaction save – to deny Mario Balotelli. De Gea is now beginning to resemble Old Trafford legend Peter Schmeichel, particularly in the way he makes himself big, doesn’t commit and fills as much of the goal as possible – a remarkable feat given his relatively slender physique, and the fact that when he joined Manchester United, the Spaniard was being slated as too lightweight (his aerial presence, most criticised then, has also improved immeasurably). Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed it as the “best performance from a United keeper I’ve seen at Old Trafford”. Some praise given he’s played with keepers including Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar.
Out-of-form Simon Mignolet was controversially dropped after 53 straight league games for Liverpool since joining last season, handing understudy Brad Jones a kind of re-baptism of fire (he had made eight previous league appearances for Liverpool – along with various others – but his last league game before this was in March 2013). He didn’t exactly stake a great claim as a long-term replacement for the Belgian. It’s easy to say with the benefit of hindsight, but even without he probably should have stayed on his feet for the first goal, rather than guess which way Wayne Rooney was shooting – and guess wrong. And he again committed early when Juan Mata shaped to shoot for the third, meaning he was out of position for Robin van Persie’s finish. On the evidence of this display, Brendan Rodgers would probably be well served to now place faith in Mignolet recovering his superb form of last season. As shown by the keeper at the other end today, goalkeepers bad spells aren’t always terminal.
United undeniably played the better football, but not by as comprehensive a degree as you might think from the scoreline. As mentioned, De Gea was superb in United’s goal, but the other side of it was that Liverpool left a lot to be desired in front goal. Rodgers said after the game his team were “not prolific enough” and that he thought they “did enough to win the game”. Naturally, there’s some bias at play here – not to mention self-interest, given the pressure he is under – but he’s got a point, because Liverpool had 19 shots and nine shots on target (to United’s 11 and six respectively). They started with an unusual, untried, interchangeable front three of Sterling, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho. It obviously at least somewhat worked given the chances created, but not in terms of the finishing. None of it was awful, but you couldn’t imagine Daniel Sturridge or Luis Suarez – or Sergio Aguero or Diego Costa – failing to score from three one-on-one opportunities, even against a keeper in such inspired form. The difference was certainly starkly apparent looking at the other end – a rejuvenated Van Persie, Mata and a youngster, James Wilson, showing enough promise to be given a start in such a big match (although he was mediocre today). So many riches in fact, even without Angel Di Maria, that a fit-again Radamel Falcao was left on the bench and Rooney pushed back into midfield. The difference told in Rooney breaking from midfield to score a half-chance, while Jordan Henderson did the same but headed over. It’s somewhat surprising Rickie Lambert hasn’t been given more of a chance given Liverpool’s problems up front. Liverpool fans will have to hope Sturridge returns very soon and provides some goodwill over the busy festive period.
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