Match Report: Capital One Cup Semi Final Leg 1
Despite being considerably overwhelmed by the possession football that had earned Liverpool so much success this season, Manchester United still managed to run out of Old Trafford 2-0 winners of the Capital One Cup Semi Final's first leg.
Liverpool had 20 shots at goal, exactly two times of United's 10, yet were unable to find a goal by 90 minutes thanks in part to their horrendous finishing as well as an outstanding performance from David de Gea.
There weren't much surprises in the lineups of both teams, Liverpool and United naturally fielding some of their best players to compete against each other. The only interesting selection came from Red Devils boss Louis van Gaal, who opted to start Anderson instead of Di Maria.
Liverpool had to contend with youth team keeper Daniel Ward on the bench with Brad Jones out due to a training injury, while United missed a far more vital man, star striker Radamel Falcao, who will also not be playing in the second leg because of an unfortunately mistimed twisted knee.
Starting 11: Mignolet; Clyne, Skrtel, Balanta, Moreno; Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling; Markovic, Coutinho; Sturridge
Used Subs: Lucas (Gerrard, 51 min), Balotelli (Sturridge, 61 min)
Unused Subs: Ward, Flanagan, Manquillo, Sakho, Lallana
Starting 11: de Gea; Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Blind; Herrera, Fellaini, Anderson; Mata; van Persie, Rooney
Used Subs: Di Maria (Anderson, 78 min)
Unused Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Valencia, Young, Vertonghen, Januzaj
The first chance of the game came relatively quickly with Liverpool earning a first-minute corner, and they capitalized on the opportunity, with Steven Gerrard sweeping the ball into the feet of Lazar Markovic, who in turn provided a brilliant pass for Daniel Sturridge. The England forward's shot was, fortunately for United, blocked by Phil Jones and cleared out of the danger area in a hurry.
Some fantastic play from Liverpool again saw Philippe Coutinho and Markovic link up from the left with the former of the two delivering the finishing shot, but it went straight into the safe hands of David de Gea, a save that would prove to be the first of many.
David de Gea was kept extremely busy by Liverpool's attack
United had some chances of their own. Thwarted by the solid defensive partnership of Martin Skrtel and Eder Alvarez Balanta constantly, they eventually found a way through with Wayne Rooney playing a great ball for Robin van Persie to latch onto, leaving him on a one-on-one with Simon Mignolet. However, the lethal Dutch striker was superbly denied by an awe-inspiring save.
Fluid in their passing, the Reds kept possession throughout and were definitely the better side for the first 25 minutes, creating numerous chances only to be stopped time after time by United's defenders and the spectacular de Gea.
But the one that made the breakthrough wasn't Liverpool. The architect was none other than Rooney himself, having received the ball from Ander Herrera in a dangerous position, and unselfishly played in the oncoming Juan Mata for the Spaniard to unleash it.
Juan Mata celebrates breaking the deadlock with his stunning strike
Liverpool were brought back down to earth, and their frustrations were clear. Martin Skrtel picked up a booking for an unnecessary challenge on van Persie, while his partner in defense Balanta was also shown a yellow card for shoving.
And just as they looked to be gaining momentum, Gerrard picked up a knock tripping over Anderson, and had to be substituted for Lucas Leiva, just 5 minutes into the second half.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard couldn't continue the game past the 50-minute mark
Yet, United's defense continued to be bombarded. De Gea was called into action time after time, being on hand to deny Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, as well as Mario Balotelli, who had been substituted onto the field to replace the largely ineffective Daniel Sturridge. But Balotelli could do nothing as United's confidence began to rise and they started to dominate the later stages of the game.
A second goal was inevitable, and it came in the form of Rooney, the United captain being fed by a fantastic cross from Chris Smalling, smashing it into the back of the net with his great right foot. Mignolet stood no chance.
Wayne Rooney wheels away in celebration after his close-range effort
It was all downhill from there, as United proceeded to boss the remaining 20 minutes of the game. Things went from bad to worst, as Coutinho was given his marching orders after slicing down Marouane Fellaini with a two-footed tackle.
The last piece action of the game came from Balotelli, who hit the ball from just outside the box only to see it fly into the stands. It was a good effort but the damage had been dealt, and Liverpool will have to win by at least 3 goals at Anfield if they want to have any chance of making it to the Capital One Cup Final.
Player Ratings - Liverpool
Simon Mignolet - 6. Played relatively well, but failed to react quickly to Juan Mata's first-half strike, resulting in United taking the lead.
Nathaniel Clyne - 7. Couldn't do much after United started to get into the game, but was instrumental in the early stages feeding dangerous balls up to the forwards.
Martin Skrtel - 6. An average performance. Wasn't able to handle the lethal duo of Rooney and van Persie well.
Eder Alvarez Balanta - 5. Started the game ahead of Sakho and played the full 90 minutes, but perhaps Sakho would have been a better choice. The youngster, much like Skrtel, couldn't do much in stopping Rooney nor van Persie.
Alberto Moreno - 6. Disappeared for most of the game but was solid when called upon.
Steven Gerrard - 7. The Liverpool captain did well sitting back and babysitting the defense, and was effective in hushing Juan Mata. Substituted in the 50th minute due to injury after a clash with Anderson.
Jordan Henderson - 5. Did not manage to accomplish much and was outmuscled in midfield by Fellaini and Herrera.
Raheem Sterling - 6. Tried his best to cut in from the wing but could not find his way into the box too many times, and in the few times he did, he was denied by de Gea.
Lazar Markovic - 6. Made a few great passes in the first half but fizzled out after that. Looked uninspired and perhaps Adam Lallana would have been a better choice for a game like this one.
Philippe Coutinho - 4. Had a bad game and topped it off by earning an early shower after an unprofessional two-footed tackle on Fellaini.
Daniel Sturridge - 5. A presence that was forgettable throughout his entire time on the pitch. Wasn't able to get in possession of the ball much and was kept quiet by a tough United defense.
Lucas Leiva - 4. Came on for Steven Gerrard but proved to be more of a liability to the team than a help, being at fault for the second conceded goal after failing to stop Chris Smalling from crossing the ball when he could.
Mario Balotelli - 6. Played for only 30 minutes yet still managed to make more of an impression than Sturridge did, but could not get too many of his shots on target.
Player Ratings - Manchester United
David de Gea - 8. Did exceptionally well, and without him the score would have been 2-2 or perhaps even more.
Chris Smalling - 7. Provided the cross for the second goal after outrunning Lucas Leiva. Looked solid in his right-back position.
Phil Jones - 6. Didn't do too much the entire game and was haunted constantly by Liverpool's attackers, but still managed to give an alright performance.
Marcos Rojo - 7. Had a good game, covered up for Jones' mistakes and was largely responsible for Sturridge's ineffectiveness.
Daley Blind - 8. Brilliant performance at left-back. Handled Markovic well and prevented him from getting any balls to his teammates up front.
Ander Herrera - 7. Alright in midfield, Played some great passing football to frustrate Liverpool fans and players alike.
Anderson - 7. Played well and kept Liverpool at bay, but fans will probably remember his only contribution as taking Gerrard out of the game.
Marouane Fellaini - 7. The last of United's three-man midfield, he didn't have a bad game either and fed the forwards with dangerous passes constantly.
Juan Mata - 8. Made some great runs and had a generally fantastic showing.
Wayne Rooney - 8. The captain was once again influential in his side's victory, scoring one goal and assisting the other. Was a nightmare for Liverpool's defense.
Robin van Persie - 7. Did not have too much luck in front of goal but managed to keep up a great rapport with Rooney.
Angel Di Maria - N/A. Played for 10 minutes and didn't have much to do as his team cruised to a 2-0 win.