MANCHESTER - Manchester United produced an utterly unexpected 2-1 victory over old rivals Liverpool in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Monday (Aug 22) to turn fan protests against the club’s owners into a rare night of celebration.
United’s vastly improved performance for their first points of the campaign, thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, left Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool without a victory from their opening three games and with just two points.
It was the first win for United’s Dutch manager Erik ten Hag who was rewarded for his decision to leave Cristiano Ronaldo and club captain Harry Maguire on the bench.
After the match, ten Hag hailed his men for the turnaround, saying: "We can talk about tactical but it is all about attitude. There was communication and a fighting spirit.
“I wanted a different approach and a different attitude and that is what they brought on the pitch. It is only a start. We can play with much more composure and much more danger. Be a team and have a good spirit – and that is what we saw today."
In the aftermath of last week’s humiliating 4-0 loss at Brentford, it had been a week of major question marks over the club’s owners, the Florida-based Glazer family, and some fans marched to the ground in protest ahead of the kick-off calling for them to sell the club.
United’s transfer failings have also been criticised but before the match started, their new arrival from Real Madrid, Casemiro, was unveiled to the fans, although the welcoming applause threatened to be drowned out by anti-Glazer chants.
That strange juxtaposition of support and protest remained throughout the game but United’s display, their best in over a year, defined the night.
Sancho put the hosts ahead in the 16th minute, showing great composure as he collected a pull-back from Anthony Elanga, left James Milner on his backside and then slotted the ball into the bottom corner.
Christian Eriksen was denied a second for Ten Hag’s side with a curling free-kick which Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker touched away from the top corner but United extended their lead after the break.
A mistake by Jordan Henderson allowed substitute Anthony Martial to send Rashford clear and the England forward kept his cool to slot past Alisson in the 53rd minute for his first league goal since January.
Henderson was part of a weakened midfield with James Milner and Harvey Elliott but Liverpool were below par all over the field.
They did, however, pull a goal back in the 81st minute when Fabio Carvalho’s shot was parried by David De Gea only for Mohamed Salah to react quickly and nod in the loose ball.
Klopp was far from happy after the game.
“We are in a tricky situation injury-wise. We got through the week with 14, 15 senior players available and now have to make sure they don’t get injured. We should have won this game," he said.
I know it sounds ridiculous but that is how I saw it.
“I am concerned about our situation, but that is how it is.
"We prepare for Bournemouth (on Saturday) and Newcastle (next Wednesday) now.
“It was not a perfect performance, it was clear United would get out of the blocks but we were not 100 per cent ready.
“We had to keep chasing the game and that is not what you want to do. It makes it difficult with their counter-attacking threat. The second goal is hard to take, it was offside, but we have to work with it.”
But there was plenty for ten Hag to be encouraged by, particularly Rashford’s return to scoring and form, but he will surely be delighted with the positive performances of two of his new signings.
Lisandro Martinez was outstanding in the centre of defence alongside the recalled Raphael Varane while Tyrell Malacia, picked ahead of Luke Shaw at left-back, was tenacious throughout.
There were some late nerves for the home side after Liverpool’s goal but they held firm and the United fans, who had begun the night chanting against their owners, the Glazer family, went home in celebratory mood.