Liverpool players celebrating
Liverpool players celebrating

Goals from Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino helped Liverpool to a 2-0 victory over arch-rivals Manchester United in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 16 on Thursday night.

In what comes as the first European meeting between these two old rivals, Liverpool were the dominant throughout and thoroughly deserved the victory. Sturridge fired the hosts ahead with a 20th-minute penalty, and Firmino doubled the lead in the 73rd minute following an excellent pass from Adam Lallana.

Here we have picked up 5 talking points from the exciting clash between  the two rivals.

Henderson and Emre Can’s excellent partnership

Liverpool dictated this match from the very start to finish, holding 60 per cent of ball possession while topping other key stats like shots on goal (8-1), corners (7-0) and passes completed (407-293), as per uefa.com’s statistics.The hosts have Jordan Henderson and Emre Can to thank for much of that brilliant display, as two of the midfielders managed to keep United completely under control in the middle of the pitch.

But how dominant were Henderson and Can? As Liverpool’s official twitter account stated late in the second half, the two players regained possession 22 times. That’s certainly an amazing stat, and it also sheds some light on why the home side won this match so comfortably.

Henderson especially deserves recognition for displaying a commanding performance despite being booked in just the second minute. He had to walk with a tightrope for the entire game but still gave a robust display in the heart of Liverpool’s formation.

Michael Carrick’s howler

Carrick stepped into the field at half-time as a substitute for Marcus Rashford. After committing such a costly error in the second half, the 34-year-old may be wished he had stayed on the bench rather.

The howler came in the 73rd minute when Jordan Henderson whipped in a perfect cross from the right. Carrick was there in position to clear but surprisingly miskicked the ball straight to Lallana, who then quickly fed Roberto Firmino for a close-range clinical finish.

Before that, the Red Devils were behind only by 1-0 and were very much in the tie despite their poor showing on the night. But this second goal, which resulted directly from Carrick’s error, will now make their task much harder in the second leg which is at Old Trafford.

Carrick was far from the only United player to be criticized, but the costly mistake was particularly damaged his side.

Exceptional De Gea

If David De Gea was not there, Manchester United may have lost this match to Liverpool by four or five goals.

The Spaniard ended with six stunning saves on the night, but it doesn’t tell us the full story. He actually made excellent stops in both halves, denying Philippe Coutinho from point-blank range in the 42nd minute before keeping out a Lallana volley eight minutes after the break.

Although the poor quality of Liverpool’s finishing made De Gea’s job to some extent easier at times, but it’s no stretch to conclude that he kept Manchester United in the tie with a commendable performance.

Louis van Gaal’s tactics again raise questions

For those who have seen Manchester United’s glorious years of the 1990s and 2000s, this current edition obviously doesn’t measure up. Their quality of play under Louis van Gaal has been questioned on several occasions this term, but this performance against Liverpool last night marked a new low.

From the very start, United seemed second-best. Liverpool lived up to the occasion faster to every ball, more incisive with their passing and clearly better than United at every single position, except goalkeeper.

With Morgan Schneiderlin and Fellaini used as holding midfielders, the visitors were not been able to build anything in possession. That was van Gaal’s fault, as was the decision to deploy Rashford, a young inexperienced striker, wide on the right, with full defensive responsibilities. The only player who has had goals in him was posted as a right wingback. Giving a kid in goalscoring form over to defensive duties is rubbish tactics. A complete madness.

At full time, United were well beaten, and the inquest also began. Van Gaal’s tactics were poor, and the team’s performance reflected that. Down 2-0, Manchester United are not out of the tie, but there is no way back on this form.

How much longer can United allow this to continue?

Lallana’s excellent shift

Adam Lallana produced an excellent shift, continuing his progression under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp. His assist in the second half capped a brilliant performance which should boost his confidence ahead of the second leg. The Englishman turned in another fairly complete performance as he poked the ball through for Firmino’s goal and did plenty of works off the ball to press a down under Manchester United from high up the pitch.

Liverpool will be looking for more of the same next week at Old Trafford.