Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester United faced off in the first leg of their round of 16 tie in the Europa League at Anfield. The home side went into the game at the back
of a win over Crystal Palace while the Red Devils had suffered a defeat to West Brom in their last match in the league. The level of performances was not the best and neither side wanted
to slip up in this crucial cup tie. An intense battle between these age-old rivals began with the home side dominating the possession and play, with some quick confident football. Despite that, Louis van Gaal’s side kept them out. However, a penalty was given for a silly foul in the box, which Daniel Sturridge stepped up and scored to make it 1-0.
United keeper David de Gea was tested quite a few times, as Coutinho and Sturridge could have scored. However, the Spaniard looked bright and managed to keep the opposition attack out. The first half eventually ended with the score at 1-0, as either chance could have won the game.
The second half did not see too much change for the Manchester based side, who still struggled with every aspect of the game. It took quite some time for the game to produce more goals, as on the 73rd minute, it was attacker Roberto Firmino who scored for the home side. The Brazilian international looked superb on the ball and had produced a solid performance. He clearly deserved a goal and his efforts paid off on the night. The game eventually ended with a 2-0 scoreline, as Van Gaal’s side failed to score in such an important game.
Here is what the two managers had to say about their side’s performance after this result:
Louis van Gaal said, “I have to say that Liverpool have created an atmosphere that is fantastic. They played very good; in the first half, we could not cope with their pressure. Still, they have chances but David De Gea was fantastic. We [gave away] a penalty and it was a cheap penalty, I think. In the second half, we changed the shape and then we had much more contribution to the game, but we didn’t create many chances. They scored another cheap goal, I think, and that’s difficult because 2-0 is a very difficult result for us.”
“I have seen that we did not cope with the high pressure of Liverpool. For me, it was a surprise that we did not cope with it because they did it in the same way as the home match this year that we played against them. First they provoked that we could play the ball from David De Gea to Daley Blind or Chris Smalling and after that they gave a lot of pressure and we did not cope with that. That has also raised the atmosphere inside the stadium. They also created big chances but we had a very good goalkeeper and he is also part of our squad and because of that, we were in the match. Then we got a cheap penalty [against us] I think and that was 1-0.”
About the penalty, he stated, “The referee cannot see that [Memphis’s challenge which led to the penalty] because I think that he holds him outside the box, and then he [Clyne] is falling down. That’s not because he is kicked by Memphis, but it’s difficult, you cannot see that in one second. You have to be sharp when you give it; if it was outside or inside, I don’t know exactly. It is then, for me, a cheap penalty, but they deserved the goal.”
Further, about the whole atmosphere and whether it impacted his team, he added, “No, the pressure is not from the crowd, the pressure is from the players on the pitch. They have performed a very high pressure and that was very good of Liverpool. I said that we did not cope with the pressure of the players on the pitch who always give the ball pressure.
Whichever player has the ball, they give pressure to him and that was too much. But in the second half, we did that and that was also difficult for them.”
About his team’s second-half performance, “Liverpool were the better team in the first half but in the second half, we played a better match than before it. In the second half, we tried to press like Liverpool. We have changed the shape and then you saw that Liverpool also had difficulties but we did not create too many chances, maybe two or three. The best one was for Fellaini, I think, the header. But we received another cheap goal. I think Henderson was in an offside position.”
On Firmino’s goal, “How their goals are existing is cheap, how they managed to score them. I’ve seen the videotape [of the second goal] and I think that the guy who gives the pass from outside [Henderson] is already offside. When you [the referee] are very sharp with the penalty, then you have to also be sharp with the offside. But we gave it away also, that goal, so I have a very nasty feeling.”
United had only one shot on target and it disappointed Van Gaal, “You are right. I cannot deny that. I don’t think that we were in the third and fourth phase very creative. But it is also the defence of Liverpool and you can also give the credit for that to Liverpool. We have to improve a lot to create more goals. Okay, one shot, but we also had headers, not in the goal [on target] but outside the goal [off target].”
On Fellaini’s challenge on Emre Can, “I have to say that Fellaini was one of the best players on the pitch. I’m very sorry when he makes a mistake like that [alleged foul on Can not punish by the referee]. I haven’t seen it.”
His plans for the second leg, “You have to believe in everything. We can also create an atmosphere like Liverpool has done with their fans. And then everything is possible. We have to give pressure to them. We did that in the second half but not the first half.”
On the other hand, with his side winning the game Jurgen Klopp looked happy and he stated, “It was good, from the first second to last second with only a few minutes in the second half when we lost control.
“2-0 is a perfect result. We would have liked to have won more clearly but there is nothing to criticise tonight.”
“As a human being, I could really celebrate and say it is the best and greatest ever but I don’t want to set a limit for them, I don’t know how strong they can be.”
“We are in a good position now and want to go to the next round but for this, we have to play like this again.”
Klopp was impressed with the whole Anfield atmosphere and added, “It was unbelievable. I want to thank you to everyone who was involved it was easy to enjoy from the first to last second.”
“That was Liverpool as I knew it before I came here. It was really great.”