Barclays Premier League
Liverpool vs. Manchester United
Date: Sunday, 17 January 2016
Kick-off: 14:05 GMT
Manchester United left it late to produce a smash-and-grab victory over arch rivals Liverpool, securing a league double-double over the Merseysiders.
It was Wayne Rooney who bagged the only goal of the game in the 78th minute, as the skipper made it five goals in four games in 2015.
The England captain scored the sole strike in this fixture for the second time, the first being almost 11 years to the day, and this was also his first at Anfield since that day back in January 2005.
Things didn’t quite go United’s way for parts of the game, particularly in the first half, with Lucas Leiva’s long ball seeing Adam Lallana’s header saved by the onrushing David De Gea, with Lallana teeing up Roberto Firmino from the rebound, only for the Brazilian to drag his attempt wide.
Firmino’s weighted pass than set James Milner away on the right, but the former Manchester City man let the ball bounce twice, which meant that the angle was tighter and his shot flew off target without troubling.
Intricate play from the hosts saw Lallana and Firmino combine before teeing up Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, but his right-footed effort fell across goal and past the left-hand post.
Anthony Martial’s bursting run led to his shot being blocked by Mamadou Sakho in a rare United attack, as half-time arrived with the game goalless.
A similar scenario occurred at the start of the second half, with Emre Can having the beating of Chris Smalling, but his left foot strike was saved by the inside of De Gea’s right boot.
Another dragged effort fell wide, this time from Martial, as injured players Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all watched on in separate sections of the away support, which was nice to see.
The ever-reliable De Gea produced a fine save to deny Can from distance, before the Spaniard clawed away Firmino’s rebound out of danger, as Liverpool looked the more likely to find the breakthrough.
However, as with football, the script can alter at any moment, with Daley Blind’s short corner routine to Juan Mata allowing the substitute to cross for Marouane Fellaini, whose header inside the box struck the crossbar, only for Rooney to be on hand to fire a powerful strike high into the back of the net, sending the travelling party into pandemonium.
Expecting a Liverpool onslaught in the final 10 minutes, this never really materialised, as United fairly comfortably held out for a massive three points, and their 12th Premier League win on this ground, the most at any other venue.
After the entertainment of Tuesday night’s 3-3 draw against Newcastle United, the leaky defence on such occasion meant that Louis van Gaal was likely to return to his conservative tactics, but if you could handpick a game to grind out a fortunate 1-0 win, it would be this fixture.
Scoring from their only shot on target, United equalled what they did in the reverse fixture back in September, where they also scored from every shot on target on that day, in the 3-1 Old Trafford victory.
Van Gaal has now won all four league games against Liverpool since taking over as manager, with 2014’s pre-season win making it five from five.
As for Rooney, his return to form has seen him become the all-time Premier League scorer for one club, making it 176 league strikes for United, surpassing Thierry Henry’s 175 for Arsenal.
The performance wasn’t great, but in this fixture it’s the result that counts and matters most, as United close to within two points of Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place.
Up next is the visit of Southampton at Old Trafford next Saturday, with a 3pm GMT kick-off time.
Manchester United: De Gea; Young (Borthwick-Jackson 42), Smalling, Blind, Darmian; Schneiderlin, Fellaini; Lingard (Mata 66), Herrera (Memphis 72), Martial; Rooney.
Subs: Romero, Varela, McNair, Borthwick-Jackson, Mata, Pereira, Memphis.
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Toure (Benteke 81), Sakho, Moreno; Henderson, Lucas, Can; Milner (Caulker 90), Firmino, Lallana (Ibe 76).
Subs: Ward, Benteke, Caulker, Allen, Ibe, Smith, Teixeira.
Manager: Jurgen Klopp