Barclays Premier League semi-final
Liverpool vs. Manchester United
Date: Friday, 2 May 2014
Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Manchester United U21s kept alive their chances of retaining their crown, as they produced a hard-earned 0-1 win against Liverpool at Anfield in the semi-final of the Barclays Premier League.
Andreas Pereira’s wonder strike on the stroke of half-time was enough to separate England’s two most prestigious clubs, as United booked their place in the final, where they will face Chelsea.
The returning Tom Lawrence, from his loan spell at already-relegated Championship outfit Yeovil, saw his free-kick cleared before James Wilson latched onto Brad Smith’s loose pass but could only hit the post from his left-footed shot.
Cameron Brannagan saw his deflected effort comfortably held by Ben Amos before a surging run from Saidy Janko down the right-hand side ended in his cross finding Lawrence, before his lay off to Joe Rothwell was controlled, only for United’s number eight to slice his shot over from the edge of the box.
Jordan Lussey dragged his shot wide before Kristoffer Peterson’s powerful header went over the ball after a great ball in from the left by the adventurous Smith.
Rothwell had a deflected shot held by Ryan Fulton before Lawrence was booked for what many would deem a firm but fair challenge on Joao Carlos Teixeira, before the victim’s resulting free-kick went over the crossbar with ease and without troubling Amos.
Rothwell then saw his near post corner cause a scramble inside the Liverpool penalty area, before Paddy McNair saw his shot well saved as Wilson failed to turn home the rebound as a relieved Fulton latched onto the loose ends.
Liverpool captain Lloyd Jones had to receive treatment for committing a similar challenge to the one that saw Lawrence booked, only for referee Michael Oliver to see that one as fair, before Lawrence had a shot blocked and another Rothwell corner failed to cause the same problems as last time.
The break through did come with two minutes of the half remaining.
Pereira received the ball about 25 yards from goal, before he turned and whipped a fantastic strike beyond the helpless Fulton and into the top left-hand corner, leaving Anfield stunned, but the travelling United faithful ecstatic, at that moment of quality.
Liverpool responded well but Jack Dunn’s first time effort from Brannagan’s back-heel flew over Amos’ goal as United led 0-1 at half-time.
Lawrence, who was United’s only change to their starting 11 – in for the injured Louis Rowley – looked impressive all night and his mazy run won himself a free kick, only for the resulting kick to hit the wall.
United captain Reece James showed why he is one of the candidates for reserve player of the year as his perfectly timed tackle began a break for the visitors, as déjà vu nearly struck, but this time Fulton managed to hold Pereira’s curling effort, denying a replica of the goal.
Sloppy play by United ended in relief as Amos held Peterson’s tame effort, before another Amos catch was produced after Brannagan’s cross found the head of Rafael Paez.
A terrific run from Pereira that had shades of Ryan Giggs’ versus Arsenal 15 years ago, ending up with the ball being blocked from his shot, before Lawrence had Fulton scrambling, only for his curled attempt to fall wide of the left-hand post.
This time it was Liverpool who were sloppy in possession, with Ben Pearson picking up the loose ball, and his powerful run produced a venomous strike in which Fulton parried, only for the busy keeper to prevent Pearson from latching onto the rebound by getting his fingertips onto the ball before United’s number four could strike.
With just under 20 minutes to go, United were completely under the cosh in front of the Kop as a Liverpool onslaught began.
Smith’s cross was headed clear at the near post by Charni Ekangamene, nicking the ball away from Amos, before Peterson headed over from close range after Paez’s flick on.
Liverpool stepped up the tempo once more, throwing the kitchen sink at United, putting the team in their changed strip of dark blue under immense pressure.
Villyan Bijev, who had only been on the pitch for a matter of three minutes, missed a sitter after Amos had produced a fine save from Lussey’s left-footed strike.
Teixeira fired a shot wide of the right-hand post before another chance fell in the direction of Bijev, whose header went over the bar from Smith’s cross, much to the relief of United.
That didn’t stop Peterson having another header at goal, this time held by Amos, before substitute Joshua Harrop chose not to take the ball into the corner, instead forcing Fulton into a decent save in the final minute of stoppage time.
But United held on for a mighty victory in what was an adrenaline-filled contest at the home of their biggest rivals.
This win books a place in the final for Warren Joyce’s men, where they will look to overcome London opposition once more.
Twelve months ago Tottenham Hotspur were dispatched by United at Old Trafford in the final, this time round it’s Chelsea for the Red Devils, who finished top of the overall standings, and who defeated United’s neighbours City on penalties last night, after a 1-1 draw at the end of extra time.
An exquisite strike to savour, as this group of young Reds go marching on, where they will look to defend their title against the blue of Chelsea.
Manchester United: Amos; Varela, McNair, Ekangamene, James; Rothwell (Weir 57), Pearson; Janko, Lawrence (Love 88), A. Pereira; Wilson (Harrop 83).
Subs: Weir, J. Pereira, Harrop, Love, Willock.
Manager: Warren Joyce
Liverpool: Fulton; McLaughlin (Randall 69), Paez, Jones, Smith; Williams, Lussey; Peterson, Brannagan (Bijev 82), Teixeira; Dunn.
Subs: Randall, Ward, Maguire, Wilson, Bijev.