Xherdan Shaqiri was the super sub as Liverpool beat Manchester United 3-1 at Anfield on Sunday to return to the top of the Premier League table.
Liverpool dominated the proceedings from the get-go, with Manchester United happy to sit back in an attempt to absorb all the pressure. Sure enough, the hosts conjured up chances aplenty, with Roberto Firmino forcing David de Gea into a fingertip save.
Their relentless pursuit towards the first goal eventually paid off as Sadio Mane opened the scoring after his ghosting run past Ashley Young had been brilliantly spotted by Fabinho. Less than 10 minutes later, the scores were level, courtesy Jesse Lingard following Alisson Becker’s uncharacteristic howler while collecting Romelu Lukaku’s cross.
The second half though, was all Liverpool, with the visitors never really managing to threaten Alisson all that much. It was Firmino who called de Gea into action once again, but Xherdan Shaqiri’s introduction tipped the scales in the Reds’ favour that bit more.
Good morning, Reds… 🔴🙌 pic.twitter.com/042xVAICHz
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 17, 2018
Three minutes after coming on, the Swiss international put Liverpool back into the lead, as his right footed shot deflected into the net off Young. A few minutes later, Shaqiri rounded off the win with another deflected strike, this time off Eric Bailly.
The win saw Liverpool return to the top of the Premier League table, opening up a 19-point gap to their visitors on Sunday. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Jurgen Klopp’s men, following their first league win over Manchester United since 2014.
Alisson Becker: 5/10
Usually a reliable customer in the Liverpool goal, Alisson made an uncharacteristic error while collecting a cross by Romelu Lukaku, with the ball spilling towards Jesse Lingard. Had very little to do otherwise, with Manchester United not testing him much, and the Brazilian distributed the ball quite well.
Nathaniel Clyne: 6.5/10
Back into the side after a long layoff and making his first start of the season, Clyne had his fair share of problems at different junctures of the game while dealing with the threat posed by Marcus Rashford. But, the Englishman absorbed the pressure well as the game went on, completing four tackles and as many recoveries while also threatening on his forward forays. A step in the right direction.
Dejan Lovren: 7/10
The right half of the Liverpool defence was tested more by Manchester United and unsurprisingly, Lovren had his hands full for large parts of the game. While the Croat dealt with the threat of Romelu Lukaku quite well, there were a few moments when he was found out and pulled out of position, particularly in the lead-up to Lingard’s goal.
Virgil van Dijk: 8/10
A typically solid performance by van Dijk, who negated Lukaku completely in the central areas, not letting the Belgian have any joy. On the other end of the pitch, the Dutchman even took aim at goal three times, which is three more than the shots taken by the man he was marking all game long. Deserving of the captain’s armband in the absence of Jordan Henderson and James Milner.
Andrew Robertson: 8/10
Up against Diogo Dalot and Lingard at different junctures of the game, Robertson absorbed the little pressure that Manchester United looked to create on his flank. Going forward, the usual crosses and low balls weren’t there to be seen. But, the Scotsman was a constant outlet for Liverpool on the left flank, spending more time in the final third that at the back.
Fabinho’s game by numbers vs. Man United:
6 accurate long balls
3 take ons completed
2 chances created
1 aerial duel won
Liverpool’s chief orchestrator. pic.twitter.com/zzivgJSzN4
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 16, 2018
Much was made out about the Fabinho’s slow start to the season. But, Sunday’s performance vindicated Klopp’s decision to ease him into the side, with the Brazilian now looking every bit the player that helped AS Monaco win the Ligue 1 title two seasons ago.
From minute one on Sunday, Fabinho was a colossal presence in the middle of the park, setting the tempo of the game and finding himself in pockets of space to dictate the proceedings. Even created the first goal by producing a defence-splitting pass through to Sadio Mane. On the defensive front, very little went past him as Fabinho laid down the marker for a regular place in the side.
Georginio Wijnaldum: 7/10
With Fabinho taking the initiative for the most part in the middle of the park, Wijnaldum took a back seat and kept things simple to play the support act to the Brazilian. His liveliness helped Liverpool win possession back quickly, as the Reds kept control of the game. A major asset for Klopp.
Sadio Mane: 8/10
Mane has been scrutinised a lot in recent weeks for his poor showing in front of goal. But, on Sunday, he did not waste the biggest chance that came his way, as he ghosted past Young before beating de Gea with his shot. The Senegalese worked hard off the ball as well, pressing relentlessly to win the ball back quickly. Played a big role in Shaqiri’s first goal too, in what was a solid outing.
Roberto Firmino: 7/10
Against what was earlier anticipated, Firmino started in the free role behind Mohamed Salah. But, unlike some of the previous outings in the role, the Brazilian was much more improved, producing an enterprising performance. In all, the Brazilian took an astounding 9 shots on goal, although it wasn’t to be his night as far scoring a goal was concerned.
Naby Keita: 6/10
Keita started the game on the left side of the Liverpool attack, although he drifted in more to allow Robertson space in the wide areas. But, while the Guinean put in a major shift, his end product was nowhere to be seen on the day. Solid on the defensive front, though.
Mohamed Salah: 6/10
Another game in a role that Salah is starting to adapt to quite well. On Sunday though, Salah did not have much joy starting in the central role upfront, as Eric Bailly kept a check on him for the most part. Another player whose end product was missing, although Salah did leave his mark on the game by flicking the ball for Shaqiri’s second.
Xherdan Shaqiri: 9/10
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) December 16, 2018
Brought on in the 70th minute, Shaqiri turned the game on its head, all on his own. While both of his strikes had the element of luck in that they were deflected, the Swiss international did brilliantly to find himself in pockets of space and bring himself into scoring positions. The darling of the Liverpool fans will hope to nail down a starting spot now.
Jordan Henderson: N/A
On for the final six minutes or so, Henderson had very little time to make an impact and helped see the game out.