Recap: In the first ever European meeting between England’s two most successful clubs, it was Liverpool who came out convincingly on top, earning a 2-0 advantage from the first leg of their Europa League Round of 16 tie with Manchester United. Under the lights at a fired up Anfield, Liverpool dominated their lackluster rivals for almost the entire contest, and earned just reward with a first-half penalty from Daniel Sturridge and a close-range finish in the second half from Roberto Firmino.
The manner of the two goals was indicative of the gulf on the night between two sides, who between them share 38 league titles and eight European Cups. For the first, Memphis lost track of the run of Nathaniel Clyne and clumsily dragged the full-back down just inside the box. From the penalty spot, Sturridge stutter-stepped and beat David de Gea to give Liverpool a 20th minute lead.
Liverpool’s advantage could have been extended multiple times. A Liverpool side playing with far greater intensity and purpose created multiple chances, with only some exceptional saves from De Gea, particularly from Philippe Coutinho, who really should have tucked the ball home from a couple of yards out, keeping the visitors afloat.
Louis van Gaal’s halftime tactical switch, bringing on Michael Carrick and going to three at the back, ignited Manchester United’s best spell of the match. But the bare facts show that they tested Simon Mignolet just once in the whole 90 minutes, with Anthony Martial an isolated figure up front.
And Liverpool soon regained the initiative with a tactical alteration of their own, before a calamitous error from United gifted Liverpool a 2-0 advantage to take to Old Trafford. After Jordan Henderson broke free down the right, Carrick had the simple task of clearing his cross to safety, but instead gave the ball straight to Adam Lallana, who found Firmino to poke into the net from six yards.
Manchester United may point to a debatable offside decision that went in favor of Henderson in the buildup as well as a strong claim for a penalty denied Juan Mata in the first half, but to do so would be to ignore the fact that they were rendered decidedly second best on a historic night.
FULLTIME! Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United
A goal in each half courtesy of a Daniel Sturridge penalty and a close-range finish from Roberto Firmino gives Liverpool a clear and deserved advantage to take to Old Trafford for the second leg. Other than a brief spell at the start of the second half following a Manchester United tactical switch, Liverpool were the better team and could have even secured a bigger lead had it not been for some fine saves from David de Gea. At the other end, Simon Mignolet was a virtual spectator. In the first ever European matchup between England’s two most successful clubs, it is Liverpool who are now the strong favorites to advance to the last eight of the Europa League.
90 mins: Blind manages to get into the box down the left, but Clyne gets back to avert the danger. There’s pressure little sign that Manchester United can get a goal in the dying moments to change the complexion of the tie going to Old Trafford. Two minutes of injury time to be played.
86 mins: United have now resorted to firing high balls into the box for Fellaini to try and get his head onto. The Belgian does just that from Schweinsteiger’s long ball, but can’t get his header on target. It’s not pretty, but it looks the most likely route to a United goal in the closing minutes.
84 mins: Liverpool make their second change of the match, withdrawing the scorer of their second goal, Firmino and replacing him with the speedy 20-year-old striker Divock Origi.
82 mins: Blind puts in a fine cross from deep with his excellent left foot, but Martial just can’t rise high enough above his marker to get a header in on goal. The attacking threat has been all too little from the visitors tonight.
80 mins: In desperate need of a goal to take back to Old Trafford, Van Gaal turns to Bastian Schweinsteiger off the bench to make his first appearance in two months after injury, in place of Morgan Schneiderlin, while Ander Herrera takes the place of the disappointing Juan Mata. Those changes only reinforce the paucity of attacking options Van Gaal has at his disposal, particularly after withdrawing Marcus Rashford at halftime.
Here's Firmino's goal:
GOAL! Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United (Firmino, 73)
And there is that second goal for Liverpool. Henderson was adjudged kindly to have been just onside as he was released down the right flank, but his cross should have been simply cleared by Carrick, who instead gifted the ball straight to Lallana. The former Southampton man astutely picked put Firmino, who got in front of his marker to poke high into the net from six yards and finally beat De Gea from open play.
71 mins: Liverpool have regained the ascendency since Allen’s arrival. Allen has just sent Firmino through into the box, only to be denied by a solid challenge from Rojo. Klopp’s side are now sensing the chance what could be a crucial second goal.
69 mins: Another big chance for Liverpool to increase their lead. After Liverpool quickly retrieved possession, Lallana laid the ball back on a plate for Henderson in space 15 yards out, but the captain side footed wide of the far post. That was the sort of chance that really should be snapped up.
67 mins: Some delightful footwork from Firmino wide on the right leads to a fierce drive by Clyne from 30 yards that De Gea beats to safety.
64 mins: Perhaps responding to Manchester United’s improvement since the interval, midfielder Joe Allen comes on for Daniel Sturridge and will surely tasked with doing a better job of maintaining possession in the middle. Firmino now goes into the striker role.
62 mins: Since the half-time formation switch, Manchester United are much keener into the challenge and are finding more options when they do have the ball. And they just mounted perhaps their best passing move of the match, but Martial couldn’t take Memphis’s incisive pass into his path in the penalty box. Still, positive signs for the visitors, although they will be desperate to get that away goal.
57 mins: United are certainly applying more pressure at the start of the second half, and Mignolet has already been worked more than in the entirety of the first half. Just moments ago, he had to rise high to stop a cross from the right reaching a Manchester United head in the middle. For all Liverpool's dominance, an away goal would dramatically change the complexion of this tie.
55 mins: De Gea excels yet again. After three big saves in the first half, United’s goalkeeper dives at full-stretch to reach out a hand and divert Coutinho’s fine strike over the bar. United surely can’t continue to depend on the excellence of their goalkeeper.
51 mins: Manchester United finally test Simon Mignolet for the first time in the contest, but Morgan Schneiderlin’s long-range drive presents no real danger for the Liverpool goalkeeper.
49 mins: Philippe Coutinho becomes the fifth man to be booked on the night, with the referee adjudging that he dived over the outstretched leg of Memphis as he cut in from the right flank. The Brazilian was certainly trying to engineer some contact and a foul on that occasion.
46 mins: It’s a significant reshuffle for Manchester United. Carrick has gone into the center of the defense to make a back three, alongside Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo, with Daley Blind going to left wing-back and Guillermo Varela operating in the same position on the opposite side.
Second Half Kick Off: Liverpool get the Europa League Round of 16 first leg back underway, leading Manchester United 1-0. And Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has attempted to change things at the interval, bringing on veteran midfielder Michael Carrick in place of Marcus Rashford.
HALFTIME: Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United
After a very early chance for Marcus Rashford, it’s been nearly all one-way traffic in favor of Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge grabbed the opening goal from the penalty spot after Memphis brought down Nathaniel Clyne, but Liverpool’s lead perhaps should have been even larger at the interval. For the fact that their deficit is only one goal, United only have David de Gea to thank, after he saved exceptionally from Philippe Coutinho, Sturridge and Adam Lallana. Yet, while United have offered precious little, they probably should have had a penalty when Mamadou Sakho lunged in on Juan Mata, who elected to stay on his feet and make it easier for the referee not to point to the spot.
45 mins: Rashford joins Henderson in earning a yellow card after taking down Moreno with a late challenge.
41 mins: De Gea again comes to the rescue for Manchester United, he’s all that’s keeping the visitors alive right now. This time the United keeper reacts quickly to raise his hands and block a close-range volley from Lallana, who struck it well from Firmino's cross but perhaps should have made sure that ball found the net.
36 mins: Memphis tries to atone for his error in giving away the penalty, but he fires his free-kick from more than 30 yards out on the left a long way wide of the far post. Still, United have at least started to push a bit higher up in the last few minutes.
31 mins: Liverpool immediately threaten a second goal. Sturridge again finds space in the box, but this time is denied by a strong save from De Gea.
30 mins: Manchester United finally garner some possession and forward momentum and they are perhaps unlucky not to win a penalty of their own. Mamadou Sakho launched into a foolish challenge on Juan Mata, who elected to try and stay on his feet, rather than go down, allowing the referee an easier decision not to award the penalty.
27 mins: Liverpool’s dominance has increased yet further since going in front. The hosts have had nearly 70 percent of possession so far, with United posing no threat whatsoever since that chance for Rashford in the first 15 seconds.
Here's Sturridge's opening goal for Liverpool from the penalty spot:
23 mins: So close to 2-0 for Liverpool! Sturridge’s right-foot shot when across the face of goal, but Philippe Coutinho looked certain to turn the ball in from just a couple of yards out only to be denied by a sensational save from David de Gea as he clawed the ball out. The Spaniard has so often been a thorn in Liverpool’s side in recent meetings. How crucial might that save prove come the end of 180 minutes?
GOAL! Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United (Sturridge, 20)
Sturridge stutter-steps and converts from the spot to give Liverpool first blood in this tie to the delight of the majority inside Anfield. Memphis was the man who conceded the penalty after tracking the run of Nathaniel Clyne and clumsily taking him down, to the assessment of the referee, just inside the box.
19 mins: Penalty to Liverpool!
18 mins: Liverpool threaten the Manchester United penalty area for the first time, unsurprisingly through a quick counter attack. A clever exchange sets Alberto Moreno away down the left, but his cross is too far ahead of Daniel Sturridge, whose cut back is then taken off the boot of Henderson by Adam Lallana.
14 mins: Liverpool enjoy their best spell thus far, pinning Manchester United back inside their own half, but again they can’t cause any threat in the final third. The visitors have been supremely organized thus far, not giving Liverpool any space in the danger zones.
9 mins: Simon Mignolet comfortably claims a free-kick from Juan Mata and immediately sends Liverpool on the offensive, but United immediately snuff out any danger. Both teams have been cancelling each other out so far, denying their opponents’ the chance to build through the midfield.
5 mins: An early tactical note for Manchester United: it’s Anthony Martial who is occupying the central striker role, with Marcus Rashford, who has made such an impressive start to his senior career, situated on the right flank.
2 mins: And now a yellow card inside two minutes. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson deservedly earns an early booking for a high boot in on Morgan Schneiderlin. A fiery start at Anfield.
1 min: A chance in the first 15 seconds for Manchester United! Memphis gets a good cross in from the byline down the left, but Marcus Rashford was surprised that it reached him in the middle and failed to react, leaving the ball to just hit him and divert wide of the goal.
KICKOFF! Manchester United get the first leg of this Europa League tie underway at Anfield.
3:04 p.m. EST: The passionate rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is unsurprisingly drowning out the Europa League anthem as the teams line up for what is the 195th meeting between England’s two most successful clubs but the first ever in European competition. And it is also a rare meeting between the two sides under the lights, making it an even more special occasion.
1:55 p.m. EST: The two team lineups are in. Liverpool make three alterations from their weekend win over Crystal Palace. James Milner has lost his race to be fit and drops out, along with Jon Flanagan and Divock Origi. The trio are replaced by Nathaniel Clyne, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. Meanwhile, Louis van Gaal makes four changes to his starting lineup, with Guillermo Varela, Morgan Schneiderlin, Marouane Fellaini and Memphis Depay coming in for Matteo Darmian, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and the suspended Jesse Lingard. Bastian Schweinsteiger returns from injury to take a place on the bench, but there is still no Antonio Valencia.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 10, 2016
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 10, 2016
Preview: With both clubs struggling to live up to their rich histories in the Premier League this season, the first ever European clash between England’s showpiece rivals, Liverpool and Manchester United, will only carry greater significance. As the North West duo face an arduous task secure a top-four finish, winning the Europa League provides arguably the best chance for both to secure a much-coveted place in next season’s Champions League.
The Europa League has often been the target of misplaced ridicule in England, but nobody in either the red of Liverpool or Manchester United will be questioning its importance over the coming week. The eagerly anticipated Round of 16 tie gets underway at Anfield on Thursday, when Jurgen Klopp’s side will be aiming to get an advantage to take 30 miles east to Old Trafford a week later.
Encouragingly, both teams have produced some of their best form all season in recent weeks. Liverpool haven’t lost inside 90 minutes in their last eight matches, with their two defeats coming in extra time in the FA Cup to West Ham and then on penalties to Manchester City in the final of the Capital One Cup. The Europa League, therefore, presents the final opportunity for Klopp to end his first season on Merseyside with a trophy.
Liverpool have risen to seventh in the table, but, still six points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City, their hopes of getting into the Champions League positions remain slim with 10 matches remaining. The same is true for Manchester United, who may be three points better off than Liverpool but have played a game more.
Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to West Brom, then, was a real blow. Still, manager Louis van Gaal will hope that it is just a brief blip after pressure on his position had been eased by a run of four successive victories, which included a 5-1 win over Danish champions Midtjylland to eventually cruise through the last round of the Europa League.
Van Gaal could be boosted by having Antonio Valencia back on the bench for Thursday’s contest, but will continue to be without Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger as well as the suspended Jesse Lingard. Liverpool, meanwhile, have a major doubt over the fitness of James Milner, who could join Danny Ings, Joe Gomes and Joe Allen on the sidelines.
Check back here from 3:05 p.m. EST for live score updates and video highlights from the first leg of the Europa League matchup.