Anthony Martial announced his arrival at Old Trafford in style with a superb late goal to secure Manchester United a much-needed 3-1 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford. After two set-piece goals from Daley Blind and Ander Herrera had put the home side in command in the second half, Christian Benteke replied with a sensational overhead kick to give Liverpool hope out of nowhere with six minutes remaining. But there was to be no stirring revival for the beleaguered Merseysiders, as Martial, only 21 minutes after coming on for his debut, turned Martin Skrtel inside and then out before placing the ball into the far corner of the net.
It was a hugely welcome evening for Louis van Gaal after an uncomfortable international break following a first defeat of the season last time out. As well as the three points and an always welcome victory over the club’s biggest rivals, there was further good news with the reintroduction of David de Gea after he signed a new contract this week. In contrast to his sensational display in the corresponding fixture last season when he was crucial to his side’s 3-0 win, the Spanish goalkeeper had little to do on this occasion, other than a couple of second-half saves and the task of picking Benteke’s contender for goal of the season out of the back of his net.
Both sides had suffered painful first defeats of the season last time out and the tension of trying to avoid back-to-back losses was evident in a first half that was desperately short of inspiration. Still, it was the home side that showed the greater attacking endeavor, particularly in the second period, and they were rewarded when first Blind found the top corner of the net after a cleverly worked free-kick and then with 20 minutes remaining Herrera first won and then confidently converted a penalty. Martial’s late flourish was an added bonus to at least temporarily silence the many voices questioning United’s decision to make him the most expensive teenager in history.
As for Brendan Rodgers, the pressure will only increase, with Liverpool left with seven points from their first five games of the season. Following their calamitous 3-0 home defeat to West Ham last time out, Liverpool clearly came with an approach to try and keep things tight at the back. With Rodgers lining his team up in a 4-1-4-1 formation and sitting them deep behind the ball, a Liverpool side missing the suspended Philippe Coutinho offered alarmingly little attacking threat.
On the opposite side, United were hardly free-flowing. The attacking shortcomings were shown up in a lineup that, with captain Wayne Rooney ruled out with a slight hamstring injury, had Marouane Fellaini starting in the striker’s role. And in the opening half there was more of the plodding play that reportedly prompted some senior members of the United team to recently approach manager Louis van Gaal about his approach.
The one forward that was signed in the transfer window, Marital, began on the bench. And, to Van Gaal’s relief, when he did come on for his debut late on, United had upped their game to go two goals to the good. It was Van Gaal’s half-time substitution that played a part, with Ashley Young driving at Nathaniel Clyne to win a free-kick on the edge of the box within five minutes of coming on. With Liverpool dragged desperately deep, as, in truth, they were throughout the contest, Juan Mata rolled the ball back to a wide open Blind on the edge of the box to finish with aplomb.
With 20 minutes remaining the game looked to have been put to bed. Herrera drove into the box down the right and young defender Joe Gomez brought the Spaniard down with a desperate lunge. There was no doubt about the award of the penalty or the way Herrera dispatched it into the roof of the net.
It was only when behind that Liverpool began to show any purpose going forward. They had provided a couple of uncomfortable moments for the home side, first when Danny Ings forced De Gea into a leaping save and then when Blind was forced to make two goal-line interventions. But it took a goal-of-the-season contender from Benteke to give Liverpool hope, only for an even costlier summer signing, to have the last word.