Sturridge and Firmino fire Liverpool into last 16 lead over Man Utd
Holly Thackeray | March 10, 2016
Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United
- Memphis’ tug on Clyne saw Man Utd concede spot-kick
- Sturridge converted penalty on 20 minutes to put hosts ahead
- Firmino double Reds advantage with around quarter-hour left
- Liverpool take lead to Old Trafford for the second leg
Reds run riot to take lead to Old Trafford
Liverpool drew first blood in their Europa League last 16 meeting with fierce Northwest rivals Manchester United, claiming first leg spoils with an emphatic 2-0 triumph at Anfield.
Memphis Depay sloppily conceded a spot-kick after a tussle with Nathaniel Clyne, allowing Daniel Sturridge the chance to step up. Roberto Firmino then finished the match with a second-half strike to see United off and set-up a scintillating second leg.
Football may have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately but, ticket price tiffs aside, few neutral fans would have failed to get goosebumps as the rival support attempted to drown each other out over ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on these two clubs’ first ever European meeting.
It was also a tough night on the continent for another English club, as depleted Tottenham received a 3-0 first leg drubbing away at Borussia Dortmund.
Memphis mistake costs United
Unsurprisingly, with Anfield at full roar, this fray got off to a frenzied start, with a chance spurned by the guests in the opening minute, as Marcus Rashford was surprised to find himself the recipient of an opportunist Memphis delivery after Alberto Moreno misjudged the flight path.
The youngster’s finish was lacking, however, and the Red Devils were soon to rue forsaking such a simple chance. Though, as on most of their recent trips to Merseyside, Man Utd look composed and compact early on, keeping their hosts at bay, feathers barely ruffled.
Yet, a quick counter conceived by magician Philippe Coutinho and a rampant Alberto Moreno down the left flank cut United open with ease, sending a huge warning signal and, sure enough, energetic Liverpool were soon to seize their opening.
Slick Reds interplay carved open Louis van Gaal’s rearguard, leaving Memphis chasing swift Clyne. The England right back stumbled in the box after what was perceived as a tug by his Dutch opponent, though replays show the decision to award a penalty was rather controversial.
Impulsive Memphis saw yellow for the incident and much-criticised striker Sturridge duly stepped up in the 20th minute, lashing a superb penalty effort past David de Gea, who did at least guess the right way.
Determined De Gea denies Liverpool
Liverpool were understandably spurred on by their lead and surged forward confidently with their 1-0 cushion, and were unlucky not to add another to their tally in their first 45. The man in their way? De Gea.
In another memorable performance from the Spain stopper, De Gea saved his teammates’ blushes several times. The first arrived as a speculative Sturridge ball across the box fell on a plate to Coutinho, but the Brazilian’s usual craft eluded him, allowing De Gea to paw away the Samba star’s soft strike one-handed.
Defiant De Gea was called upon yet again moments later, covering for a Chris Smalling slip, as Sturridge’s instinctive first time strike was blocked by the goal guard.
The roving Reds continued to prod their guests as the break drew closer, and almost found a second goal, after Firmino brilliantly picked out Adam Lallana in a crowded box, but De Gea again made an instinctive cat-like stop to send the close-range effort over.
Carrick switch gives United confidence
A flying Coutinho effort, almost caught United off-guard after the re-start but, you guessed it, De Gea crucially got his finger tips to the rifled strike.
While, Van Gaal shuffled his deck to change to three at the back, a much-maligned tactic at Man Utd but formerly fruitful for the Dutchman internationally, and the Red Devils finally began to make inroads in the match, with Michael Carrick slipping back to add calm to the defence.
With Carrick conducting from deep, captain for the night Juan Mata, and consequently United, grew into the game, but struggled to make the possession count with but a few half attempt on Simon Mignolet’s goal.
Fleet-footed Clyne almost to turned the tables in Liverpool’s favour again, however, as the full back’s fiercely swerving strike met unmovable object De Gea, with a later Jordan Henderson effort full of venom but just off target.
Firmino fires in final blow
Despite the Red Devils’ brief revival, crucial component Carrick then calamitously proved his team’s undoing, as Liverpool finally secured their second in the 73rd minute.
Lallana galloped down the pitch, searching out skipper Henderson, whose cross caused Carrick to get in an uncharacteristic kerfuffle. The out-of-position midfielder’s poor attempt a clearance was pounced upon by Lallana, whose quick feet fed Firmino, as the South American added his third goal in as many games for the Reds with a toe-poke finish.
It may only be half-time in the fixture, with a testy second leg at Old Trafford still to come, but Liverpool (now 11/2 with Coral to win the Europa League) take a substantial lead, and Man Utd have a mountain to climb…