For the record, the xG tonight was 1.87-0.11. Mo Salah and Thiago are quite the picture of contentment as they’re interviewed by Sky Sports. Salah, who scored his first goals from open play for a couple of months, says: “I score many goals for this club, it’s going to keep coming. The most important thing is the team winning. If the team isn’t winning, I wouldn’t be happy, but with the team winning, everything is going to come, I was not worried. We know each other more now, me and Bobby and Sadio especially, because we play four or five years together. A great ball from Sadio, who is playing more number nine now and scoring goals. The race is not in our hands, but we will focus on our games and we’ll see.”
Thiago adds: “We are not thinking about winning four. We are thinking about winning each game that we have. And now we have days to recover from this, and to think about Everton. We don’t think about anything else.”
United slink off. Understandably so given the manner of their performance, which was abject from beginning to end. They showed a little bit of resistance during the first 20 minutes of the second half, to be fair, but that’s an exercise in straw clutching. Their visit to Arsenal on Saturday lunchtime might be their last chance of keeping their increasingly slim top-four hopes alive. Liverpool by contrast were magnificent, Thiago in particular in his pomp, a brief period of complacency the only black mark against the team’s overall performance. Jurgen Klopp’s side go top of the league, for 24 hours at least. It’s over to Manchester City, who host Brighton tomorrow evening.
There’s just enough time for Dalot to nearly put through his own net from Alexander-Arnold’s corner, and that’s it. Liverpool follow up a 5-0 win at Old Trafford by completing the double over their old foes; the 9-0 seasonal tally represents the biggest aggregate score in the history of this long rivalry.
90 min +2: Salah should be scoring his second hat-trick against United this season. But he hesitates when put through on goal, allowing Wan-Bissaka to slide in at the expense of a corner.
90 min +1: The first of three extra minutes passes without incident.
90 min: … and now Mejbri can consider himself equally lucky not to be walking. He barrels into the back of Keita, and for a second it looks like kicking off. But it all calms down quickly, and the young man is cut some slack by the referee. No second yellow.
89 min: Keita, Mejbri and Fernandes are booked in short order for fairly poor tackles on Sancho, Henderson and Alexander-Arnold. None of the challenges were particularly impressive. Keita landed on his opponent’s trouser arrangement, while Fernandes took a frustrated kick at Alexander-Arnold’s knee. Both are fortunate to have escaped a red.
87 min: Liverpool stroke it around in pretty triangles. Suddenly Salah rolls a pass down the inside-right channel for Mane, who attempts to round De Gea only to be pushed too far wide right. For a second, that looked like number five. It would have hurt United, the crowd having cracked out the olés during the build-up.
86 min: Milner comes on for Fabinho.
Robertson snaffles possession from Mejbri out on the left. He slips inside for Jota, who rolls a diagonal defence-splitter to release Salah down the middle. Salah dinks over De Gea, and on the balance of play, this scoreline looks much more realistic now.
84 min: Mejbri comes on for Elanga.
83 min: Mane drives towards the United box, with options either side. His pass to Keita on the left sends his team-mate too wide. Liverpool have had plenty of chances to do United some serious damage this evening. They’ll be happy enough with the way things are, to be fair.
81 min: A pocket of space for Rashford just inside the Liverpool box down the left. He spins and yanks a dismal shot wide left. The flag pops up for offside anyway.
80 min: Thiago, who has been sensational once again, leaves to a thundering ovation. Keita comes on in his place. Nothing comes of the corner.
79 min: Mane slips Robertson into the United box down the left. Robertson looks for Salah in the middle, but his low cross is bundled out for a corner. Before it can be taken, Liverpool are going to make a change.
77 min: Sancho has looked lively since coming on. He tears into space down the left, not for the first time during this half, but floats an aimless cross-cum-shot into Alisson’s arms. Confidence an issue for a brilliant young player right now.
75 min: Not so much tension around Anfield since Mane’s goal. The home side stroke it around and the clock ticks on.
73 min: Rashford tries to take on Alexander-Arnold down the left. He ends up sliding out of play on his face. Nothing’s going right for United at the minute.
72 min: Mane and Salah combine neatly on the edge of the United box. Salah hesitates before shooting and the chance goes by. Meanwhile here’s Duncan Edwards: “United fans saying Gordon Hill was a big name – signed from Millwall FFS. And likening Ronaldo to Lou Macari. God help the future if they can’t even recall the past. Maybe signing Alan Brazil and Gary Birtles class as mistakes but the Greenhoffs were fine. An update on Macari was McClair who did pretty well in terms of trophies. Then there’s the one who likened Mourinho to Atkinson. Is Philip K Dick writing in?”
70 min: Each of Liverpool’s front three has a goal and an assist to their name. That having been achieved, Diaz is replaced by Jota. A huge, warm smile on his face as he’s congratulated on his performance by his manager.
… but with United slowly getting on top, and threatening to get back into the game, Liverpool find a third! Robertson scampers down the inside-left channel and lays off to Diaz on the overlap. Diaz looks up and cuts back for Mane, who steers into the bottom right! That’s a lovely goal … and a reminder what Liverpool can do when they pick up the pace.
66 min: Diaz tries to pick up the pace with an electric run down the middle. He’s brushed off the ball by Fernandes, and wants a foul. He’s not getting one. The punters at Anfield aren’t happy. The first half, when it appeared Liverpool could do anything, seems a long time ago now.
64 min: Alisson makes a huge double save! Sancho slips Rashford into the box on the left. Rashford shoots. Alisson blocks. Elanga has another go. Another fine save. Liverpool clear, then the flag goes up for offside … incorrectly, because had either Rashford or Elanga scored, that goal was standing, VAR would have seen to that.
63 min: Salah and Mane launch a lethargic counter, which breaks down quickly. Anfield screams in annoyance. United are getting back into this. Liverpool are getting complacent all right.
61 min: Henderson goes down on the edge of the United box, off the ball, Maguire having clipped his ankle. No free kick. Liverpool fans wonder if VAR will take a look. There’s no real reason to, though, an accidental coming together and nothing more.
59 min: Thiago clips Elanga 35 yards out. Bruno takes the free kick, with everyone lined up on the edge of the Liverpool box. A dreadful delivery floats harmlessly through to Alisson. United are improving, though, and on that subject, here’s Michael Wilson: “Yup another old stager who was around after Sir Matt’s first stint. For all you youngsters out there this isn’t the lowest point … ye!. We’ve been here before, splashing the cash on big names with no end product, Mickey Thomas, Gordon Hill, Brian and Jimmy Greenhoff! It’s darkest before the dawn.”
58 min: Sancho is sent scampering down the left by Elanga. He nips past Alexander-Arnold with ease … but then the Liverpool right back steps in to reclaim possession. Fine last-ditch defending.
56 min: Lindelof climbs all over the back of Mane, but there’s no free kick forthcoming. Anfield screams as one in irritation, though I suspect much of their annoyance is a result of their team’s second-half incoherence.
55 min: Sancho drops a shoulder to get into the Liverpool box from the left. He dribbles a shot into the arms of Alisson. That’s United’s first shot on target. Small acorns.
54 min: Jurgen Klopp continues to prowl around the technical area in slightly agitated fashion. His team haven’t come out for the second half yet.
52 min: The United travelling support are the loudest at the minute. A marked contrast to the first half, where the home fans were giving it plenty. A few nerves among the Liverpool supporters as their team misplace a few passes?
50 min: Liverpool have slowed things down and United look a lot more comfortable as a result. “Against City, it was Ashley Young and Michael Carrick who did all the talking about the badge, fans and watching City celebrate a title,” recalls Ruth Purdue. “Who do you think could do that now?” It’s not clear, is it.
48 min: A free kick for United out on the right. Play is switched to Matic on the left. His cross is mopped up by Van Dijk, but this is a slack start to the second half by Liverpool, and it’s no surprise that Jurgen Klopp is hopping mad. He gives Van Dijk the what-for, too. The big defender nods in acknowledgement.
47 min: … but then Van Dijk gets complacent and gifts United a corner. Nothing comes of the set piece, but Van Dijk cops a bollocking off Robertson for his mistake.
46 min: A slow start to the half as Liverpool pass it around the back in the 1980s style.
After a little bit of faff, referee Martin Atkinson requiring a new mic kit, Liverpool get the second half underway. They’re kicking towards the Kop this time. United have made a tactical change: Sancho on for Jones, with the team switching to a back four.
HALF TIME xG SCORE: Liverpool 1.45-0.00 Manchester United. According to the stats folk at Sky, this is the first time United have failed to register a single attempt on target in the first half of a Premier League game for four years. The last occasion? When they went in 2-0 down at Manchester City, only to end up 3-2 winners. However bad things seem, football always offers a little hope. They couldn’t, could they?
Half-time postbag / Catharsis Corner. “This United team – and the club in general – remind me of the teams of the mid to late 70s and early 80s (when I was first following football as a young lad and teenager). Some genuinely talented individuals, who on occasion can combine to good effect, but too rarely act as a team playing in a coherent and club-wide system. Ronaldo as the updated version of Lou Macari … Mourinho as the modern incarnation of Ron Atkinson … and remember, it took Sir Alex five years to get the club back on track” – Thomas Jaggers.
“United may be poor but at one point in the early 70s Alex Stepney, the goalie, was for a few weeks our leading goal scorer having scored two penalties! The beauty of sports fandom is the peaks and troughs. This is a bit of a trough!” – Jonathan Griggs.
“I remember Peter Beardlsey scoring a hat-trick at Anfield vs United with United wearing almost this exact same kit. That was the dying embers of the last truly great Liverpool team, and the beginning of the United glory years. Probably wouldn’t bet on a similar trajectory here” – Drew Ellis.
Another long ball nearly catches Liverpool out. Alisson comes out to high-kick it away, under pressure from Rashford. A couple of situations late in the half will give United some hope of getting back into the match, but on the whole this is a half-time scoreline that seriously flatters United. As things stand, Liverpool will be top of the Premier League tonight.
45 min: There will be one added first-half minute.
43 min: Thiago strides into space down the middle. He’s got almost too many options, Mane, Salah, Diaz and Alexander-Arnold all screaming to be pinged clear. In the end, he overthinks it, and the chance is gone. United will be relieved that Liverpool have been pretty wasteful in the final third.
42 min: Salah scampers down the right and wins a corner off Fernandes. Alexander-Arnold fails to beat the first man. United have done well to calm Liverpool down … a bit.
40 min: Fabinho has the chance to play Salah clear down the middle, but falls backwards while passing and the opportunity is gone. Meanwhile here’s Tony Bartholomew: “All the talk of this being the worst Manchester United side they’ve ever seen. They clearly don’t remember watching them when they were proper pony in the 80s, particularly the 86-87 season which I think is when Ferguson started. They came 11th and their best goal scorer was Peter Davenport.”
38 min: Fernandes tries to release Lingard down the left, but there’s too much juice on the pass and it’s a goal kick. Then a long pass down the middle releases Rashford, but a heavy touch sends the ball through to Alisson. A little encouragement for United in the last few minutes.
36 min: Diaz and Mane nearly open United up again with some intricate interplay down the inside-right channel. United’s offside trap saves them again.
34 min: United win a corner. It nearly leads to a goal … up the other end. A counter’s launched by Alisson. Diaz and Salah nearly combine to send Mane clear. Not quite. Fernandes tries to mop up, but is harried and hassled by Diaz and Thiago, and ships possession. Fabinho tries to work space for a shot. The ball squirts right to left and tees up Diaz, who slams home, but is clearly yards offside. Liverpool don’t look in the mood to declare.
32 min: One corner leads to a second. The second is half cleared. Henderson returns the ball into the mixer. Van Dijk heads down for Mane, who nearly shovels an improvised shot over De Gea and into the net. De Gea claims on the line, and the whistle goes for offside anyway. “Ten Hag’s checking the fine print,” quips Tony Hughes, because somebody had to say it.