Manchester United ran out 3-2 winners in a hugely entertaining game against bitter rivals Liverpool to book their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
The two sides played out a less than exciting 0-0 draw just a week ago, and it was a cagey opening this time out too, though the game burst into life after 18 minutes as the Merseyside outfit struck the first blow.
Roberto Firmino dropped deep to get on the ball, before playing an excellent defence-splitting ball into forward partner, Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian took a touch, kept his composure and lifted the ball over Dean Henderson for his first-ever goal at Old Trafford.
The goal seemed to give Liverpool belief, though just as it looked as if they were probing for a second, Paul Pogba put in an excellent tackle on the edge of his own box before the ball was released to Marcus Rashford on the left flank. The England international produced an excellent measured ball over the visitors defence into the path of the onrushing Mason Greenwood, who took a touch with his chest before firing low past Alisson with his right to restore parity.
Manchester United marginally shaded the better of the play in the first half, and within three minutes of the restart they edged in front, Mason Greenwood repaying the favour to Marcus Rashford with a ball in behind the Liverpool defence, leaving the Red Devils number 10 to slot calmly under the Brazilian ‘keeper.
Jurgen Klopp’s side hauled themselves back level just before the hour mark, capitalising on a sloppy loss of possession from Edinson Cavani. The ball was worked into Firmino who played a cute ball into the box which was well left by James Milner, before Salah netted his second of the afternoon by putting it through the legs of Henderson from 12 yards.
Having looked off-colour for a number of weeks, Liverpool looked like they were starting to produce some of their best football as they went in search of a winner, but with 12 minutes to go, it was Manchester United who regained the lead. Cavani was brought down on the edge of the box by Fabinho, before substitute Bruno Fernandes stepped up and despatched an excellent free-kick past Alisson.
10 – Manchester United have eliminated Liverpool from the FA Cup proper for the 10th time; in the competition's history, only Liverpool themselves (12 v Everton) have knocked a particular side out more times (including finals). Bragging. pic.twitter.com/Uh1ByptM1J
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 24, 2021
The result came 22 years to the day since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored a late winner against Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round, and speaking afterwards, the former striker was delighted with his side’s performance.
“Brilliant – you know when you go a goal, down the reaction of everyone was really good,” he told BBC Sport. “We played some really good stuff, good goals, we have to defend well against them and we managed to react well and of course towards the end there were some moments but we kept them away.”
Solskjaer decided to keep the often influential Bruno Fernandes on the bench for the start of this one, before the midfielder came on to net his 28th goal for the club.
“Great goal, good free kick,” Solskjaer said of the Portuguese playmaker. “When you leave him out like I did today, he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free kicks so I was pretty confident he could score one if he got the chance. He’s never happy with me when I tell him to go inside after training when he’s playing the next day so he got some practice yesterday.”
He also discussed Marcus Rashford’s performance, the 23-year-old proving to be a constant threat to Liverpool’s defence.
“Marcus [Rashford] has played up front, down the right and left and we felt if we could switch the ball early today we could attack them because Liverpool defend on the front foot so we have to be quick on the ball, we did that well.”
The victory books Manchester United’s place in the fifth round where they face West Ham at Old Trafford, while they next face Sheffield United in midweek as they look to maintain their place at the top of the Premier League.