Because Jadon Sancho changed direction so skillfully, he may have changed the course of a season. Liverpool, like James Milner and Alisson, were left in the wrong direction and looking towards Manchester United. Erik ten Hag’s team were finally looking forward, looking much better and only picking up speed.
That was the story of this emphatic 2-1 win, which absolutely transforms the mood around these two great rivals.
United are resurfacing, brought on by the electrical charge of their own acceleration. Liverpool are forced back as they struggled to keep up, and possibly forced into a crisis of their own as well.
Jurgen Klopp’s side looked very light as Ten Hag got all his big calls right. This not only applied to leaving Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire on the bench, but also bringing out the resurgent Anthony Martial just when his side looked like they were going away. He brought on Marcus Rashford and the similarly inspired striker put the game beyond doubt.
Old Trafford, already erupting in protest against the owners, was now rocking with celebration and hope.
Perhaps this is the true beginning of the Ten Hag era. Maybe it’s just an emotionally challenging response to desperate circumstances.
The key is that they can look up again.
Klopp doesn’t have that luxury, or the comfort of perhaps. He needs certainty, as suddenly nothing seems certain about his team.
Klopp could point to his own team selections, but most of them have been enforced, rather than of his choosing.
However, this midfield looks like a real mistake. It wasn’t just Sancho’s feet that Milner struggled to keep up with.
That’s why this goal was much more than a compound change of direction. It was a debilitating change of pace. That was one of the reasons why Milner, Alisson and most of the Liverpool team were so wrong. They had been struggling to keep up with United’s energy and aggression as Diogo Dalot, Lisandro Martínez and Bruno Fernandes – in particular – were first to almost every ball. It was the Portuguese’s quick thinking that set his side alight, sending the game well up the pitch with an inventive ball that looked more like a drilled volley. Liverpool almost managed to clear themselves of the resulting chaos, only for Fernandes to send the ball into the box when everyone was expecting a shot or a pass inside. Anthony Elanga played again, and Sancho played a complete defense for fools.
United’s lead was more than deserved, especially considering how Elanga had hit the post early on.
The only potential caveat was that it felt like their game plan was entirely based on pace. They couldn’t hesitate or suffer from doubts like they did against Brighton and Brentford because they didn’t give themselves that time to think. De Gea was now on the pitch. Raphael Varane set the pace with such maturity that Martínez set the tone.
It was just that, once that energy inevitably faded, Liverpool finally looked on top. Of course, it led to his best spells.
It also prompted a second inspired call from Ten Hag.
Martial, who many around United believe could be the manager’s big one-man ‘project’ this season, was introduced and provided enough impetus. The French striker, whose name was first made in this match, may have remade his reputation with a touch. It was Martial’s ball that took out Liverpool’s entire backline just after half-time, setting up Rashford for a one-on-one.
On any other occasion in the last six minutes, including the opener against Brighton, many would have expected the striker to hesitate, stop and squander the opportunity.
Not a bit
There was never any doubt about Rashford as he smashed the ball past Alisson before the Liverpool man had a chance to think.
Another little reflection of the night.
United obviously couldn’t keep up the pace again, but they didn’t need to now. They just had to stay strong on defense, be honest.
This was helped by some admittedly sarcastic games. Fernandes and Martínez were getting into it right away. Varane was now slowing down.
Liverpool inevitably enjoyed one of their best spells. They had no choice. Mohammed Salah got his goal.
Liverpool still couldn’t get back into it. United instantly overtook them, Klopp leaving with just two points from three games and so many questions.
How quickly things change, but mostly because Ten Hag ensured his United – for what it was – accelerates impressively.
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