Denting Liverpool’s title hopes is the next best thing to winning the Premier League for Manchester United, writes OLIVER HOLT after thrilling 2-2 draw at Old Trafford

From the dregs of another dirge of a season, Manchester United conjured moments of consolation against Liverpool just as they had in their tumultuous FA Cup quarter-final last month. In the midst of their mediocrity, they have saved their best in the last few weeks for Jurgen Klopp’s side.

United will not win the Premier League this season. They will not even get remotely close. They probably won’t even finish in the top five. But United they put a dent in Liverpool’s hopes and for their players and supporters, that is probably the next best thing.

Liverpool, who missed chance after chance, should really have beaten them out of sight, too. That will make it even sweeter for Erik ten Hag’s side, who were utterly outplayed in the first half and only clung to any chance of competing for anything more than a drubbing because Liverpool were so profligate with their finishing.

But when Jarrel Quansah, who was one of the best players on the pitch, made a mistake early in the second half and Bruno Fernandes capitalised on it by drilling a 45-yard chip over Caoimhin Kelleher, United were energised and took the lead through another brilliant goal, his first at Old Trafford, from the increasingly impressive Kobbie Mainoo.

Quansah’s strength of character and his refusal to crumble and his precocious talent were all instrumental in winning Liverpool a late equaliser through a Mo Salah penalty but the 2-2 draw meant it was only the second time since the New Year that any of the top three have dropped points and it cost Liverpool top spot.

Liverpool blinked first in the title race, and Jarell Quansah felt it was his fault at full time

Bruno Fernandes had pounced on Quansah's loose ball to score from the centre circle

Bruno Fernandes had pounced on Quansah’s loose ball to score from the centre circle 

Mohamed Salah scored an 84th-minute penalty to save a point after Man United's turnaround

Mohamed Salah scored an 84th-minute penalty to save a point after Man United’s turnaround

Arsenal sit there now on goal difference, with Liverpool and Manchester City tucked in behind them, and the discomfort United caused Liverpool will at least have lifted some of the pressure on United boss Erik ten Hag, although it seems increasingly likely that his fate has already been decided and that he will not be United’s manager next season.

Drawing with Liverpool and scoring two spectacular goals and damaging the hopes of Jurgen Klopp’s side of drawing level with United on 20 league titles at the end of the season will be a salve for United’s supporters but the reality is that they needed more than a point to improve their distant hopes of making next season’s Champions League.


MAN UNITED (4-2-3-1): Onana 7.5, Wan-Bissaka 6, Maguire 6.5, Kambwala 7, Dalot 6.5, Casemiro 5, Mainoo 7 (Mount 84, 6), Garnacho 7 (Amrabat 80, 6), Bruno Fernandes 6.5, Rashford 6 (Antony 66, 6.5), Hojlund 5.5.

Subs not used: Bayindir, Eriksen, Diallo, Forson, Ogunneye, Amass.

Goals: Fernandes 50, Mainoo 67

Booked: Kambwala, Onana, Mount, Antony, Casemiro

Manager: Erik ten Hag – 6

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Kelleher 6, Bradley 5.5 (Gomez 65, 7), Quansah 6, van Dijk 6.5, Robertson 6.5, Mac Allister 6, Endo 6 (Elliott 69, 7), Szoboszlai 5 (Jones 65, 6), Salah 6.5, Nunez 6 (Gakpo 68, 6), Diaz 6.5. 

Subs: Konate, Adrian, Tsimikas, Gravenberch, Danns.

Goals: Diaz 23, Salah (pen) 84

Booked: Bradley, Jones

Manager: Jurgen Klopp – 5

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)

Ratings by Nathan Salt 

And United did not deserve more than a draw. If Dominik Szoboszlai, Salah, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez had taken more of the host of clear opportunities that were presented to them, Liverpool would have finished the game top of the league.

But Liverpool’s forwards do not have days like this very often and this game, with its rich and turbulent history may have been their hardest match of their run-in, and the rest of their seven games may be easier to negotiate.

So there is still too much to play for in the last seven games to say that this loss of two points against an ordinary United side will decide anything. But as City and Arsenal keep winning relentlessly, it was a setback. Liverpool are second to Arsenal on goal difference now but they are nothing if not resilient. They will come again.

When the game began, most people assumed United had a puncher’s chance at best. And most people assumed that that puncher would probably be Marcus Rashford. ‘United don’t have world-class players throughout their squad,’ Gary Neville said. ‘But what they have in Marcus Rashford is someone who can deliver world-class moments.’

United started well. Alejandro Garnacho, who is in such a rich vein of form, thought he had scored when he burst on to a through ball and rounded Kelleher before slotting the ball home but the linesman raised his flag when the ball hit the net and replays confirmed Garnacho had strayed offside.

It did not take Liverpool long to hit their stride though. Salah played a brilliant ball with the outside of his left foot that put Szoboszlai in on goal and it took a fine left-handed save from Andre Onana to keep his shot out.

A few minutes later, Darwin Nunez broke through Liverpool’s midfield line and as he advanced on United’s retreating defence, Salah stole a yard on his marker on the right and yelled entreaties to Nunez to play him through. Nunez ignored him and then slipped. He was pilloried in stereo, from an enraged Salah on the flank and a livid Klopp on the sideline.

Liverpool carved United open again with a slick move started by Salah midway inside the United half. Salah played the ball to Alexis Mac Allister who spread it swiftly left to Andy Robertson. His cross found Szoboszlai ten yards out. Szoboszlai should have scored but he got his body shape wrong and side-footed his shot wide.

It was just a rehearsal. Four minutes later, Liverpool were ahead. Robertson curled in a corner from the right, Nunez flicked it on and Luis Diaz met it on the volley. He hit the ball down into the ground and it fizzed between Diogo Dalot and Onana as they stood helplessly on the line.

Onana saved twice in quick succession from curling left-foot shots by Salah, Nunez bent a shot just over the crossbar and Salah leaned back and lifted a cut-back from Szoboszlai high into the Stretford End. On the touchline, Klopp cut a picture of frustration at Liverpool’s profligacy.

Alejandro Garnacho had scored early for Manchester United, but it was ruled out for offside

Alejandro Garnacho had scored early for Manchester United, but it was ruled out for offside

Luis Diaz scored the opening goal with a volley after Dominik Szoboszlai's swinging corner

Luis Diaz scored the opening goal with a volley after Dominik Szoboszlai’s swinging corner

The hosts were massively outplayed in the first half, and were lucky not to be further behind

The hosts were massively outplayed in the first half, and were lucky not to be further behind

Once again, United were in danger of being overrun and outclassed. Liverpool were superior in every department. It was only their lack of ruthlessness that prevented them being four or five goals ahead. United looked lost.

When the half time whistle blew, it marked only the second time in the last 22 years they had failed to have a shot in the first half of a Premier League match at Old Trafford. So perhaps there was a degree of inevitability about the fact that when they did muster a shot, it was a special one.

Only four minutes of the second half had elapsed when Quansah, who had been flawless until that point, played a short ball across field a few yards inside his own half in the direction of Van Dijk.

But Quansah had not seen Bruno Fernandes. The ball went straight to him, not Van Dijk. And Fernandes did not hesitate. He saw that Kelleher, not anticipating any danger, was on the edge of his area and he hit the ball first time. Kelleher desperately tried to regain his ground but Fernandes had judged his shot perfectly and the ball sailed over him and into the net.

Amid the United celebrations, there was some shock in the ground, too. The goal was so completely against the run of play. That was underlined a couple of minutes later when a Liverpool counter-attack ended with Nunez poking a shot wide when a pull-back would have left Szoboszlai with an open goal.

As United rallied, it felt as if Liverpool’s title hopes hung in the balance right here. Twice, Kelleher had to save from the type of awkward bouncing cross that can sometimes elude a goalkeeper who is expecting an attacker to get a touch. Old Trafford roared in the hope of an unlikely deliverance.

Midway through the half, deliverance grew closer. Garnacho played a ball out to Wan-Bissaka and when he threaded a pass into Mainoo just inside the Liverpool area with his back to goal, there appeared to be little danger.

But Mainoo turned beautifully on to what is supposed to be his weaker right foot and hit a brilliant curling shot towards the far corner. Kelleher dived full length but could not reach it and the ball bent inside the far post and into the net. For those of a certain age, it was reminiscent of Norman Whiteside’s winner against Everton in the 1985 FA Cup Final, another famous goal by a United youngster.

Liverpool pressed forward. Onana parried a shot from Diaz into the path of Salah, who was only four yards out. But the fall fell to him on his right foot and at an angle and even though the goal was at his mercy, he could only lift his shot high over the bar.

Nine minutes from time, though, United threw their advantage away. Quansah, who had been brilliant since his mistake, thwarted a United attack and brought the ball forward before Elliott danced into the box and was brought down by Wan-Bissaka. Salah took the penalty and sent Onana the wrong way.

Liverpool nearly got the precious third they yearned for deep into added time when Robertson nodded a cross down into the path of Diaz. Diaz met it, stretching, on the half volley and smashed his shot just too high.

Kobbie Mainoo curled a special goal from the edge of the box to move Man United 2-1 in front

Kobbie Mainoo curled a special goal from the edge of the box to move Man United 2-1 in front

Erik ten Hag's men were off the pace in the first half, but were a changed side after the break

Jurgen Klopp's side are behind Arsenal in the Premier League table after the weekend's games

Erik ten Hag’s men were off the pace in the first half, but were a changed side after the break

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