BEVERLY HILLS, January 25, (THEWILL) – When the draws for the FA Cup were held and the top league sides of Liverpool and Manchester United were paired for a fourth-round tie, it was bound to be a cracker for different reasons. Chief among these was that by some stroke of fate, they were scheduled to clash in a decisive League tie just prior to the Cup clash.
One reason for the excitement was that these back-to-back head-to-head fixtures carried a lot of historical significance and had a part to play in the determination of how the season will devolve going forward. The twist in the tale was that while the thoroughly efficient Liverpool side were becoming a mere shadow of the trophy-winning side from last season, the Red Devils, who were fumbling early on, were proving unstoppable.
Ahead of the Cup tie, the league fixture failed to sparkle with the thrill that it promised. Yet, the goalless stalemate did not translate equally for both sides. While it was warmly comforting for the visiting United side, it was cold comfort for Jurgen Klopp’s charges whose natural instinct in front of goal had all but dried up, failing to score in four previous league matches.
On Sunday, though Mohamed Salah returned to his goal-scoring ways with a brace, but it was Manchester United who advanced to the fifth round of the FA Cup with a thrilling 3-2 victory against the Reds at Old Trafford.
The historical coincidence in United’s victory on Sunday, played like a script. Twenty-two years to the day, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as a player, scored the winner in the FA Cup fourth round, as a substitute to give a 2-1 victory to United after they had gone behind with a Liverpool opener. The 3-2 result on Sunday was a different scoreline but it was a Solskjaer substitute that proved the match-winner.
What the Norwegian has achieved this season with his United side has been nothing short of sensational. The Red Devils have taken Liverpool’s place at the top of the League table and are going to the fifth round of the Cup competition in Liverpool’s place with the spectacular record of having secured a mid-season double over Liverpool in such short span of time.
It is as much to the credit of Solskjaer’s in-game management as it is the growing confidence with which the players are executing the game plan from the bench. The manager allowed their totemic playmaker Bruno Fernandes a breather against Fulham in their last game and it appeared to have done his game much good when he came on as a substitute to win the match for United after doing the same thing against Fulham.
Just as Liverpool were reaping the benefits of a re-energised midfield through the tireless Senegalese substitute Sadio Mane, Solskjaer introduced Fernandes who immediately clicked with teammate and fellow sub Fred to take back control. Liverpool could not recalibrate after that, even with later reinforcements like Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi.
On the back of their colossal home record in the league coming to an end at the hands of Burnley on Thursday, Liverpool could have wanted to arrest the slide and begin to once more assert themselves in matches as they have been known to do under Klopp, but it was not to be as a second successive loss was all they could manage.
The very entertaining contest had moments of footballing thrills that put their earlier goalless League tie to shame. The five goals scored had both sides tallying at least two goals against each other for the first time since September 2010. Again, it was to Man U’s advantage as it was the last time.
The Red Devils atoned for their admitted failure to go for the kill against Liverpool’s auxiliary centre-backs last week. Marcus Rashford, usually the scourge of Liverpool, was just as clinical as he always is when he faces the Reds.
Klopp will find scant consolation in the fact that his men showed signs of their old selves in attack today at least. But, they will have to do better than that with the challenge of a huge away tie to Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur ahead of them on Thursday, January 28.