Rooney steals it for Man United, says Neil Humphreys
Liverpool gutted after United pull off smash and grab in dreadful display
MAN UNITED 1
(Wayne Rooney 78)
Wayne Rooney's daylight robbery could not have been more audacious if he'd swaggered into a bank, dropped his trousers, waved a water pistol in the air and demanded the contents of the safe.
His winner was Manchester United's first effort on target. The goal came in the 78th minute.
The victory was scarcely believable. United's sterile performance defied belief.
If Rooney had pulled off the ultimate smash and grab, then Louis van Gaal had gotten away with murder.
For the previous 77 minutes, the Red Devils had turned into caricatures. They were no longer even playing football, but doing a dreadful impression.
The boy from Everton had silenced Liverpool and saved face for his teammates. Rooney has also probably saved his manager's job, for now at least.
The goal pacified Manchester masses but, in the longer term, it merely papered over the cracks.
According to a British survey last April, the most boring things were watching party political broadcasts, being kept on hold on the phone and queuing in the post office.
Obviously, the survey was conducted before van Gaal had managed to bed down his soul-stripping "philosophy", which loosely translates into turning skilled artists into concrete blocks and playing possession football until the opponents die of boredom.
For perhaps the first time this season, United's performance lapsed into parody.
This was as dull as football could possibly get, so much so that it felt like an old Monty Python skit, just missing John Cleese wandering onto the halfway line and shouting, "And now for something completely different".
Before the goal, United made a solid case for being the dullest team in the English Premier League.
Relegation-threatened sides chase and harry in a headless chicken kind of way. Mid-table scrappers occasionally concede a soft penalty or ping a peach into the top corner, but United have somehow made flat-lining football a reality.
Again, obviously, predictably, there were no shots before the goal.
Only West Brom currently sit above the Red Devils in their humbling inability to test that forlorn, forgotten chap who stands between the sticks.
In the 39th minute, ironic cheers echoed around Anfield as Simon Mignolet collected a routine corner.
A minute later, poor Ashley Young was substituted with a knee injury, presumably because rigor mortis was setting in.
The right back rarely ventured across the halfway line. On the opposite flank, Matteo Darmian neither attacked nor defended. Instead he disappeared, allowing Liverpool to carve out opportunities on their right side.
The fault lies with van Gaal.
His 4-2-3-1, using the same personnel that had horrified him against Newcastle by conceding and scoring three goals, had clearly had their responsibilities reiterated.
Hold your ground. Avoid overlapping runs along the flanks. Keep seven statues behind the ball. Try to find Rooney or Anthony Martial occasionally before the lost boys up front catch frostbite.
Pub footballers display more panache.
This was the kind of ponderous United performance that leaves even the most blinkered followers considering an alternative form of entertainment, like a colonoscopy.
The only United player to really perform, or appear to have a pulse, was, of course, David de Gea.
He stretched, dived, palmed and clawed away efforts from Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Roberto Firmino.
Van Gaal really doesn't deserve the Spanish goalkeeper's weekly heroics any more than United warranted a point from this contest.
But, if de Gea picked up a point, Rooney inexplicably snatched the other two.
In the 78th minute, substitute Juan Mata's cross found Marouane Fellaini's afro. His header bounced off the crossbar and Rooney smashed in the rebound.
Cue not so much pandemonium, but confused shock.
It was Rooney's fourth in consecutive matches, but only his first at Anfield in a decade.
As the United faithful went ballistic, van Gaal allowed himself a knowing smile.
He wins only when he's boring. And he'll happily bore his way into the top four.
The rest of us will just have to try and stay awake.
We said at half-time how poor the game was and, even before the goal, Liverpool were the better team. But it doesn’t matter in games like that — maybe in the bigger picture — but today, for the United fans and players, these games are about winning, and that’s what they’ve done.
— Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher
BY THE NUMBERS
United have had four shots on target against Liverpool this season. And they scored four goals.
Liverpool have averaged 10 shots for every goal scored this season — only Aston Villa have a worse conversion rate. Wasteful.