Ray Houghton: Reds pay the price for poor start
(Daniel Sturridge 69)
MAN UNITED 2
(Juan Mata 14, 59)
What won it for Manchester United?
HOUGHTON: It was shocking that Liverpool just allowed Manchester United to dictate play in the first half.
I thought the standard was poorer than the atmosphere.
Some of Brendan Rodgers' men looked overawed by the occasion.
The Liverpool boss' plan of using three centre halves backfired this time, especially in the case of wingback Alberto Moreno.
He was caught out both times United scored and didn't seem to get the basics of defending in such a formation.
But credit to United, they played really well, even though they didn't have many attempts on goal.
They didn't play as well as they did in their 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last week, but they were strong going forward against the Reds.
Louis van Gaal retained the same starting 11 from the Spurs game. Do you think he has found his best team?
Van Gaal has come under criticism from many quarters, but he hasn't had all his players around earlier in this season to get his system working.
But now, with the key players returning, it has made a big difference, especially with Michael Carrick back and sitting in front of the defence.
Suddenly, Ander Herrera looks good, Marouane Fellaini looks good as well, and Wayne Rooney looks far more comfortable in a forward position than as a midfielder.
In recent matches, you see more quality in United's play, more angles from where the ball is played forward, and more players wanting the ball and not hiding on the pitch.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was sent off just 43 seconds after he came on in the second half. Do you think it was justified?
It was definitely a red card, his reaction after the foul was given showed that he knew what was coming for him.
He probably had a lot of energy and was frustrated sitting on the bench looking at the likes of Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson being bossed around in midfield and not making contributions to the team.
He would have been extremely disappointed with the way he let his team and the fans down, and it will be a great shame because people will remember that he was sent off in his last match in a Liverpool shirt against United.
That said, some of the other tackles the Liverpool players put in were nonsense.
Martin Skrtel and Mario Balotelli should have known better than to launch into those rough challenges against United players, especially after they have seen their captain being sent off.
Phil Jones was also lucky to stay on the pitch, after his tackle on Henderson in the second half.
United are now five points clear of Liverpool with eight games to go. Do you think the Red Devils will go on and seal a Champions League spot?
I think so. Liverpool have to face Arsenal right after the international break and it will be make or break for them.
While United also have big matches in the run-in, such as bitter rivals Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal, I'd rather be in their position now.
If the Reds don't get a result against the Gunners, it may well be Arsenal and van Gaal's men taking the last two Champions League spots.
Things will get really interesting in the coming weeks.
- Ray Houghton is a former Liverpool midfielder who played for the Reds from 1987 to 1992, winning two league titles and two FA Cups, and for the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup Finals in 1990 and 1994. He is now an ambassador for the Football Association of Ireland and also works as a co-presenter on UK radio station talkSPORT.
How they fare
PA Sport rates the performance of the Liverpool and Man United players
Could have been sent off for pushing Ander Herrera in the first half. Could do little about either United goal. Decent save from Rooney's penalty.
Lost Juan Mata for both goals and general play was sloppy.
Rarely looked assured when up against Wayne Rooney. Dangerous foul on David de Gea at the end.
Always looked like he had a mistake in him. Lacked confidence in possession.
Left on his backside by Daley Blind's trickery and was poor throughout, bringing down Blind for a late penalty.
Silly booking for pulling Herrera's shirt. Did not provide the back four with any protection.
Could not inspire the team in Gerrard's absence.
Missed a big chance in the 34th minute and offered little in attack
The only Liverpool player to impress in the first half. Came close to scoring with a 30-metre rocket after the restart.
Walked into a brick wall every time he entered the box.
Took his goal well, but offered little in the first half.
DAVID DE GEA
Should have stopped Sturridge's shot but did nothing else wrong.
Caught out for Liverpool goal but otherwise an accomplished display against one of the best wingers in the country.
Smashed Lallana with a brutal aerial challenge in the first half and deservedly booked for clattering into Henderson.
The better performer of the two centre backs. Confident on the ball, just as he was last week against Tottenham.
Did a job but nothing spectacular.
Brilliant through-ball to Mata for the first goal. Growing in confidence with every match.
Typically industrious performance from the England international.
Offered a threat on the attack and also tracked back when needed.
One of United's best performers in the first half. A real handful that Liverpool could not deal with.
Justified his selection with two fantastic goals.
Workmanlike performance, but no end to the striker's goal drought at Anfield following his penalty miss.