Reds alert after Liverpool boss Rodgers loses plot
MAN UNITED 3
(Wayne Rooney 12, Juan Mata 40, Robin van Persie 71)
Last season, the result at Old Trafford made Brendan Rodgers' reputation. This result threatens to break him.
In the space of nine months, a 3-0 victory has turned into a 0-3 defeat, thanks largely to a hapless manager who no longer seems sure of what he's doing.
The red button was finally pushed last night. The clock has started ticking.
Any remaining Rodgers apologists foolhardy enough to simply point towards David de Gea's Man-of-the-Match heroics are guilty of the kind of naivety that dominated Liverpool's line-up, formation and strategy.
Manchester United rarely played well in a pedestrian affair and yet prevailed by three goals through adhering to that revolutionary coaching concept of fielding centre forwards.
United started with three strikers on the pitch. Liverpool had none.
The final scoreline was not a coincidence.
Listening to the commentators' oft-repeated lament of the Reds creating more chances missed the point entirely.
Rodgers failed to buy the players to put them away in the transfer window. And he failed to pick any last night.
Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli's talents were deemed unworthy of a place at Old Trafford.
Rodgers had promised to "educate" them both. He has obviously failed.
What's more, his decision to rely on the pace and improvisation of Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Phillipe Coutinho backfired spectacularly.
Apart from Lallana going AWOL for the opening goal, and Coutinho going AWOL sometime in pre-season, the boom-or-bust element of the formation left no margin for error. The Reds either pinched an unlikely win or faced humiliation.
The speedy, but lightweight trio up top always made Liverpool vulnerable to the counter-attack, with Alberto Moreno and Joe Allen particularly exposed to Antonio Valencia's pace.
The front three tired quickly and offered little defensively.
In the space of 25 extraordinary seconds, Liverpool spurned a glorious opportunity and then found themselves a goal down.
Sterling slipped in behind United's dithering defence, but his snapshot found de Gea's legs.
The orthodox winger paid the price for panicking. Rodgers perhaps paid the price for relying on a teenager without a Liverpool goal in 16 games.
Almost immediately, Valencia scampered away along the right, jinking all the way before nut-megging Allen and cutting back for the galloping Wayne Rooney.
The skipper for both club and country met the ball sweetly, efficiently, just perfectly, curling a side-footed effort into the bottom corner in the 12th minute.
As expected, both managers targeted porous defences, but only one picked an actual striker.
And United's main man played a pivotal one in the controversial second goal in the 41st minute. If the build-up was fabulous, the finish was farcical.
A quick passing move culminated in Ashley Young swinging a high cross from the left. Robin van Persie rose highest to brush a couple of grey hairs across the ball, ensuing that when it dropped to Juan Mata - three metres from goal and three metres offside - his simple header should never have stood.
Expect Rodgers to blame officials for Liverpool's downfall. Expect him to be less vociferous about his three-man defence granting van Persie a free flick-on in the box.
The Red Devils did all they could to pass their rivals an early Christmas present. Jonny Evans almost succeeded with a wretched backpass straight to Sterling.
But the winger delayed. He blundered. He allowed de Gea to make another excellent one-on-one save.
Sterling had a hat-trick of scoring chances and blew the lot. Like Liverpool generally, his confidence is shot to pieces.
That said, United's best player was still de Gea. His reflex stop to deny substitute Balotelli took the breath away. From close range, the Italian smashed his effort goalwards and yet, somehow, the Spaniard swished through the air like a matador's cape to push the ball onto the crossbar.
And again, de Gea's teammates rewarded his reflexes by scoring again, with van Persie slotting in the decisive third in the 71st minute.
Liverpool kept on pressing and de Gea kept on saving. United are now six for six without ever really playing particularly well.
Remarkably, things can only get better for Louis van Gaal's improving players.
As the game drifted away from the Reds, United taunted them mercilessly. The loudest chant was the most wounding.
"You're getting sacked in the morning," chanted the United fans.
Rodgers isn't going nowhere for now. But there was no support coming his way from the away end either, just an ominous silence.
They stopped singing after the second goal. There was nothing left to say.
The Reds may blame de Gea. But the real culprit was in the Liverpool dugout.
"I thought we'd done enough to win the game. It epitomised our season. We're not prolific enough in terms of goal-scoring. We created enough chances to win the game, which was pleasing, but we also made defensive mistakes and that's what cost us.
DAVID DE GEA
"David de Gea was probably Man of the Match today - that says everything about it."
"We've just got to keep working. It's very easy - we know what the solutions are - we have to keep working and hope the confidence will return."