Marcus Rashford struck twice as Manchester United won the 200th North West derby with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday to open up a five point gap on their third-placed rivals.
United survived a frantic final 10 minutes after a bizarre own goal from defender Eric Bailly had given Liverpool a route back into the game but Juergen Klopp’s attack, so effective through this season, were unable to carve any clear openings.
Any fears that United manager Jose Mourinho would ‘park the bus’, as he did in the goalless reverse fixture, were eased by the team selection which led to an attacking formation despite the absence of French midfielder Paul Pogba. He was ruled out after picking up an injury in training on Friday.
Rashford had not started in 2018 and had only made five substitute appearances but he was to be the central figure in this encounter, which had all the adrenalin, aggression and endeavor associated with one of English soccer’s mostly hotly contested rivalries.
For all the pre-match discussion of tactics, it was a blood and thunder clash. A move of old-school simplicity gave United the breakthrough.
A long ball from goalkeeper David De Gea was headed on by target-man Romelu Lukaku into the path of Rashford. He then outdid Trent Alexander-Arnold, cut inside on to his right foot and confidently buried the ball in the far corner to open the scoring in the 14th minute.
Lukaku was bullying his marker Dejan Lovren, winning headers and brushing off challenges from the Croatian. It was from another battle between the pair, won by the United striker, that allowed Jose Mourinho’s side to double their advantage.
The Belgian’s ball towards Juan Mata was blocked and fell to Rashford inside the box. He again made no mistake with a confident strike past Loris Karius.
Liverpool’s only real chance of the opening 45 minutes came from a corner but Virgil van Dijk, who had lost his marker, was unable to find the target from a promising close-range position at the near post.
After a quiet start to the second half, the visitor’s got themselves back into the game though in the 66th minute when Bailly, who had returned to the side after over three months out with injury, made a complete hash of a Sadio Mane cross from the left, his mis-struck clearance flying past De Gea and into his own goal.
His combative presence was to be needed though in a frantic and physical finale, with nerves setting in among the home support. But for all Liverpool’s intense pressure, they were unable to find a way through a disciplined United defense.