Manchester United’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League were dealt a fresh blow by Tuesday’s humiliating 4-0 defeat away at title contenders Liverpool. It was an utterly dominant performance from Jürgen Klopp’s men, who made their visitors look like rank amateurs for much of the match. United could have no complaints about the manner or scale of defeat.
The teamsheet brought some surprises, with Ralf Rangnick electing to play Phil Jones at the centre of a back three and preferring Diogo Dalot to Alex Telles at left wing-back. Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matić formed the centre of a flimsy midfield, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga flanking Bruno Fernandes up top.
It took only five minutes for Liverpool to slice through United’s unorthodox defence, with Sadio Mané dropping off Harry Maguire and buying the space for Mo Salah to make a diagonal run in behind the United captain. Mané threaded the ball through for his teammate, whose simple pass across the six-yard box was tapped in at the back post by Luis Díaz.
United’s situation quickly went from bad to worse, with Paul Pogba limping off five minutes later to be replaced by Jesse Lingard. Liverpool were utterly dominant, and United were reduced to chasing after shadows. It quickly became reminiscent of watching a Guardiola-era Barcelona in the midst of putting eight past Osasuna.
Midway through the second half, Liverpool doubled their advantage. Some brilliant, intricate passing culminated in Mané, with his back to goal, angling a sublime chip over the top of the United defence. Salah brought the ball down and finished with consummate ease, leaving Maguire holding his head in his hands.
United were lucky to not be three down by halftime. The first half finished with Liverpool having had nine shots on goal to United’s big round zero; the hosts had had over three-quarters of the possession, and had a third goal chalked off for offside. The greatest shame was that the game couldn’t be forfeited at halftime.
The second half saw the introduction of Jadon Sancho for Phil Jones, as Rangnick reverted to a more conventional back four. United looked immediately more competitive (admittedly a low bar) and might have pulled one back just past the hour when Alisson made a double-save to deny Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga in one-on-ones.
But cometh the hour, cometh the Mané, and with just over 20 minutes left, Liverpool’s brilliant Senegalese attacker sealed the three points with a third goal. Andy Robertson drove infield from left-back and offloaded to Díaz, whose low cross from the left was flicked home by Mané on the edge of the United box.
With five minutes left, Liverpool wrapped up their win with a fourth. United youngster Hannibal Mejbri was caught in possession out on United’s right, allowing substitute Diogo Jota to swoop in and play a defence-splitting pass for Salah, who slotted past David de Gea to seal his brace. If I were Erik ten Hag, I might be having second thoughts …