Liverpool and Manchester United faced off this past weekend in a rivalry match with perhaps much more at stake for each manager's fate than each team at this early meeting in the season. Both teams entered at seven points and in similar form with two victories and a draw. Brendan Rogers and Louis Van Gaal both felt the pressure of a much-needed victory, but only Van Gaal placed his team in the position and mentality to be successful.
With Wayne Rooney injured and David De Gea making strides to enjoy life at United after signing a four-year contract extension, Van Gaal made some changes to his starting lineup. De Gea made his first start of the season in between the posts with Darmian, Smalling, Blind, and Luke Shaw as the back four defenders. Michael Carrick, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera, and Juan Mata set up shop in midfield, while Marouane Fellaini adopted Rooney's role as lone striker.
The first half of the match left supporters on both sides plenty to ask for, as United held the majority of possession, but were unable to pose any serious challenge for Liverpool's defense, as Liverpool put 10 defenders behind the ball unwilling to allow any threatening chances on their net. The first half closed without any serious incident at either end of the field.
At halftime, Van Gaal made a key substitution by taking off Memphis for Ashley Young. Young's contribution was an almost instantaneous injection of creativity and dribbling down the left wing flank. Four minutes after his inclusion in the game, he would contribute in a significant way, drawing a foul in a dangerous position, right on the edge of the penalty box. Immediately, Ashley Young and Juan Mata setup over the free kick to discuss how best to use it. A set piece was chosen that selected an unexpected hero to be the recipient of Juan Mata's pass on the free kick. Mata played a weighted through pass into the penalty area in the wake of three United players, who drew all defenders' attention, and right in the path of Daley Blind. He approached the ball perfectly, struck it on the one-timer, curling his shot around the Liverpool defense and frozen goalkeeper into the corner of the net to give the Red Devils the lead.
United took the lead 1-0, and simultaneously, opened the game to chances on both ends. After a poor pass or clearance from De Gea, United were almost left vulnerable on defense, but a tidy clearance from Smalling off the backline warded any danger. On a following corner kick, United needed another saving clearance off the goal line. This time, the goal scorer, Daley Blind, cleared a headed attempt off the line and then kept Liverpool's Firmino from scoring a second attempt at the back post.
In the seventieth minute, United would score another crucial goal to apparently seal the game. Herrera dribbled Liverpool defender Joe Gomez in the penalty box. Gomez' sliding tackle caught and brought down Herrera for an obvious penalty. Herrera himself strode to the penalty spot and fired home the second goal of the match to give United a 2-0 lead.
United now had a tidy lead, but in the 84th minute, seemingly out of nowhere, Cristian Benteke would give United, supporters and players alike, reason to question their assured win. After a headed clearance, the ball rebounded overhead to Benteke, who took a shot on a beautiful overhead bicycle kick that beat David De Gea, giving Liverpool added cause to get back in the game.
Just two minutes later though, United debutant and substitute, Anthony Martial, would put his stamp on the match giving United a 3-1 lead. Martial received a pass from Young outside the Liverpool penalty area. With only Martin Skrtel between him and the net, he dribbled Skrtel masterfully using a close quick touch to wrong foot the defender, before finishing into the side netting. It was a fantastic effort from another United debutant and with his elevated price tag appearing to be justified, it appears to be one of the more memorable events in a blossoming United career.
The match concluded at 3-1, United earned the three points, and Liverpool were defeated again by a multi-goal deficit. The second half performance of United is highly encouraging, but with busy weeks of play involving Champions League, Barclays Premier League, and Domestic League cup approaching, the injury to Rooney could not come at a worse time. United face PSV Eindhoven at the Philips Stadion in the Netherlands on Tuesday September 15th. It is match day one of the Champions League group stage. Memphis makes his return to his former club to most likely a warm response; after all he fired home 22 goals to help them win the Dutch league title last year. The match will be aired on the Fox Sports Network at 2:45pm.
United's next Barclays Premier League match is also an away match against Southampton on Sunday, September 20th. The match will be a first return for new arrival Morgan Schneiderlin, who signed from Southampton during the summer window. The match will be aired on the NBC Sports Network at 11:00am.