Louis Van Gaal made it four wins in four attempts against Liverpool, after Manchester United delivered the perfect smash-and-grab performance at Anfield.
On the back foot for large spells of the game, United were fortunate not to go behind on a number of occasions before Wayne Rooney scored his fourth goals in three games to clinch United’s second win in a row at Anfield.
Here’s five talking points from yesterday.
1) Rooney back from the brink?
Having endured a torrid start to the season, Wayne Rooney has enjoyed a remarkable run of form of late, scoring four goals in the last three matches. Starved of supply for the majority of the game, the United captain showed the kind of sharpness that many thought he no longer possessed as he converted the only chance that fell to him
As a venue, Anfield has rarely been kind to Rooney and while the 30-year-old was largely anonymous until the goal, he successfully kept his cool in frustrating circumstances, showing remarkable composure to slot home after Marouane Fellaini’s header had crashed against the bar.
He might not be the player he once was but over the last three games Rooney, who has now scored in four consecutive games for the first time since March 2012, has shown he can still be an asset for United.
2) Dave saves
Rooney’s winner has grabbed and will continue to grab the headlines but, had it not been for David De Gea, United would been behind by the time their captain struck late in the game.
With United’s back four displaying all the solidity of a chocolate bar that has been left out in the sun too long, the Spaniard was again pivotal for his side, denying Emre Can and Roberto Firmino shortly before Rooney’s goal, having blocked a dangerous header from Adam Lallana in the first half.
What is so remarkable about De Gea, who also denied Jordan Henderson in the second half, is how composed and calm he manages to remain despite playing behind what at the moment is a very average back four.
United will need him to stick around for as long as possible if they’re to build a winning side.
3) Win papers over the cracks
Beating Liverpool away should not warrant an in-depth analysis of United’s performance, for ultimately the result is all that matters in this fixture. United have enjoyed smash-and-grab raids at Anfield before even in days when the football was much better than the dire, uninspiring dross served up by the current vintage. However, once the adrenaline has worn off and the minds aren’t as clouded, it’s difficult to deny the result masqueraded one of the worst performances of the season.
Not only did United not have a shot on goal until the 77th minute, they also allowed a distinctly average Liverpool side to run rings around them at times and the host should have been out of sight by the time Rooney struck.
Unorganised and lacking the competitive edge to impose themselves physically on the game, United were never at the races until late in the second half. Of course, a win at Anfield can paper over all sort of cracks, but United remain a side in need of some serious work.
It was the sixth time this season that United played the first half of a Premier League match without having a shot on goal, a mind-boggling figure in its own right.
4) United away fans were outstanding yet again
Despite the dreadful football on offer and the lack of results over the last three seasons, United’s away support remains peerless.
Not only did the travelling fans made a mockery of the famous Anfield atmosphere, they were joined in celebrating Rooney’s winner by Phil Jones, Michael Carrick and Marcos Rojo, who watched the game in the away end.
At a time when United seem to be losing their identity and when players look increasingly detached from the fans who spend money and time to follow their club everywhere, it is refreshing to see United players standing with their own supporters.
Tedious as things are on the pitch, this club remains special off it.
— ilka (@schwinesteiger) January 17, 2016
5) Can Anfield win ignite United?
Following a dismal December, United have won two of their last three Premier League games and have only got themselves to blame for failing to beat Newcastle on Tuesday. Louis Van Gaal has claimed his side can still win the title but while that might sound like wishful thinking more than anything else, United can and should build on their win at Anfield.
Their next two league games see Southampton and Stoke, the former a side rediscovering their form, the latter one of the surprise packages of the season, travel to Old Trafford before United visit Chelsea early in February.
Two wins from those three fixtures would put United right back in the mix for a top four finish and could trigger the kind of inspiring run this side enjoyed in March last year, although consistency has so often eluded Van Gaal’s men that it’s difficult to know what to expect from them.
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