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Five things we’ve learnt from Liverpool vs United

Liverpool-v-Manchester-United (1)Manchester United produced a superb performance to record their second win at Anfield in the last three seasons, as Juan Mata scored twice to extend the gap between United and Liverpool to five points.

United dominated the game from the start, scored two wonderful goals and looked a complete different team from the one that had struggled to impose itself throughout the season and are now in pole-position for a top four finish.

Here’s five things we learnt from Sunday.

1) The Juan we love

Since arriving at Old Trafford in January last season, Juan Mata has been accused of not influencing games as a player of his calibre should be and even after showing an impressive scoring vein in the earlier stages of the campaign, the Spaniard was criticised for letting games pass him by.

However, over the last two games, Mata has stepped up to the plate and showed to be the player United fans had dreamt of when he arrived at the club.

Sharp on the ball and perfectly suited to United’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Mata was a constant thorn in Liverpool’s side on Sunday, scoring arguably one of the best goals a United player has ever scored at Anfield to cap an absolute majestic performance.

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Having revitalised Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini, Louis Van Gaal seems to have done the same with Mata and it’s hard to imagine the Spaniard being left out again.

2) Philosophy

For so long a stick to beat United with, the word “philosophy” is no longer scorned at and the comparisons between Van Gaal and David Moyes have disappeared almost as quickly as Steven Gerrard.

Sharp, quick passing, movement, ball retention and a seemingly utmost belief in the game-plan: the philosophy was there for all to see on Sunday. In their recent visits at Anfield, seldom had United taken the game to Liverpool from so early in the game and with such purpose, but they did so yesterday, playing the in-form team in the league off the park on their own turf.

United have been dreadful at times this season and with difficult fixtures coming up it’d be premature to claim a Champions League spot is now secured. However, it would also be just as foolish to deny United have turned a corner over the last two games, in terms of performances as much as in terms of results.

The philosophy, at long last, is beginning to rear its head.

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3) Fellaini is becoming increasingly important

In the eyes of a lot of fans, Marouane Fellaini can do no right. Even when the Belgian is performing well, as he has done often this season, he is criticised for inviting a more direct style of play that should be used only in desperate circumstances.

Van Gaal has succeeded there where Moyes had so spectacularly failed and is getting the best out of the Belgian, who delivered a dominant display at Anfield on Sunday, proving hard to handle in the air and providing some much-needed steel in the middle of the park.

Not only was Fellaini a threat going forward, he also provided useful to repel Liverpool in the second half, as time and again he headed the ball away from United’s box.

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With United settling into a 4-2-3-1 formation over the last two games, the long ball to Fellaini has become less systematical, while the former Everton man has displayed surprising composure on the ball.

He might not be everyone’s cup of tea but, absurd as it might sound to some, right now Fellaini is one of United’s most important players.

4) United have destiny in their own hands

Ahead of back-to-back games against Spurs and Liverpool, United’s chances of clinching a top four looked ready to be dealt a fatal blow, as Van Gaal’s men were hampered by a brand of football that looked to have sucked life out of them.

The response, however, has been nothing short of impressive. Fear and indecision have been replaced by purpose and intent, while a solid game-plan has swept the pedestrian approach seen throughout the season under the carpet.

With eight games to go, United are five points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool, who could fall further behind after the international break as they travel to the Emirates while United host Aston Villa.

Much has been made of United’s tough run-in, with games against Chelsea, City and Arsenal still to come but with the exception of the derby in November, United have done superbly well against big teams.

Consecutive wins against Spurs and Liverpool look to have boosted confidence at a crucial time of the season and United must look ahead of them rather than over their shoulder.

5) Cheerio, Steven

With Liverpool within touching distance of a first league title in 23 years, Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea sparked a collapse the England cricket team would have been proud of, as the “neutrals’ favourites” ultimately fell short.

This season, members of the media have criticised fans for repeatedly mocking Gerrard’s mistake and the hype in Martin Tyler’s voice as the Liverpool’s captain entered the action yesterday was revolting.

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As we were informed over and over again, it was Gerrard’s last chance to leave his mark on the game he feels most than any other, the one which he had helped shape time and again during his career, despite having never lifted a league title.

However, thanks to his petulant stamp on Ander Herrera, Gerrard’s final appearance against United will be only be remembered for his sheer stupidity, which probably cost his team any chances of getting back into the game.

We thought last season’s couldn’t be topped. We were wrong. Cheerio, Steven.

Dan