The meeting between Manchester United and Liverpool this evening saw the names of two English internationals take centre stage, albeit for altogether differing reasons.
Firmino at the double
Thursday’s marquee Premier League fixture of course took place a short time ago.
The clash saw Man United welcome Liverpool to Old Trafford, for a rearranged Premier League showdown.
Hosts United, in truth, headed into proceedings with little to play for, having long secured their spot in the Champions League for next season.
For Liverpool, though, the matchup marked an absolutely integral one. This comes with Jurgen Klopp’s men still in the thick of the battle for European football, having sat 6th ahead of kick-off in Manchester.
And, when all was said and done, it was indeed the visitors who came away from the Theatre of Dreams with a richly deserved three points.
Manchester United actually opened the evening’s scoring, when Bruno Fernandes’ bending strike was deflected beyond Alisson by the flat-footed Nat Phillips:
BIG GOAL 🔴
Bruno Fernandes’ shot is turned in by Nat Phillips!
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 13, 2021
Liverpool, though, soon worked their way back into proceedings, before turning the clash on its head on the stroke of the interval.
First, Nat Phillips made up for his mistake at the other end to tee up Diogo Jota’s clever improvised finish, before Roberto Firmino broke free at the back post to nod home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s wicked free-kick delivery:
Lovely flick from the forward and Liverpool are level at Old Trafford!
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 13, 2021
Then, early in the 2nd-half, it was three, as a mixup at the back on United’s part resulted in Firmino adding his 2nd of the night from close range.
The Red Devils, to their credit, did manage to make things interesting a little over 20 minutes from time, when a brief period of dominance resulted in Marcus Rashford slotting beyond Alisson in clinical fashion.
But, as the hosts went in desperate search of a late equaliser, space was left in behind, with Mo Salah having gone on to take full advantage as the clash rolled into injury time, with a Liverpool 4th:
Salah wraps up the victory for Liverpool with this counter attack goal. pic.twitter.com/u2ODNkvOnQ
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) May 13, 2021
As outlined above, though, whilst, in the end, a 6-goal thriller played out at Old Trafford this evening, it is not the scorers themselves who have since taken centre stage in the post-match chatter.
Instead, it has been a pair of English internationals.
First up? Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Stopper TAA has of course endured an altogether hit and miss campaign to date, having looked a shadow of his brilliant best over the opening half of the season.
Recent months, though, have seen Liverpool’s gifted right-back return to form in a major way.
And tonight, perhaps more so than at any other point in the campaign, Alexander-Arnold reminded viewers, and the onlooking Gareth Southgate, of exactly what a weapon he is when firing on all cylinders.
Chances created in the first half, per Opta
Manchester United: 5
Trent Alexander-Arnold: 5
— James Benge (@jamesbenge) May 13, 2021
As is generally the case, the majority of the 22-year-old’s most notable exploits came in the attacking third, where he absolutely lit up Old Trafford, courtesy of a remarkable combination of touch, poise, athleticism and, above all else, final ball.
Time and time again, TAA opened up Manchester United’s backline with one of either a devilish bending delivery, or defence-splitting through ball.
The youngster had a direct hand in two of the visitors’ goals, teeing up Firmino’s go-ahead finish on the stroke of half-time, and then lashing the shot against Dean Henderson which rebounded for Firmino’s brace:
Roberto Firmino’s first ever goal against Manchester United. His first ever goal at Old Trafford 🕺
Trent Alexander-Arnold put it on a plate, and Liverpool lead! 🍽
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) May 13, 2021
Alexander-Arnold was of course, much to the dismay of Liverpool’s fanbase, omitted from England’s most recent squad.
As evidenced tonight, though, even if it is only as an option off the bench, or for his creative abilities alone, Southgate simply can’t ignore the Reds’ rampaging right-back for the European Championships this summer.
Whilst a Three Lions international shone bright at one end at Old Trafford this evening, though, the absence of another was sorely felt at the other.
The player in question of course comes in the form of Harry Maguire, who missed out this evening after picking up a nasty injury during United’s meeting with Aston Villa last weekend.
Whilst the former Leicester City man is so often placed under the microscope by fans and pundits alike for his shortcomings, the 90 minutes this evening showcased just how truly important Maguire is to the backline of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
A pairing of Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly manned the heart of the Red Devils’ defence versus Liverpool, but to say that neither managed to take advantage of the opportunity afforded to them would be putting it lightly.
Bailly looked reckless and far too impulsive in the tackle, only seeing his penalty blushes saved by VAR during the first-half, before being hauled off inside the closing ten minutes of action.
Lindelof, meanwhile, continued to look overly passive, highlighting once again why those in a position of power on the red half of Manchester are so keen to secure reinforcements at centre-half in the summer.
Above all, though, tonight simply showcased Maguire’s importance as a leader.
United, from defence into midfield and beyond, looked completely out of sorts in their attempts to keep Liverpool at bay, with the absence of a legitimate enforcer having cost the home side dear.
Harry Maguire needs more credit. pic.twitter.com/hn2l46YD0H
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) May 10, 2021
He will never be every fan’s cup of tea, but Maguire’s effectiveness simply cannot be denied.
Gareth Southgate will no doubt be praying for his first-choice option at the back to recover sooner, rather than later, ahead of the fast-approaching Euros.