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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Xherdan Shaqiri's Liverpool dominate Manchester United to illustrate gulf between rivals

Premier League leaders increase their lead over Jose Mourinho's men to 19 points with a 3-1 victory at home on Sunday night

Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates after scoring Liverpool's second goal against Manchester United on Sunday night. Reuters
Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates after scoring Liverpool's second goal against Manchester United on Sunday night. Reuters

The lucky ones, Jose Mourinho had branded Liverpool.

If the fact that Manchester United were denied a draw by two deflected goals suggests he was right, there was nothing fortunate about this. Liverpool dominated a dreadful United team to return to the top of the league.

The 19-point gap in the table serves as an illustration of the gulf between rivals. It has rarely been wider and in Liverpool’s favour in almost three decades.

Mourinho has started to make jibes about the size of Liverpool’s spending but Xherdan Shaqiri, the substitute and scorer of that deflected double, represents a bargain at £13 million (Dh60m), one-seventh of the price of the unused Paul Pogba.

If the Swiss was a catalyst, so was Jurgen Klopp, who merits much of the credit for a seismic win. He switched Sadio Mane, the other scorer, to the left when Shaqiri came on.

The Senegalese made the initial incursion and, while his deflected cross came off David de Gea, he was nonetheless the instigator of the second goal just as, while Shaqiri’s drive went in via Ashley Young and the underside of the bar, he was the executioner.

A second Shaqiri shot took a telling touch off Eric Bailly. Yet as Liverpool had 36 shots, they did not just overcome United. They overwhelmed them. They outplayed them, just as they have out-traded them in recent years.

Mane was a player United coveted in 2015 and one Liverpool signed in 2016. His opener was taken with a touch of class. Fabinho chipped a pass over the packed United defence. Mane exposed how static they were with an angled run. He chested the ball down and slotted it past De Gea.

He highlights their differing fortunes in the transfer market, United’s of regret and Liverpool’s of coups. Fabinho, too, was linked with United and, if the Brazilian had a slow start at Anfield, his was a terrific display, justifying Klopp’s decision to select him ahead of Jordan Henderson.

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Fabinho, right, proved excellent for Liverpool during their 3-1 win over Manchester United on Sunday. Reuters
Fabinho, right, proved excellent for Liverpool during their 3-1 win over Manchester United on Sunday. Reuters

He was at the heart of a superb display. Liverpool had more pace, more urgency, more cohesion and more of a gameplan.

This was an indictment of Mourinho and his incoherent, expensive mediocrity. United were ragged. They adopted defensive tactics and still conceded; first shots and then goals.

The half-time removal of the booked Diogo Dalot and switch from a back five to a back four was an admission their earlier strategy was not working but Liverpool still swarmed forward against a reconfigured side. United defended ever deeper, leaving Romelu Lukaku stranded alone in attack, a spectator as Liverpool were relentless.

Mane was excellent, Andrew Robertson irrepressible and Roberto Firmino indefatigable. The Brazilian has not always flourished as a No 10 but he did yesterday. But for De Gea, he would have scored, with the Spaniard saving a series of shots while Young cleared a Dejan Lovren effort off the line.

He had a busy day. Briefly, he thought he had put United ahead when his fourth-minute free kick went in, though the offside Lukaku was deemed to be interfering with play. The Belgian did contribute to a goal, the usually flawless Alisson spilling his cross for Jesse Lingard to stab in an equaliser.

United did not merit parity, but Shaqiri, with the aid of deflections, ensured they got their just desserts.

Updated: December 16, 2018 10:21 PM

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