Bruno Fernandes' stunning free kick took Manchester United to the FA Cup fifth round with a 3-2 win at the expense of Liverpool after a thrilling tie at Old Trafford on Sunday. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer had held his best player in reserve against Liverpool, and for a while it seemed like Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford might get the job done without him as they struck either side of halftime to overturn Mohamed Salah's opener.
However a much-improved Liverpool side gave as good as they got in a barnstorming contest, Salah netting once again just before the hour to set up a thrilling final quarter of the game, one won in exceptional fashion by Fernandes in the 78th minute.
Here are some takeaways from the match, which came just a week after the two sides played a scoreless draw at Anfield.
Fernandes' finishing masterclass
Naturally it is considered more difficult to score a free kick from just outside the penalty area than perhaps five or so yards further back. There is no space to get the ball up and down, a firmly hit effort toward the top corner probably just smashes into the wall.
Fernandes knew that and it was fascinating observing him in the lengthy pause he took before firing from around 20 yards out. The wall was rather incidental to his equation, he was going for Alisson's bottom corner, something he was keen to insist was down to Edinson Cavani's advice.
There was perhaps only one spot where the Brazilian could be beaten, and Fernandes found it. Maybe he had calculated that Alisson would shift his weight towards his right, assuming that the ball was going over the wall. That lean was enough to leave Liverpool's goalkeeper with just too much to do. As he came up to his nears all he could offer was a despairing shrug. He could not have seen that goal coming.
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Rashford and Shaw thrive on United left
Marcus Rashford has been such a reliable, diligent performer of his duties wherever Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deploys him of late that his outings on the left have been far too infrequent. There is a roadblock of quality capable of playing wide on the left but when Rashford is on the sort of form he displayed Sunday it is hard to see why the United boss would not start by putting his No. 10 in his best position and building from there.
Against an out-of-form Trent Alexander-Arnold – who desperately missed the covering presence of Jordan Henderson – Rashford was at his devastating best. Whenever the ball came his way he looked to drive United forward, to commit defenders and breeze by them. When his teammates had possession it was decoy running from the left that added to Liverpool's headache.
After Roberto Firmino's excellent assist for Salah, Rashford went even better with an outstanding ball over the head of four Liverpool defenders, teeing up Greenwood to drive low past Alisson.
Greenwood repaid the favor early in the first half, his pass into the left channel all the more impressive for the way it curled away from Rhys Williams, begging the young center-back to stick out a leg without quite reaching it as Rashford charged in behind.
It should be noted Rashford was aided by the excellent Luke Shaw, who dominated Alexander-Arnold in attack and defense, a thudding tackle late in the first half sending the Liverpool right-back flying backwards as United advanced down the left. Both United players on the left were an impressive blend of technical quality, confidence and above all hard work, Shaw earning United a corner out of nothing simply because he was willing to chase what seemed to be a lost cause.
Klopp's realigned midfield eases goal burden
With the Aston Villa Under-23s the only team to have conceded to Liverpool in 2021 before Sunday there was understandable concern about whether Jurgen Klopp's men had lost their bite in front of goal. Inevitably it was somewhat overstated, a run of bad luck blown into something bigger combined with a series of fixtures against teams happy to sit deep. As a general rule if Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane have 26 shots in four games they will probably score at least once.
Still there were some problems they are their teammates were creating that made it harder for them to score. Chief among them was an inability to get extra bodies into the box. All too often it was the front three and perhaps Andrew Robertson.
A change of personnel brought with it a more fluid approach to midfield, Curtis Jones theoretically on the left of the attacking trident but free to mingle. Meanwhile the two ahead of Thiago bombed forward with greater abandon, particularly James Milner, who belied his 35 years with a performance of impressive dynamism. Suddenly United had an extra body to account for in the box and that opened avenues for Salah, who profited from Milner's dummy to net his second on the hour.
The reshuffle did not work entirely – it was notable that Klopp's first change on the hour reunited the front three as Sadio Mane replaced Georginio Wijnaldum – with Alexander-Arnold often unprotected and Thiago spending as much time fouling United players to end counter-attacks as he did dictating play. But it at least got the goalscoring monkey off Liverpool's back.
Luke Shaw: He is finally looking like the player for whom United paid a world record sum for a teenager, rediscovering some of the pace a knee injury seemed to have robbed him off whilst defending with a veteran maturity. Shaw ought to be in contention for England's European Championships squad. RATING: 9
Thiago: He perhaps had too much on his plate at the base of Liverpool's midfield, not just getting his side ticking but quelling United counter-attacks, something he struggled to do. RATING: 5
Manchester United 3, Liverpool 2 (FT)
⚽Liverpool: Salah - 18'
⚽United: Greenwood - 26'
⚽United: Rashford - 48'
⚽Liverpool: Salah - 58'
⚽United: Fernandes - 78'