Liverpool 2 Sturridge (pen) 20', Firmino 73'
Man Utd 0
A tremendous performance from David De Gea was the only thing preventing this from entering blowout territory, as Liverpool thoroughly dominate van Gaal's disciples at Anfield.
With no game at the weekend, Jürgen Klopp was free to select his best XI, and with Liverpool's injury worries nearly behind them, those players were all available. Captain Jordan Henderson and Emre Can made up the double pivot in midfield, screeneing a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno. In front of them, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino were tasked with creating chances for lone striker Daniel Sturridge, as well as pressuring United's midfield and back line into making mistakes.
After only fifteen seconds, Memphis Depay got around Clyne on the right and swung in a cross, which 18 year old Marcus Rashford could only touch wide. It would be the visitors' only shot in the first half hour.
The first fifteen minutes were characterised by lots of dueling and massive crowd noise from both home and away fans, but little in the way of chance creation. Henderson was deservedly booked for a studs up challenge in the 2nd minute, and tackles were flying in from everywhere. The first bit of quality on the night came after the Reds broke through United's press and a Coutinho back heel played in a streaking Moreno. His early cross found Sturridge at the far post, but the striker's cut back towards Henderson was cut out by Lallana.
A minute later, Liverpool earned their second penalty in 4 days. Memphis started dragging Clyne back outside the box and carried on doing so as the fullback continued his run. A tangle of feet on the 18 yard line just as Firmino played the through ball was enough for Clyne to go down and the referee to blow his whistle. Up stepped Sturridge, confidently dispatching the penalty past De Gea, despite the Spaniard getting a finger to the ball. The already noisy crowd hit a crescendo and Liverpool were ahead.
Five minutes later, De Gea made the first of four world class saves on the night. A Sturridge shot-cum-cross found its way to Coutinho at the far post. The Brazilian only had to tuck the ball home from three yards, but his touch off the outside of the boot wasn't accurate enough, and De Gea got across to punch the ball off the line.
Marouane Fellaini caused havoc in the Liverpool box on the half hour, and Sakho's missed clearance presented Juan Mata with the ball on 20 yards, but the Reds defenders converged on the Spaniard before he could get a shot off. On the other end of the pitch, Firmino dribbled past three defenders and chipped the ball through for Sturridge. Smalling slipped as he tried to turn, and the injury-prone striker was one on one with De Gea. Choosing power over precision, he smashed the ball off the goalkeeper's thigh and out for a corner.
A period without much incident followed, as sections of the away fans shamed their club by engaging in tasteless Hillsborough chants and Fellaini escaped punishment for a deliberate stamp on Lovren. A few minutes from half time, Firmino drilled in a near post cross, and Lallana struck a shot straight at De Gea from 6 yards. The Reds were dominating possession and chance creation and only the
Louis Van Gaal put Michael Carrick on for Rashford and changed the away side's formation to a 3-5-2 at the start of the second half, immediately creating trouble for the home team, with waves of attacks rolling down Liverpool's right side. The center did well to hold though, and no real chances came of the sustained pressure.
Coutinho took the spotlight, first getting booked for a sloppy piece of simulation down by the touchline, then smacking in a 20-yard half-volley after a classy chest pass from Firmino. The ball was dipping into the near top corner, but De Gea again was equal to the shot and tipped it over the bar with a strong hand.
United were attacking down Liverpool's left now, as Coutinho and Moreno struggled to control their flank, and Simon Mignolet was forced into action with a strong punch from a Varela cross. Fellaini was finally booked on his third foul of the night, before Klopp had seen his side lose enough control and decided to introduce Joe Allen in place of Sturridge, pushing Firmino into the striker role.
It would prove a decisive move, as the home side immediately regained control of the middle of the park, winning the ball high up the pitch and putting the opposition under pressure. Clyne hammered the ball at the far corner from 20 yards, but was denied by De Gea. Another break down the left gave Henderson plenty of time and space to pick his spot from 14 yards, but his finish went a yard high of the far top corner.
The second goal was in the air now, and arrived with twenty minutes to go. Carrick botched a clearance, Lallana picked it up and cut it back for Firmino, who was waiting 6 yards out. His left-footed finish swept past De Gea, and his five-fingered salute brought the crowd to another deafening climax. The Brazilian would leave the pitch ten minutes later, as Divock Origi came on to threaten the visitors' back line with his pace on the counter.
Liverpool sat back and controlled the match, and United picked up their biggest chance of the match, as Fellaini headed a Schweinsteiger cross wide of Mignolet's post. The visitors were lucky to finish the match with eleven players, as Fellaini picked up a yellow along with six fouls, and decided to see the game out with a blatant elbow swing to Can's head.
On the biggest night of Klopp's tenure so far, Liverpool come up big with one of their best performances under the German. They had eight shots on target to United's one, eight shots from inside the box to United's two, and comfortably won the xG battle 2.4 to 0.3. It was a dominant and exciting performance, and only De Gea prevented a proper trashing.
Performances were tremendous wall-to-wall, with the backline holding firm when under pressure, the double pivot stacking up tackles, protecting their defenders, and distributing excellently, and the front four showing movement, creativity and efficiency. Special mentions go to Firmino for yet again being the offensive hub of the side, Lallana for relentlessly harrying the ball carrier, and Clyne for shutting down his flank as well as being an attacking outlet. Klopp must also get credit for understanding the game and making perfect reactive substitutions, neutralising United when it looked like they were about to find a way back into the game.
With no game at the weekend, Liverpool have a full seven days to recover and plan for the return fixture. They've set themselves up perfectly to advance, but there are still ninety minutes to play, and the Red Devils are no pushovers at Old Trafford.