Man Utd 1 Martial 32' (Pen)
Liverpool 1 Coutinho 45'
An Alberto Moreno hamstring injury forced Jürgen Klopp into a single change to the starting XI from last week, as James Milner's experience was preferred to Brad Smith's actual being a left-back. He joined Nathaniel Clyne and new first-choice centre-back pairing Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren in defense, with a familiar double pivot of Emre Can and Jordan Henderson screening them. Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho provided support for Daniel Sturridge.
in typical fashion, Marouane Fellaini planted an elbow in Firmino's head in clear view of the referee after only a couple of minutes, but the match leader failed to produce what would've been a well-deserved card. On fifteen minutes, Lallana and Lovren combined to give up possession in front of their own box, but Clyne cleaned up.
The home side were pushing up and leaving nearly a full pitch of space behind their back line, but Lallana failed to stay onside after excellent play from Firmino and Sturridge put him through. Minutes later, Milner provided his best Moreno impersonation, as he completely failed to pay any attention to Jesse Lingard at the back post as the ball was crossed in, but Simon Mignolet was equal to the wingers's headed finish.
Liverpool produced a few chances on the counter, with Coutinho first spoiling an excellent opportunity through a poor first touch, then subsequently firing in a low, hard shot from 18 yards that the annoyingly masterful David De Gea saved with an impressive display of reflexes.
The visitors gifted United a way back into the tie on thirty minutes, as the normally unflappable Clyne tripped Anthony Martial in the box. The French striker sent Mignolet the wrong way and tucked home the penalty, and Liverpool's terrific work from the first leg was halfway undone.
The Reds stormed back immediately, and Daniel Sturridge blasted a vicious curled free kick off De Gea's bar from a difficult angle, before a beautiful one-two between Henderson and Coutinho set the latter up for an easy first-time finish from 10 yards. De Gea was rooted to the spot, but the captain's finish missed the top corner by a mere foot. It was the best piece of play the night had produced so far, and it deserved a better fate.
A long clearance from the United half looked to be heading out of bounds, but Fellaini kept the play alive and cut the ball back with a deft first touch right on the touchline. Marcos Rojo was on hand, but his left-footed finish from five yards failed to trouble Mignolet.
Liverpool's Brazilian duo has been impressive in recent weeks, and they nearly connected two minutes from half time, as a Coutinho cross found Firmino in the box, but his left-footed effort was hooked over the bar. With his teammates failing to convert from his passes, Coutinho took matters into his own hands, and that in most impressive fashion. On the stroke of half-time, a long Can pass found the Brazilian in some space down the left. With Guillermo Varela lacking support, the puggernaut slid past him towards the touchline, and taking the time for an extra touch and a good long look for runs in the box, audaciously chipped the ball over De Gea's right shoulder and in at the near post. It was a glorious bit of artistry, and just the kind of special moment the Brazilian had coveted before the match.
Man Utd now needed to score three in order to advance, and despite van Gaal bringing on Antonio Valencia in place of Varela, they never really looked like closing the gap. Fellaini was booked for a blatant elbow on Dejan Lovren at the start of the second half, an offense that could've warranted a direct red card, and that, combined with his elbow on Firmino in the first, certainly should've added up to one.
Marcus Rashford shot tamely wide, and Fellaini headed straight at Mignolet, but the Devils were struggling to create proper chances. On the other end, a mazy Coutinho run set up Sturridge, but the striker sliced his shot well wide. He was replaced by Divock Origi minutes later, and the home team's defensive line was immediately pushed back as the Belgian threatened the space behind them.
A terrific piece of play down Liverpool's left set Fellaini up from 12 yards, but the Muay Thai enthusiast hooked the ball over the bar. It would prove to be the home team's last real threat to the opposition. Liverpool created chances on the counter as Coutinho kept finding space to move into, first as a driving Can run and backheel nutmeg set him up from 12 yards, and later with a stinging drive from 18 yards. De Gea was equal to both attempts. The Spaniard also saved two shots from Origi as the clock wound down, ensuring a respectable scoreline for the hosts.
Despite conceding a pair of big opportunities in the first half, over two legs, Liverpool were deserved winners, and only David De Gea stood between the Reds and a far more emphatic scoreline.
Each team segment had its outstanding performer tonight, with Sakho absolutely massive at the back, Can turning in a second dominant performance in a row in midfield, and Coutinho at his magisterial best in attack. Lovren, Milner and Lallana also did well, while Clyne struggled with Martial's tricks and pace. Sturridge continues to look like a player finding match fitness, and Jordan Henderson, who limped down the tunnel after he was substituted, delivered another uneven performance.
All in all, comfortably beating your arch rivals on way to the Europa League quarter finals is definitely something to be celebrated, and celebrated well. The draw for the next round is made tomorrow, with plenty of big European sides on tap, as the Europa League continues to look like a premier club competition. The kind Liverpool would like to win.