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 By Steven Kelly

Roberto Firmino, Nathaniel Clyne excel for Liverpool vs. Manchester United

Liverpool know Manchester United can never ever be written off, but two goals - and even more importantly -- a clean sheet at home gives them a good chance of progressing into the quarterfinals of the Europa League following the 2-0 win in their last 16 first leg.

Roberto Firmino kept up his excellent goal-scoring form by slotting home the vital second in front of the Kop, in a match where only goalkeeper David De Gea stood between the visitors and a rout.

A curiously weak United side posed little threat, but Liverpool's defence and their aggressive, industrious midfielders made sure there were no surprises at the end of a nerve-wracking yet hugely satisfying victory. The job, however, is only half-done.

LiverpoolLiverpool
Manchester UnitedManchester United
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Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Simon Mignolet, 7 -- Little to do for the second home game in a row against Mancunian opposition. Safe handling and one average save was the sum total of his quiet evening. More worries over his kicking, which will be a concern in the second leg.

DF Nathaniel Clyne, 9 -- It's taken for granted that Clyne will perform well but this might have been his best yet. Solid and secure at the back, he was a constant outlet for his embattled midfield teammates and helped the attack on numerous occasions, winning the penalty that opened the scoring. Also tested De Gea with a fierce shot from outside the area.

DF Dejan Lovren, 8 -- When in doubt, put your foot through the ball and get it out of harm's way. Though the visitors were unadventurous going forward, Lovren snuffed out any danger that did arise and on a night that called for few frills, his no-nonsense approach paid off handsomely.

DF Mamadou Sakho, 8 -- Good distribution and despite one nervy moment in the box -- when he clumsily fell at Juan Mata's feet -- he was calm and steady throughout. Fans will be nervous of making any premature claims, but his renewed partnership with Lovren is looking a good one.

DF Alberto Moreno, 7 -- Somehow allowed a first-minute cross to reach a startled Marcus Rashford, who fortunately missed the chance. The Spaniard had one or two other rash moments and is still for some reason entrusted with free kicks, none of which ever amount to anything. Constant energy helped camouflage his deficiencies and he did seem to get stronger as the game progressed.

MF Jordan Henderson, 7 -- Very early booking could have stifled the captain's efforts but he maintained his cool after that. Lots of good passing and interceptions and made the lung-busting run down the wing that led to the possibly decisive second goal.

MF Emre Can, 7 -- The German international is in brilliant form and though this was a less adventurous performance for him, he maintained his effort right until the final whistle. This team selection seems to suit him, but he'll need to be just as focussed and disciplined next Thursday.

MF Adam Lallana, 8 -- Occasional lapses in his flicks and turns could not detract from his overall contribution. Set up the second goal well, pouncing on Michael Carrick's mistake. Was one of numerous Liverpool players denied a goal by the excellent De Gea. His Anfield career has often stuttered but he is now showing his best form since he arrived. One piece of second-half trickery was worth the price of admission on its own.

MF Philippe Coutinho, 7 -- Found it hard to shake off his man-marker in the first half. On the one occasion he escaped he should have scored but took a good chance with the wrong foot. Kept going and was often clever in possession during a slightly less frenetic second half. Stung De Gea's fingertips with a fierce shot. That he could still offer a lot more must concern United for the second leg.

MF Roberto Firmino, 8 -- Another goal, calmly taken given the pressure that United's goalkeeper must have been putting on all of Liverpool's forwards. Seemed to flourish once Sturridge left the pitch and that might be manager Jurgen Klopp's only real problem right now.

Roberto Firmino capped his stellar outing with a well-taken strike to give Liverpool a two-goal lead.

FW Daniel Sturridge, 7 -- Coolly taken penalty gave the Reds a deserved first-half lead, and other attempts on goal showed his quality. His mere presence kept United honest at the back and Klopp wisely rested him for what's bound to be a tempestuous, demanding return at Old Trafford.

Substitutes:

MF Joe Allen, 8 -- Bolstered Liverpool's midfield effort in the home strait by helping to stifle United's play, which at that time was causing some concern for the home fans. Got forward well, too. Short but decisive contribution from the Welshman.

FW Divock Origi, NR -- Perfect last 10 minutes, chasing down lost causes into the corners against tiring defenders. Exactly what a manager wants from his late substitute.

Steven Kelly writes about Liverpool for ESPN FC and has a weekly Liverpool column for The Irish Examiner. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.

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