Coutinho, Sakho and more sparkle as Liverpool bounce Man United from UEL
Philippe Coutinho's wonderful solo goal just before half-time settled Liverpool's nerves and ended Manchester United's comeback hopes to send the Merseysiders through to the last eight of the Europa League at the expense of bitter rivals United with a 1-1 draw on the night and a 3-1 aggregate victory.
A lively first half saw both sides create plenty of chances, but United drew first blood through Anthony Martial's penalty. Liverpool were wobbling at that point, but Coutinho's moment of magic calmed their nerves and gave United an almost impossible task.
Jurgen Klopp's side comfortably came through the second half and probably should have gone on to win the game given the chances they created. The draw was good enough to see them through and maintain their hopes of ending the season with some silverware and also a place in next season's Champions League.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Simon Mignolet, 7 -- A relatively straightforward night's work for the Belgian, who was rarely called into action. Made a decent stop to keep out a Jesse Lingard header and a routine one to keep out an effort from Marouane Fellaini. Aside from that, his night was mainly about being secure in his distribution, which he was.
DF Nathaniel Clyne, 4 -- Uncharacteristically nervy performance from Liverpool's Mr. Consistent. He was unsettled right from the start and never really got to grips with the lively Martial. He conceded a penalty when he dangled a leg and gave the Frenchman the opportunity to take a tumble. Didn't get forward much and his passing was erratic.
DF Dejan Lovren, 9 -- Absolutely outstanding performance from a player who has gone from strength to strength under Klopp. It's taken Lovren a long time to rebuild his reputation after his disappointing form last season, but supporters are now beginning to trust him, and this performance will go a long way toward cementing his place in the lineup.
DF Mamadou Sakho, 10 -- Since player ratings were introduced on ESPN FC, no Liverpool player has ever been awarded a perfect 10, but Sakho earned it on Thursday with an absolutely colossal performance. The Frenchman threw himself into challenges when necessary and stayed on his feet and nicked the ball away when the situation demanded that. His use of the ball and early passes into his attackers also caught the eye, and you'd do well to see a better central defensive performance anywhere this season.
DF James Milner, 7 -- Commendable showing from the experienced Englishman, who was not only playing out of position at left-back but only found out he'd be playing there on the day of the game. Had one or two misjudgements in defence early on but got stronger as the game progressed and rarely wasted a pass. This is exactly why managers love Milner.
MF Emre Can, 9 -- A real powerhouse display from the in-form German, typified by one brilliant run and back-heel that should have led to a goal for Coutinho. Protected his defence, supported his attack and stood tall when the pressure was on. He has really grown as a player in recent weeks.
MF Jordan Henderson, 7 -- Played second fiddle to Can but was steady enough until being forced off with illness early in the second half. Should have scored in the first half after a terrific exchange with Coutinho but put his shot just over the bar.
MF Adam Lallana, 7 -- Not flashy but very effective. Worked tirelessly up and down the right flank and was diligent in his defensive duties when it became clear that Clyne was struggling. Not as much of a factor in the final third as he has been in recent weeks, but he rarely lost possession and more than played his part.
MF Roberto Firmino, 7 -- As with Lallana, got through a lot of good work and kept possession well for the most part. Substituted late on after picking up a booking when he chased all the way back to concede a free kick and snuff out a United attack. That's the kind of work rate Klopp demands from his players, and he won't be unhappy about the yellow card.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 8 -- It wasn't looking like it was going to be a vintage night for the Brazilian, who had been very wasteful in the first half. He miscontrolled on the edge of the box to waste a great opening, and it was from his sloppy pass that United won the penalty to open the scoring. Having earlier been denied by a great save from David De Gea, out of nothing he then bamboozled both Guillermo Varela and De Gea to draw Liverpool level with an impudent finish just before half-time. Could have had a couple more in the second half, but he shot too close the keeper.
FW Daniel Sturridge, 5 -- Hit the bar with a brilliant free kick but was otherwise wasteful and disappointing. It was no surprise when he was replaced by Divock Origi on 68 minutes, although he certainly didn't appear happy about it. Liverpool looked far more effective following that substitution, though, and should have gone on to win the game.
FW Divock Origi, 7 -- Lively display and could easily have come off the field with a goal or two to his name but for the agility of De Gea. Had his name chanted regularly by the travelling Kopites, as his work rate and willing running is making him a popular figure with the fans.
MF Joe Allen, NR -- Replaced Henderson on 71 minutes and played deeper than he has been of late. Neat and tidy in possession and helped out defensively when needed.
FW Christian Benteke, NR -- Introduced for Firmino in the closing stages and showed some nice touches. His confidence looks to have returned, and he will just be hoping for more opportunities to show that he is coming into some form as the season draws to a close.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.