David De Gea superb for Manchester United in triumph at Liverpool
Wayne Rooney continued his very good recent goal-scoring form with the 1-0 winner for Manchester United at Anfield on a Sunday afternoon where his side showed none of the fluidity that they had shown on their previous visit to Liverpool, but plenty of the resilience.
United goalkeeper David De Gea was the game's outstanding performer, making saves in both halves when the game was goalless, and had Liverpool been facing anyone less gifted they would have emerged with the win. But, as it stands, United manager Louis van Gaal moves on with three points, and continues his recently-embattled tenure with his team now fifth in the Premier League.
It was one of the least-inspiring encounters between these two sides that many can remember, but as United's team coach draws away into the night, it is unlikely that too many of its occupants will care.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK David De Gea, 9 -- Quick off his line in the first half to deny Adam Lallana as he broke onto a through-ball, an early intervention which set the tone for a superb performance. His distribution was ambitious and accurate, and the highlight of his showing was a double save in the second half in which he palmed away the first shot from Emre Can and then slapped away the follow-up from Roberto Firmino with the contempt of an NBA All-Star center. United's main man, yet again.
DF Chris Smalling, 5 -- His positioning was not the best, and should probably take some responsibility for United's consistent failure at playing the ball out from the back and getting caught on the break -- especially since he is one of their quicker players.
DF Ashley Young, 6 -- Did not get forward with the same enterprise as in recent games, perhaps because he surprisingly often found himself as his team's deepest-lying player. Was solid enough in defence, if not enough of a factor in attack. Substituted late in first half.
DF Matteo Darmian, 6 -- A player whose form has stalled since those early weeks of the season, producing a reasonable performance but leaving the sense that he is capable of much more. On a couple of occasions he made promising surges down the flanks, but was otherwise subdued.
DF Daley Blind, 6 -- On one occasion in the first half Blind was so far ahead of midfield that he was pressing the centre-backs, a sign of his commitment in this fixture. Was exposed at times on the break by Liverpool's quick-breaking forwards, but recovered well enough to share some credit for the clean sheet.
MF Jesse Lingard, 5 -- Failed to impose himself on this fixture. It is unclear whether that was due to being overawed, but he was not as industrious or ambitious in his movement as he has been in recent games.
MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 6 -- Passed the ball with a bit less of his usual accuracy, but in the absence of a ball-player alongside him to bring the ball out of the back four, his physical presence and positioning prevented his team from being overrun. A vital member of this side, even when not at his best.
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MF Marouane Fellaini, 6 -- At the beginning of the game, it seemed a marvel that he would emerge without a card, or even with a match-winning contribution, but he somehow did both. He calmed down after some worrying early exchanges with Lucas Leiva, and though his decision-making was not always the quickest, he won possession back as much as almost anyone else on the field and it was his header that led to Rooney's winner. A triumph of resilience.
MF Anthony Martial, 7 -- A notable feature of a quiet first half for him was a superb tackle to dispossess Roberto Firmino, and he was similarly attentive to his defensive duties throughout. In the second half he played a more expansive game, twice making thrilling runs at the heart of Liverpool's defence. Could have opened the scoring with a shot he sent narrowly wide.
MF Ander Herrera, 6 -- Recovered from a disappointing first half where he completed only 14 passes (out of a paltry 18 attempts) and moved as poorly as he has all season. Completed passes at twice the rate in the second half, which prompted a more spirited performance from his team, and was probably a little unlucky to have been withdrawn.
FW Wayne Rooney, 7 -- A performance of true persistence from the match-winner, whose last goal at Anfield -- also decisive in a 1-0 victory -- came just over 10 years ago, in 2005. Rooney ran the channels relentlessly, almost created a goal for Martial with a smart turn and flick in the first half. Though his touch was not always precise, he managed to continue his recent scoring run, thrashing home a rebound after Fellaini's header had hit the crossbar.
MF Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, 7 -- On for Young in the 42nd minute. Must take some credit for Liverpool being much quieter down the left flank in the second half than they were in the first. A subtly impressive performance from the teenager on such a daunting stage.
MF Juan Mata, 6 -- Replaced Lingard in the 66th minute. A quiet outing, where he struggled to dictate the team's passing rhythm.
MF Memphis Depay, NR -- replaced Herrera in the 72nd minute. Did not make a contribution of note, failing to get much of say against a hard-pressing midfield.
Musa Okwonga is a football author, poet, musician, broadcaster and social commentator. He is on Twitter @Okwonga.