FEATURE: Marouane Fellaini rises to the occasion to prove he is one of Premier League's most awkward opponents: three things we learned from Liverpool 1 Manchester United 2
By Manchester correspondent Alex Stevens
Marouane Fellaini dominates in both boxes as Manchester United pull clear in top-four ‘rat race’ while Raheem Sterling has a day to forget in front of Bayern Munich scouts
Fellaini rivalled Mata for man-of-the-match
Juan Mata walked off with the man-of-the-match champagne for his two splendidly-taken goals but the contribution of Marouane Fellaini was barely any less significant.
The big Belgian was everywhere, pressing, harassing and hunting Liverpool when they were in possession, passing sharply, winning headers in both penalty boxes and causing huge problems to the hosts when he pulled on to the left flank to chest and head crosses into the path of his team-mates. Everywhere you looked, that unmistakeable afro caught the eye.
Fellaini has been an integral part of Manchester United’s revival and is surely one of the most awkward opponents in the Premier League. Just ask Emre Can, who could barely give Ashley Young any attention because he had his plate full trying to compete physically with Fellaini.
The former Everton man has been derided as a symbol of the disastrous David Moyes regime but he has proved under Louis van Gaal that he is an integral member of this United team.
Van Gaal has been criticised by going down the long-ball route in order to maximise Fellaini’s aerial prowess in recent months but when you have such a dominant force in your ranks, you would be foolish not to use it.
Van Gaal gives Rodgers a tactical lesson
Liverpool had come into this clash as the in-form Premier League team, a three-month unbeaten run built upon a three-man defensive system that has left opponents scratching their heads.
Swansea City had partially negated the threat of the Merseysiders’ attacking midfielders Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho six days earlier but United had the plan, and resources, to go a step further.
Van Gaal set his team up compactly and with strict instructions to press the Liverpool players in possession. Barely a few seconds would pass before a white shirt thundered into view. Coutinho, Liverpool’s most creative player and arguably the best in the league this calendar year, had no time or space to pick a pass.
The visitors’ intensity in the opening half-hour was the foundation of this memorable victory. Effectively, Manchester United beat Liverpool at their own game.
Rodgers will know that he was handed a tactical lesson by Dutch master Van Gaal and might now consider whether to change his system before others begin to work it out.
Raheem Sterling fails to impress in front of Bayern Munich scouts
This was an afternoon to forget for Raheem Sterling.
It might be merely a coincidence that it came after speculation about his future reached fever pitch following Rodgers’ confirmation that contract talks have been put on hold until the end of the season.
But talk of the 20-year-old being a £50million player suddenly looked fanciful as he struggled to make an impact in one of the most competitive Premier League fixtures of them all.
As revealed by Football Insider, Bayern Munich scouts were at Anfield as they continue to monitor the youngster ahead of a possible summer bid.
They would have noted Sterling’s versatility. He was deployed in the right wing-back position in the first half, briefly moved to attacking midfield and then spent the last half-hour of the match at left-back after Liverpool were reduced to 10 men. Given that many had expected him to start at centre-forward, this demonstrates what a multi-faceted player he is.
On this occasion, Sterling suffered for his own versatility. He struggled with his defensive duties in the opening period, frequently getting caught out of position as Ashley Young, Danny Blind and Marouane Fellaini played around him.
With Steven Gerrard’s sending-off making his attacking role a short-lived one, he had virtually no opportunity to do what he does best, run at defenders in the last third of the pitch.