Manchester United not only opened a five point lead over Liverpool in the race for Champions League football after running out 2-1 winners yesterday at Anfield, but they also brought the Reds run of 13-matches without a loss to a crashing halt. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was completely avoidable.
Juan Mata opened the scoring as Brendan Rodgers side, reminiscent of their win over Swansea City earlier in the week, got off to a slow start with their first half performance far below par. Steven Gerrard, making what will very likely be his last appearance against the Red Devils, replaced the injured Adam Lallana at the break only to be sent off less than 40-seconds after the re-start for an ugly, wholly unnecessary stamp on Ander Herrera as the two clashed in the middle of the park following a poor challenge from the Spaniard.
At this stage of the game, no one cares how you do it as long as it gets done. It was ugly at times, but a win earlier tonight saw Liverpool not only keep pace with fourth placed Manchester United, but record their fifth win in as many outings to make sure their momentum remained steady ahead of this weekend’s showdown.
To be fair though, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that the outcome and not the performance will be repeated come Sunday with Swansea City looking the more likely to take the points — and just about everything else — for large swathes of the match. Jordan Henderson’s deflected winner, his third in as many Premier League games, may have kept their pony in the top four race, but their lack of composure in the first half had the Anfield outfit looking fit for the glue factory rather than the winners circle.
We’ve gone from being nine points off the Champions League places during the festive period to being a mere two at the end of February. There’s no games in hand to pad those numbers and no creative number crunching either — that’s cold, hard mathematics.
It was contentious at the worst of times and nerve racking at the best, but a first half wonder-goal from Philippe Coutinho and a predatory strike from Raheem Sterling were enough to give Liverpool victory over Southampton earlier today in a match that was marred by controversy. The hosts had no less than three penalty shouts waved away in the first half by referee Kevin Friend, and though they may feel aggrieved not to see at least one go their way, in the end they failed to create too much in the way of real danger from open play despite enjoying the majority of the ball on a rain soaked evening on the South coast.
They had to find the lead on three separate occasions, but Liverpool overcame a battling Tottenham Hotspur team who had twice pulled themselves back to level terms to push this one to the end.
The Reds are now within a point of the North London side in the race for Champions League football and have stretched their unbeaten streak at Anfield to an impressive seven matches. Lazar Markovic got the ball rolling a quarter of an hour in with his second league goal of the season only to see man of the moment Harry Kane equalize ten minutes later. Steven Gerrard provided the go ahead from the spot after Danny Rose clattered Daniel Sturridge, but the visitors pulled level when Mousa Dembele bundled in Kane’s cross from a seemingly offside position to set up both a dramatic finale and an unlikely hero.
It was hardly the blood and thunder spectacle one has come to expect from the Merseyside Derby; scoreless at the final whistle, the rather tame effort at Goodison Park stands in sharp contrast to this very fixture last year that brought more heart-stopping moments than I care to recount.
This latest incarnation, despite being Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s last, quite often failed to register a pulse. Surprise inclusion Jordon Ibe’s woodwork rattling effort from distance and Simon Mignolet’s fine save from a Seamus Coleman shot — Everton’s first and only on target as stoppage time loomed — were two of the only items of any real note as the Reds kept their good run of form alive, but failed to show too much in the way of attacking incisiveness heading into an important meeting with Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.