An aggregate score of 9‑0 this season is a fair representation of Liverpool’s superiority over Manchester United and the highest number of goals they have scored against their old rivals in a single campaign since 1895‑96, when United were known as Newton Heath. The tale of the two No 6s on display at Anfield encapsulated why such a chasm exists.
In the United No 6 was Paul Pogba, an expensive, richly rewarded asset who lasted 10 minutes before limping off injured, perhaps never to be seen playing for the club again before leaving on a free transfer this summer.
Wearing Liverpool’s No 6 was Thiago Alcântara, two years Pogba’s senior and radiating the kind of class, composure and vision that underpinned Liverpool’s ascent to the top of the Premier League. He would also hobble off nursing what appeared a tight left hamstring – his laughing embrace with Jürgen Klopp suggested it was not a serious blow – although that followed an 80 ‑ minute performance that left Anfield and his manager drooling.
Thiago orchestrated Liverpool’s latest humiliation of the team from Old Trafford, his disguised passes and frequent dissection of United’s hastily arranged formation adding to the sense that Klopp’s side were, to be blunt, extracting the Michael.
Alisson had set that tone as early as the third minute when executing a Cruyff turn on Bruno Fernandes inside his own penalty area. Thiago needed no encouragement to pick up the baton. The former Bayern Munich midfielder has timed the best run of form of his Liverpool career to perfection.
Ominously for Manchester City, Villarreal, Chelsea and anyone else who stands in the way of Liverpool’s pursuit of an unprecedented quadruple, several of Thiago’s colleagues have also hit their stride as the season enters its defining phase. None more so than Sadio Mané.
As in the first half-destruction of City in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday, Mané epitomized the fight, quality and relentless endeavor of the new Premier League leaders.
The Senegal striker was central to both first ‑ half goals. It was his first time ball that sent Mohamed Salah scampering through a badly exposed United defense to cross for Luis Diaz’s opener. His assist for the second was simply sublime. Receiving Joel Matip’s pass at the end of a flowing, one-touch Liverpool move Mané, his back to goal, flicked a glorious chip over a statuesque Harry Maguire into Salah’s run. Having taken so much from Egypt international in recent months – an Africa Cup of Nations title plus World Cup qualification, both with the decisive spot-kick in a penalty shootout – it was only fair that Mané gave Salah something back.
Salah’s confident finish brought him a first goal from open play since the win against Norwich on 19 February. A second completed the rout, and Salah could have had a hat-trick by the time referee Martin Atkinson called an end to United’s misery.
Salah’s timely return to the goals was an added benefit for Klopp beyond the three points he had described as the most important of Liverpool’s lives.
Thiago, Mané and Díaz were on a different level to anyone else on the pitch – as they were in the first half against City – with the carelessness and obvious lack of belief in the visiting ranks reinforcing the sense of a mismatch.
It was not merely Mané’s role in three goals that underlined his enduring value to Klopp’s team. Before sweeping home his 19th club goal of the season, finding the bottom corner of David de Gea’s net with nonchalant ease from Diaz’s cut ‑ back, his work rate had embarrassed United’s effort. The 30-year-old hassled United from first whistle to last. From the kick ‑ off he made a beeline for Phil Jones who, through no fault of his own, also showed how far from the Premier League elite his employers have fallen.
Jones was handed his second start of the season by Ralf Rangnick after what the interim manager had called an encouraging day’s training with a new three-pronged defensive shape. The formation, and Jones, were abandoned after 45 minutes. The recalled defender has been unlucky with injuries and vindictive personal criticism in recent years. His misfortune here was to be thrust into one of the most high-profile fixtures in the sport, in the midst of Victor Lindelöf and Maguire, against one of the strongest forward lines in world football.
One exchange, a minor note in the grand scheme of Liverpool’s victory, was telling. In the 19th minute Jones sprinted out of the backline to stop Mané receiving possession in the Liverpool half. Mané got there first, flicking the ball out to Andy Robertson before spinning into the United half. By the time Robertson returned the pass Mané was 20 yards ahead of Jones and pressurizing Nemanja Matic into conceding a needless corner.
Minutes later Mané was back in his own half pressurizing Aaron Wan-Bissaka into running the ball out of play for a Liverpool throw. Shortly after, he and Thiago combined to do a number on Fernandes in the buildup to a Diaz goal that was disallowed for offside.
That is what is so impressive about Liverpool and so galling for the United fans looking on aghast from the Anfield Road Stand. There is a tireless graft behind the brilliance of Klopp’s side. United have neither.