Manchester United produced an utterly unexpected 2-1 victory over old rivals Liverpool in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Monday to turn fan protests against the club’s owners into a rare night of celebration.
United’s vastly improved performance for their first points of the campaign, thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, left Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool without a victory from their opening three games and with just two points.
It was the first win for United’s Dutch manager Erik ten Hag who was rewarded for his decision to leave Cristiano Ronaldo and club captain Harry Maguire on the bench.
“I am happy with the performance but we have to bring it every game,” said Ten Hag. “Don’t just bring it against Liverpool. Every Premier League game is difficult. We need to bring it to every game. It starts, once again, with the spirit.”
In the aftermath of last week’s humiliating 4-0 loss at Brentford, it has been a week of major question marks over the club’s owners, the Florida-based Glazer family, and some fans marched to the ground in protest ahead of the kick-off calling for them to sell the club.
United’s transfer failings have also been criticised but before the match started their new arrival from Real Madrid, Casemiro, was unveiled to the fans, although the welcoming applause threatened to be drowned out by anti-Glazer chants.
That strange juxtaposition of support and protest remained throughout the game but United’s display, their best in over a year, defined the night.
Sancho put the hosts ahead in the 16th minute, showing great composure as he collected a pull-back from Anthony Elanga, left James Milner on his backside and then slotted the ball into the bottom corner.
Christian Eriksen was denied a second for Ten Hag’s side with a curling free-kick which Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker touched away from the top corner but United extended their lead after the break.
A mistake by Jordan Henderson allowed substitute Anthony Martial to send Rashford clear and the England forward kept his cool to slot past Alisson in the 53rd minute for his first league goal since January.
Henderson was part of a weakened midfield with James Milner and Harvey Elliott but Liverpool were below par all over the field.
They did however pull a goal back in the 81st minute when Fabio Carvalho’s shot was parried by David De Gea only for Mohamed Salah to react quickly and nod in the loose ball.
There was plenty for Ten Hag to be encouraged by, particularly Rashford’s return to scoring and form, but he will surely be delighted with the positive performances of two of his new signings.
Lisandro Martinez was outstanding in the centre of defence alongside the recalled Raphael Varane while Tyrell Malacia, picked ahead of Luke Shaw at left back, was tenacious throughout.
“We can talk about tactical but it is all about attitude. There was communication and a fighting spirit,” said Ten Hag.
“I wanted a different approach and a different attitude and that is what they brought on the pitch. It is only a start. We can play with much more composure and much more danger. Be a team, and have a good spirit and that is what we saw today.”
There were some late nerves for the home side after Liverpool scored but they held firm and the United fans, who had begun the night chanting against their owners, the Glazer family, went home in celebratory mood.