Man United beat Liverpool without Ronaldo, Maguire to kick-start the Ten Hag era in style
5: 37 PM ET
James OlleySenior Writer, ESPN FC
MANCHESTER, England — Goals from Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford helped Man United shrug off a tumultuous start to the season and beat Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford to re-ignite their campaign. Mohamed Salah scored a consolation inside the final 10 minutes to give the hosts some nervous moments, but the victory is vindication for United boss Erik ten Hag as he tries to turn around a club in disarray.
Here is our reaction to Monday’s feisty Premier League clash at Old Trafford.
Around 10,000 supporters gathered outside Old Trafford before kick-off, attempting to force lasting change at Manchester United by protesting against the Glazer family’s ownership, yet Erik ten Hag showed he could shake things up much sooner once the teams were announced.
Dropping both your club captain and your iconic centre-forward for a game of this magnitude takes some self-belief, but United lined up without Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time since Jan. 15. In fact, it was only the fourth Premier League game since Ronaldo rejoined United from Juventus last summer, and the difference in performance from their insipid defeat at Brentford could hardly have been starker as Ten Hag secured his first career Premier League win.
Perhaps it was the protests stirring the soul. Perhaps it was the identity of the opposition, whose supporters arrived with Avram Glazer pictures chanting “Up the Glazers” as Liverpool sought to extend their recent dominance over United. But either way, United kick-started the Ten Hag reign with a performance full of hunger, discipline and counter-attacking quality that had been almost entirely absent in their opening two games.
United supporters have wanted an exciting vision of the future for a long time – could it come without Ronaldo and Maguire more often?
2. Sancho and Rashford come alive
Both Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford have endured such miserable form of late that their hopes of making England’s World Cup squad hang by a thread these days. Sancho has often struggled for composure in front of goal, but he showed plenty of it after 16 minutes at Old Trafford, collecting Anthony Elanga’s low cross in a central position in the box. Realising he had time, Sancho dropped his shoulder to evade the lunging James Milner before side-footing past Alisson for his first United goal since March 6.
Rashford spent the summer working on his fitness in an effort to reignite his career, but given a start through the middle, he appeared short of confidence and wasteful in front of goal as United failed to translate their superiority to the scoreline beyond Sancho’s strike. That was until substitute Anthony Martial, on for Elanga at half-time, sent Rashford clear, and he slotted a cool finish inside the near post for his 60th Premier League goal. He is only the tenth United player to reach that landmark.
There is a long way for both to go — the same with United collectively — but the revival had to start somewhere and here were two performances both could build on.
3. Pressure’s on Liverpool to re-enter the transfer market as slow start continues
The list of Liverpool absentees was a clear concern before kick-off: Caoimhín Kelleher, Ibrahima Konate, Joel Matip, Naby Keita, Curtis Jones, Thiago Alcantara, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diogo Jota, Calvin Ramsay and, of course, the suspended Darwin Nunez. Jurgen Klopp will no doubt continue to argue that Liverpool possess enough quality to consistently reach the same level of performance as last season, but even without players missing, this was still a line-up that should have produced far more than they did here.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defending was suspect once again, particularly in the first half. Elanga caused the right-back problems throughout, setting up Sancho’s opener. Liverpool also missed Sadio Mane, not just for his quality in the final third, but in the way he used to set the press without the ball. Nunez showed great promise prior to his red card against Crystal Palace and the injury picture will ease before long, but two points from their opening three games will heighten pressure on Liverpool to enter the market before deadline day — perhaps most obviously in midfield, where they were out-fought and out-thought by United.
They have a habit of waiting for preferred targets rather than bolstering numbers, a method that has been the foundation of their success. But 10 days of temptation awaits them.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David de Gea 8; Diogo Dalot 7, Raphael Varane 8, Lisandro Martinez 8, Tyrell Malacia 7; Christian Eriksen 7, Scott McTominay 7; Jadon Sancho 8, Bruno Fernandes 6, Anthony Elanga 7; Marcus Rashford 7.
Subs: Anthony Martial 7, Fred 6, Aaron Wan-Bissaka 6, Cristiano Ronaldo 6, Donny van de Beek 6.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson, 6; Trent Alexander-Arnold 5, Joe Gomez 6, Virgil van Dijk 5, Andy Robertson 6; Harvey Elliott 6, Jordan Henderson 5, James Milner 5; Mohamed Salah 7, Roberto Firmino 6, Luis Diaz 5.
Subs: Fabinho 6, Fabio Carvalho 7, Kostas Tsimikas 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Lisandro Martinez
Endured a difficult start to his United career. but he epitomised the team’s aggression and determination here. It was a close call between him and Varane for the honours, but marked a fine effort from the pair given the extra scrutiny arising from Maguire’s omission/
WORST: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Given a torrid time early on by Elanga and unable to use the ball as effectively as he so often does going forward.
Steve Nicol criticizes Liverpool’s back line and explains why Virgil van Dijk did not meet expectations in their loss to Manchester United.
Highlights and notable moments
Before the game, Man United were able to introduce their new signing, former Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro, and manager Ten Hag was all too willing to let the media know his lineup decisions before the match. Turns out he was right this time…
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 22, 2022
Meanwhile, the small contingent of Liverpool fans tried their best to throw United off their rhythm considering the pre-match protests, though the hosts would have the last laugh (and all three points).
Liverpool fans have brought pictures of Avram Glazer with them and are chanting: “Up the Glazers.” pic.twitter.com/o3iAFRQRgM
— James Olley (@JamesOlley) August 22, 2022
After the match: What the managers, players said
“It means a lot. Our first two games didn’t go so well and had it turn it around today. Last week hurt a lot and we knew we had to bounce back and tonight we showed the fans what we can do.
“It means a lot to all of us, you can see how the fans are reacting. We got the three points but on to the next one. We just have to produce like today in every single game. Happy we got the three points and we move on.” — Man United forward Jadon Sancho
“I said to [the players] we have to act, not talk a lot. Make sure you are a team and battle and be brave. It’s not only about spirit out of possession. Sometimes strikers think they cannot do it because they have to save their energy for offensive actions. Nowadays it’s a demand and that is what you saw. It makes me happy Rashford and Sancho scored the goals.” — Man United manager Erik ten Hag
“Two points from nine is not the start we wanted. We need to pick up our performances individually and collectively. We can’t keep this going on out there: it is easy to talk about it in the changing room but we have to go out and do it. We can’t keep conceding goals. They started better than us today. It needs to change.” — Liverpool defender Andy Robertson
“[Missing numerous players is] obviously not cool but for the game tonight, I like the line-up. I saw good performances as well tonight, obviously not good enough to win the game. But I think we all know if we score in any situation the equaliser, it would not be the biggest surprise in the world. It is a deserved draw after a start where United looked sharper than us but it was not [for] too long and in the situation, a little bit expected.” — Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Manchester United continued a remarkable streak on Monday as they’ve never lost a home Premier League game when leading at halftime. The Red Devils are unbeaten in all 305 home PL games (282-0-23 W-L-D) with the last home league defeat when leading at halftime coming in May 1984 vs Ipswich.
– Marcus Rashford scored his fifth Premier League goal vs. Liverpool, his second-most against any opponent in the league. (Leicester City is top in Rashford’s personally tally, with six goals.)
– Mohamed Salah’s consolation strike made it 10 goals for Liverpool vs. Man United in all competitions, the most in club history, breaking a tie with Steven Gerrard. Salah also continued his streak of scoring at Old Trafford, with seven goals in four straight road matches against United. It might not help him feel better about the result, but he’s scored more goals against Man United than any other opponent.
– Liverpool said goodbye to their 21-game unbeaten Premier League run on Monday, their first defeat since Dec. 28, 2021 to Leicester City.
– The victory was Man United’s first of the season and snaps a four-game PL losing streak dating back to last season — that had been the club’s longest such streak in league history, and their longest league run since 1978-79. The result also snaps Man United’s eight-game winless streak over Liverpool in the Premier League.
Manchester United: After hosting Liverpool at Old Trafford, Erik ten Hag’s side face a trip to Southampton (Aug. 27) in the Premier League followed by a Sept. 1 visit to Leicester City.
Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side get little time to rest before a pair of Premier League games over the next 10 days, with Bournemouth (Aug. 27) at Anfield followed by Newcastle’s visit on Aug. 31.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.