LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – Liverpool outclassed Manchester United but relied on two defensive blunders to win 2-0 in a high-profile all-English match in the Europa League last 16 on Thursday, with only David de Gea’s brilliant saves sparing the visitors a heavier first-leg beating.
Daniel Sturridge — from a penalty — and Roberto Firmino found a way past de Gea to make Liverpool a strong favorite to advance after next week’s return leg, as United’s players failed to handle a white-hot atmosphere at Anfield and Liverpool’s fierce pressing game.
Borussia Dortmund was the biggest winner in the first legs, justifying its tag as competition favorite with a 3-0 win over a weakened Tottenham team. Other sides with a clear advantage were Shakhtar Donetsk, which beat Anderlecht 3-1, and Villarreal, which defeated Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 at home.
Winning the Europa League was seen as United’s best chance to qualify for next season’s Champions League, having slumped to sixth place in the Premier League, but even the quarterfinals may be out of reach following another sobering loss for its manager Louis van Gaal.
Feeding off the crowd on another memorable European night at Anfield, Liverpool swarmed all over United with its aggressive pressing and should have won by more in the first European meeting between England’s two most successful clubs.
“We could not cope with their pressure,” van Gaal said.
Regularly forced into defensive duties, United forward Memphis Depay gave away the penalty in the 19th minute — felling Nathaniel Clyne as he tracked the Liverpool defender into the area. De Gea guessed the right way but Sturridge’s penalty went above the goalkeeper.
De Gea scrambled to save from Philippe Coutinho and stayed big to block Sturridge’s close-range effort and then Adam Lallana’s instinctive volley. More saves off Coutinho and Clyne followed before substitute Michael Carrick inexplicably failed to clear a cross into the box, instead popping the ball into the path of Lallana.
He squared the ball to the in-form Firmino, who beat de Gea from close range in the 73rd.