Coutinho class halts Man Utd comeback to clinch Liverpool quarter-final spot
Holly Thackeray | March 17, 2016
Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool (1-3 agg)
- Clyne fouled Martial to concede penalty
- France forward fired Man Utd ahead from the spot
- Coutinho levelled on the night, clinching a crucial away goal
- Liverpool snatch Europa League quarter-final place with 3-1 aggregate win
Klopp takes Liverpool to quarters
Jurgen Klopp certainly won’t mind accusations of being a cup coach, as the jovial German guided Liverpool to a Europa League quarter-final spot, at the expense of long-standing Northwest foes Manchester United.
Having already taken his riveting Reds to a Capital One Cup final, canny Klopp now has a second shot to deliver silverware and, potentially, a coveted Champions League place.
United’s Thursday night football journey now ends, though this last 16 second leg scuffle saw them instigate some of their most exciting attacking football all term in parts, as striking sensation Anthony Martial won, and then converted, a penalty to put his team ahead at Old Trafford.
It all came too little too late after their previous collapse in Liverpool, however, as a fantastic strike from Phillipe Coutinho sealed the deal for the Reds to represent English football at the business end of the competition.
Man Utd weren’t the only side to fall at this hurdle, though, as Tottenham were also dumped out of Europe, thanks to Klopp’s old club Borussia Dortmund, losing 2-1 at White Hart Lane and 5-1 on aggregate.
Martial makes it count
As expected, Man Utd had much of the initial attacking impetus, as Daley Blind and Juan Mata almost fashioned an early opening with plenty of pressure on the visiting centre backs.
Though, Nathaniel Clyne, not so rickety at right back in the first 20 minutes, cleared a toe poke over the top before lively Marcus Rashford could make meaningful contact.
Reds post protector Simon Mignolet was then called to duty, superbly pawing away an unmarked Jesse Lingard’s header from a pinpoint Marcus Rojo cross.
The resulting corner clearly showed Liverpool need to shut up shop better at set pieces, as a game of pinball seemingly took place in their box but, luckily for Klopp’s men, Mata snatched at his chance, seeing it wiggle wide.
Still, the Red Devils appeared to be revving up, as tricky feet from Rashford set marksman Martial up to cut in from the left and fire over from his right foot.
Though, the Frenchman would not be fluff his lines twice, winning a penalty as back-peddling Clyne rashly tripped him in the box. Cool as a cucumber, Martial duly converted his spot-kick chance around the 31st minute mark, much to the delight of an onlooking Sir Alex Ferguson, giving home fans hope that a fightback was on the cards.
Coutinho cracker stuns Old Trafford
Liverpool had been far from passengers up to this point, however, as Roberto Firmino fired from distance, trying his luck against David De Gea, who thwarted the Samba star’s swerving strike sensationally with one hand, before smothering the loose ball.
Then, following Martial’s game-changer, the Reds responded by surging up-field, causing a panicked Blind to stick out a trailing leg and upend dangerous Daniel Sturridge.
The revived striker cracked his subsequent curling set-piece threateningly against the crossbar, reminding the Red Devils of Liverpool’s intent, as crafty link-up play between Coutinho and Jordan Henderson then almost resulted in an equaliser, if not for the Englishman blazing wide.
In a night of close calls, rampaging Rojo was similarly culpable at the opposite end, blowing a delightful ball by Blind that Marouane Fellaini fantastically managed to keep in, sending a first time ball from the byline back into the Argentine.
It was a miscue that proved costly, swinging momentum back Liverpool’s way in an increasingly open game, as Coutinho then went on to deliver a lethal leveller and away goal just before the break.
The Brazilian beat rookie right back Guillermo Varela for pace and skill down the right flank of United’s defence, cutting in to send travelling fans delirious as he dinked the ball over De Gea to make it 1-1 on the night, in what was certainly a bitter blow for home support.
Reds rearguard frustrate rivals
Not long after the re-start, Clyne had another calamity in defence, this time hauling down a roving Rashford to gift another chance, from just outside the Reds area.
It came to nothing, but Man Utd continued to probe, forcing defender Mamadou Sakho into a delicious last ditch tackle on Rashford, before Fellaini scuppered an open header, following a characteristic Michael Carrick pumped ball from deep.
More devilish play from Rashford created gaps in Liverpool’s area, but Fellaini’s lack of quality on the finish saw the shot balloon over, as the Red Devils resistance trickled out, allowing Klopp and co to comfortably see out the scuffle on enemy turf.
On a night where two fledgling talents in Martial and Rashford were their most threatening forwards, the Red Devils must take a long hard look at their transfer policy and regain their balance before the Manchester derby, as Liverpool scamper off into the sunset with a continental crown in mind…