Marcus Rashford scored twice in the first 24 minutes of his first start of 2018 before Manchester United held on for a 2-1 win over fierce rival Liverpool to strengthen its second place in the Premier League on Saturday.
In a typically frenetic match between England’s two biggest teams historically, Liverpool failed to handle United’s aggressive and direct start as two long balls forward resulted in goals from the 20-year-old Rashford in the 14th and 24th minutes.
Lackluster in the first half, Liverpool improved and reduced the deficit through an own-goal by Eric Bailly but couldn’t manage an equalizer, slipping five points behind United in the race for second place behind Manchester City.
Having also beaten Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford two weeks ago, United looks increasingly assured of a Champions League qualifying spot through a top-four finish. Jose Mourinho’s side is 12 points clear of fifth-place Chelsea, which played later Saturday.
It was always going to be a clash of styles on Saturday, with United famously defensively sturdy under Mourinho and Liverpool prolific going forward under coach Juergen Klopp.
Unsurprisingly, United’s tactics were hardly sophisticated - defend deeply and in numbers, and hit Liverpool with the long ball - but they worked perfectly, at least in the first half.
Liverpool center back Dejan Lovren was bullied by Romelu Lukaku, experiencing the kind of game he endured against Tottenham in October when he was embarrassingly substituted after 31 minutes.
Both of United’s goals came from Lovren being knocked off balance by Lukaku after long clearances by goalkeeper David De Gea, and Rashford took full advantage.
For the first, Lukaku held his ground as Lovren bounced off him, and flicked a header onto Rashford. The 20-year-old striker cut inside right back Trent Alexander-Arnold and fizzed in a low shot that gave goalkeeper Loris Karius no chance.
For the second, Lovren actually got his head to the ball off De Gea’s kick but stumbled to the ground under pressure from Lukaku, who collected possession and fed Juan Mata. Virgil van Dijk made an interception, but Rashford pounced on the loose ball to send in a shot that took a minor deflection off Alexander-Arnold’s heel and span into the same corner.
It was Rashford’s first Premier League double since his debut in the league, in February 2016 against Arsenal. It was his first start since Dec. 26, having fallen further down the pecking order at United following the arrival in January of Alexis Sanchez.
There was more penetration to Liverpool’s play in the second half but United’s defensive block initially stood firm, with central midfielders Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay not moving in front of the defense and playmaker Juan Mata playing as a virtual right back. It needed something special to bring Liverpool back into the game - and it came, unexpectedly, from Bailly.
Sadio Mane’s cross from the left looked harmless until Bailly tried to acrobatically clear it, but only succeeded in volleying it downward and backward into his own net.
Mohamed Salah, the league’s joint-top scorer, was fairly anonymous for Liverpool, which lost for only the second time in 21 league games.