Salah and Liverpool make history with seven-goal rout of Manchester United

Manchester United’s humiliations at the hands of their biggest rivals were supposed to have been confined to last season. But on an afternoon when Liverpool found something that has felt lost at times, sparking what they believe can be a successful push for a top-four finish, Erik ten Hag and his players were reacquainted with their worst nightmares.

This was even worse than the horrors of the previous campaign, mainly because they had made the short journey to Liverpool on a high, having lost only once in 22 matches. The 5-0 and 4-0 drubbings of last season had come when the team were on their knees, almost expecting something terrible.

The Liverpool fans demanded six, which they would get, then seven. Ditto. The craziest of occasions would finish with them asking, implausibly, for eight. That did not happen but, by then, United were broken, their second-half dereliction complete. This was their biggest ever competitive defeat to their historic rivals.

It felt ridiculous to say but United were comfortable until the 43rd minute when the outstanding Cody Gakpo scored the opening goal. Ten Hag had wanted to sign the striker in January only for him to choose Anfield. Ten Hag, who ended up with Wout Weghorst on loan from Burnley, did not want to be vindicated like this.

Despite it all, Liverpool have generally been good at home this season. Here, they were on another plane during a second-half that will live forever in the hearts of their supporters.

When Gakpo was substituted late on, he was given a stirring ovation, having scored a second goal of his own – the pick of the bunch, a delicately clipped finish. Darwin Núñez and Mohamed Salah – who became the cub’s top scorer of the Premier League era – helped themselves to two apiece as well and the rout was completed by the substitute, Roberto Firmino, who fired through David de Gea’s legs.

A delirious fan ran on to the pitch to celebrate with the players, almost injuring Andy Robertson, to earn a furious dressing-down from Jürgen Klopp as he was led away. It was the only moment of alarm. Everything else was picture perfect.

Ten Hag had been here once previously with Ajax in the 2020-21 Champions League when his team lost 1-0 in a pandemic ghost game. This was wholly different, the Anfield volume turned to maximum, England’s classic league fixture – 19 titles versus 20 – throbbing with emotion and meaning, the first message having been sent before kick-off. It was trailed behind a plane and concerned the Liverpool ownership. “FSG Out, Klopp In – Enough is Enough.”

Liverpool have always finished in the top four during Klopp’s full seasons with them; they cannot imagine not being in the next edition. They expect it. With the title most likely out of reach for United, there had been the argument that this showpiece was more important for the home team. How they would feed off the intensity of the crowd.

It was a slow burning start, heavy on physicality, much of it directed at Salah. United were determined not to give him an inch. Salah radiated menace.

Liverpool sought to get their full-backs high and there was a nice moment on 23 minutes from Robertson when he crossed towards Núñez after playing a give-and-go with Harvey Elliott. Lisandro Martínez thudded into Núñez to put him off. It was a warning to United of Robertson’s threat.

For Ten Hag, the real reference point had been his first meeting with Liverpool as the United manager at the beginning of the season. After the opening losses to Brighton and Brentford, there had been a good deal of apprehension among the club’s fans and, perhaps, that made the 2-1 win even more satisfying. For Liverpool, this was revenge.

United flickered on the counter-attack as the first-half wore on. Ten Hag had started with Weghorst as an unorthodox No10 – which again did not work – and Bruno Fernandez wide left. It was so that he could accommodate Marcus Rashford up front and try to use his pace in behind the Liverpool defence.

Rashford almost got onto a Luke Shaw ball from the left moments after United’s big chance of the first-half, Fernandes heading just wide from a Diogo Dalot cross. United were in the game. And then they were unhinged. Savagely so.

When Alisson swept a pass out to Robertson, Dalot was drawn towards him and Fred did not cover the space in behind, which Gakpo, drifting to the left from his starting central position, saw was there to exploit. Robertson’s through-ball took out Fred and it was over to Gakpo, who sliced inside Raphaël Varane, just too quick for him. The finish was steered unerringly into the bottom corner.

Liverpool turned the screw at the start of the second-half and it was a golden period for them, the memories of last season flooding back, United at sixes and sevens defensively. It was unusual to see Martínez losing his individual battles. Shaw would completely lose his composure, although he was not the only United player to do so.

Liverpool’s second goal followed a strange period of United looseness in their defensive third. They could not get hold of the ball and when Fabinho floated it left for Salah, his cross hit Shaw and broke for Elliott, who hammered it back across. There was Núñez to glance home.

Gakpo’s second was a beauty, following a Salah move on Martínez, who slipped at the crucial point and Anfield gorged itself thereafter. Robertson and Ibrahima Konaté had blown huge chances when Liverpool broke, Núñez playing in Salah for 4-0, United’s last line all over the place.

Núñez got his second with a glancing header from Jordan Henderson’s cross and the late one-two punch merely salted United’s gaping wounds, Salah whipping home after Shaw’s clearance had come back off Firmino before Firmino enjoyed his moment.


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