FA Cup Match Review: Man Utd 4-3 Liverpool

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FA Cup Quarter Final: Man Utd 4-3 Liverpool

In an ITV interview during the build-up to this FA Cup quarter-final, Jurgen Klopp quipped that there are no guarantees in life, just opportunities.

Therefore, it was ironically heartbreaking that missed opportunities cost Liverpool in their bid for another Wembley trip. For Liverpool supporters, there can hardly be a more gut-wrenching moment.

It was not only because the Reds needed to capitalize on their dominance in the second half; they missed opportunities, which we would deeply regret.

It was also because we suffered a dramatic loss against our fiercest rivals during this yet absorbing encounter, which for long looked within our grasp.

The Merseysiders could have been more clinical in their finishing, making it count in the scoreline during that dominant second half. 

This would have later spared us from being 3 minutes short of qualification during normal time or from questions being raised about the players' decision-making during extra time. 

Our pain was, therefore, made more excruciating after having come that close to the high of being within touching distance of going through before eventually crashing to the low of elimination.

There is a so-called curse of Liverpool not winning an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford since 1921. This added to the intrigue when it was thrown into the match build-up, which inevitably also brought up the contrast in the recent forms of the two teams.

Liverpool came on the back of an emphatic Europa League 6-1 trouncing of Sparta Prague in midweek despite having all but ensured qualification one week before. That was in addition to a no less dominant second half over Man City in the league last Sunday.

So, when Man Utd took the lead in the 10th minute, there was hardly any panic as Liverpool had made it a habit this season of starting slowly before bouncing back.

Caoimhin Kelleher blocked an Alejandro Ganarcho attempt from the left, but Scott McTominay was on hand to follow up with a straightforward tap-in to open the score.

Our Irish keeper had a busy afternoon on this St Patrick’s Day. On the 35th, he was again called into action for a 20-yard attempt by Bruno Fernandes. One minute later, he stunningly denied a point-blank range shot by McTominay again.

As we have seen on numerous occasions, Liverpool gradually grew into the game as the clock ticked on, with attempts driven mainly by Dominik Szoboszlai. The Hungarian created chances for Andy Robertson and Joe Gomez who unfortunately shot above.

Turnaround in 3 minutes

On the current course of play, it was likely that Liverpool would score. Effectively, Wataru Endo put the ball at the back of the net on the 37th, but Mo Salah was VAR’ed offside during the build-up.

However, this was just a foretaste of things to come 7 minutes later. Jarell Quansah did an incredible impression of Joel Matip, rampaging down the right wing before cutting back to Darwin Nunez who teed up Alexis Mac Allister to equalize.

Three minutes later, Liverpool turned the contest around. Joe Gomez dispossessed Fernandes on the right, and his cross was defended into the path of Luis Diaz, who laid it to Nunez. 

The Uruguayan’s shot was saved by André Onana, and who else than the Egyptian King to follow up on the rebound with his right foot this time; he has now scored eight goals at Old Trafford.

With half-time looming, Jurgen Klopp signalled to his players to calm down and focus on keeping control of the 1-2 lead until the break of an already topsy-turvy game.

On the other hand, the Man Utd players looked somewhat shaken by the manner of Liverpool’s turnaround. They would continue to be so in the second half.

Apart from a 53rd-minute Fernandes cross from their left, which Quansah deflected out of Ramus Hojlund’s reach, the United players fell back on the sitting deep tactic they employed in the goalless draw at Anfield last December and pinned their hopes on counter-attacking opportunities.

Liverpool took advantage of the situation, launching waves of attempts, especially by Nunez whom Onana denied three times. Szoboszlai, Salah and Diaz also had a go, but they should have been more convincing in their attempts. 

It felt more like Liverpool were trying to walk the ball into the net, a style similar to Arsenal's at the start of this century, instead of employing more oomph to kill the game.

This eventually turned out to be a risky case of opportunities lost. Cody Gakpo was dispossessed in midfield on the 87th minute and Man Utd substitute Anthony of all people finished the counterattack by drilling past Kelleher. Realistically, this was their first attempt since Fernandes on the 53rd minute.

With extra time now on the cards and tired legs clearly showing, the proverbial uncertainty of the FA Cup suddenly vaulted to the forefront with the abrupt realization this can go either way.

Harvey Elliot still had time to crash one against the post on the 88th, while Marcus Rashford’s big opportunity came in the fourth minute of added time during a one-on-one with Kelleher, with his shot flying just wide.

Extra time

Unlike the second half, Man Utd regained some ascendancy in extra time to make the contest look more balanced. In other words, the hefty Liverpool schedule of late, compounded with the absence of numerous senior players through injury, was making this one game too far for the Reds.

Nonetheless, Elliot managed to regain the lead with an outside-the-box shot in the 105th minute. He went to celebrate with Pep Lijnders and Klopp, presumably validating their instructions for him to shoot from a distance instance of trying to walk the ball in.

If the home side came back during the dying moments of the second half, they would do so again towards the end of the second period of extra time.

Under the probable weight of mental fatigue, Darwin Nunez inexplicable tame pass in midfield on the 112th was intercepted and McTominay fed Rashford to slot it past Kelleher. 

As penalties beckoned at 3-3, a Liverpool corner cleared by the home defence could only result in hesitation between Elliot and Endo. Amad Diallo seized the opportunity to start a swift counterattack which he finished past Kelleher at the other end.

What would now be billed as an FA Cup classic has been made even more heartbreaking for the Liverpool camp by the sight of their fiercest rivals jubilating with a Mentality Monsters-style win.

But this is far from the end of Liverpool’s aspirations this season. We are still in strong contention in the Premier League and Europa League.

For our opponents of the day, this FA Cup tie was their do-or-die moment in terms of hoping to win anything this term, and they got the rub of the green on St Patrick’s Day with missed opportunities and uncharacteristic errors from a normally reliable Liverpool team.

Or is the luck more with Man City who in their bid for a second treble, will surely relish a possible FA Cup final against their neighbours far more than against Liverpool?

In his post-match conference, Klopp said he could not have asked for more from his players and added there are now one or two less games to contend with in an already busy home stretch for Liverpool.

The Mentality Monsters are now facing a renewed challenge. They have to dust themselves off from this huge disappointment and go again. While only a few are huge fans of international breaks, the one next weekend is actually a welcome opportunity to get this out of the system.

Mike Chung.