Clinical Manchester United increased the pressure on Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers as they capitalized on some poor defending to run out comfortable victors at Old Trafford. Rodgers – who dropped struggling goalkeeper Simon Mignolet for Brad Jones – can point to a succession of brilliant saves from United’s David De Gea and a controversial second goal from Juan Mata as significant factors in defeat. This, however, will do little to ease the growing concerns for Rodgers and Liverpool, with the memory of their thrilling 3-0 win here in March – in a sequence that almost took them to their first title in 24 years – seeming an age away. United captain Wayne Rooney gave them an early lead and Liverpool had every right to feel aggrieved when Mata headed in from a clearly offside position to take the game away from them just before half-time. Even before United took the lead, De Gea made an important save from Raheem Sterling, denying the England youngster on four occasions as well as producing three vital contributions to stop Liverpool substitute Mario Balotelli getting his first Premier League goal for the club.
It was a demoralising blow for Liverpool who, having had to replace Glen Johnson with Kolo Toure in the first half after he suffered a groin injury, replaced Adam Lallana with Balotelli at the restart. Whereas United had taken the chances that had come their way, Liverpool had wasted every opportunity, as Sterling did once more early in the second half.
United’s sixth successive league win continued United’s resurgence under manager Louis van Gaal and put Liverpool’s decline since they came so close to winning the Premier League into even sharper relief. Liverpool now trail third-placed United by 10 points. Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, intend to give Rodgers until the end of the season at least to turn matters around given the credit he still has after last season, but after a miserable Champions League campaign was confirmed by their exit at the group stage following the midweek draw with Basel, these are crucial days for the northern Irishman.
Michael Carrick, who had been immaculate, inexplicably allowed Jonny Evans’ pass to roll straight to Sterling, who hesitated, even when he seemed to have rounded De Gea, allowing the goalkeeper to get back and save. De Gea’s development into a world-class goalkeeper has been confirmed by a series of stellar performances this season and he showed his quality and reflexes again to turn Balotelli’s close-range shot on to the bar. The difference between the sides was illustrated once more as Van Persie wrapped up United’s win. Dejan Lovren scooped Rooney’s pass hopelessly into the path of Mata, who found Van Persie to score, with Jones once again on the wrong foot.