Three Points: Man United rout Liverpool at Old Trafford
MANCHESTER, England -- Wayne Rooney opened the scoring and David de Gea turned in a superb performance as Man United routed Liverpool 3-0 on Sunday to make it six wins from their last six league games. Here are three observations from Old Trafford ...
1. Liverpool wilt again during a crucial spell
A defining 12-day spell is going disastrously for Liverpool. They have already exited the Champions League courtesy of Basel. They could depart the Capital One Cup when they face Bournemouth. Their next league opponents are Arsenal. They threaten to go into free fall.
Having finished 20 points ahead of Manchester United last season, they are now 10 behind them. And, lest it be forgotten, this is a United side that made their worst start to a season in the Premier League era.
Now, Louis van Gaal's side are on course for a top-three finish after reeling off six straight wins. Having lost 3-0 to Liverpool in March, they won by the same score on Sunday thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie. Not that United were particularly impressive; the damning element for Liverpool is that they did not need to be.
There were moments when Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini resorted to some rudimentary and illegal methods to halt Liverpool runners. Evans almost gifted the visitors a goal, too. The only truly convincing member of their rearguard is David de Gea, who produced another outstanding display.
He won a personal duel with Liverpool's makeshift striker -- Brendan Rodgers had decided to start without a professional centre-forward -- whenever Raheem Sterling showed his capacity to find space in the United box. The 20-year-old just wasn't clinical when presented with chances. Four times De Gea denied him; the first came seconds before United broke away and scored their opener. Rooney's finish was altogether more composed and just as assured as Antonio Valencia's cutback.
On the fourth occasion, Evans provided a defence-splitting pass -- sadly for him, it split his own defence -- and Sterling, through on goal, still could not defeat De Gea.
Liverpool made mistakes and suffered from misfortune. Mata should have been flagged offside when he headed in Rooney's cross because Van Persie had flicked it on. Liverpool are out of form and out of luck. Yet it is hard to sympathise when they make errors as embarrassing as Dejan Lovren's. The 20 million-pound man's mis-kick allowed Mata to set up Van Persie for the easy third goal.
The costly Croatian started in a new shape as both managers had begun with a back three, a rarity in this fixture. Louis van Gaal is starting to get results with the formation he deployed at Arsenal and Southampton, while Rodgers, who abandoned his no-striker policy to bring on Mario Balotelli, is not. Whatever he's trying isn't working.
2. Rodgers' decisions backfire again
For the second time in 2014, Rodgers made major decisions ahead of a trip to Old Trafford. In March, he selected Sterling at the tip of a midfield diamond. This time he named the 20-year-old as a lone striker, but made an even more telling switch at the other end.
The Northern Irishman suggested before the game that Simon Mignolet was rested. It may have been the diplomatic explanation and it may have been accepted in another fixture, but players are not rested for Manchester United against Liverpool. They are dropped. It is as simple as that. After a wretched season to date, Mignolet lost his place.
Enter Brad Jones. It did not prove an inspired move as the Australian conceded before he saved a shot. Indeed, it hardly reflected well on him that he dived the wrong way when Rooney put United ahead. Even Mignolet sometimes guesses right. If the second goal was not his fault, he fell over seconds before Van Persie scored the third. He looked every bit a stopgap stopper.
The very fact that he played was another indication of Liverpool's poor planning. They recruited nine players in the summer but no goalkeeper. Other clubs have distinctly better second-choice keepers. Chelsea's deputy, Petr Cech, is one of the best in the league in his own right. Arsenal signed a World Cup quarterfinalist in Colombia's David Ospina. Tottenham have Michel Vorm, Manchester City Willy Caballero and even Crystal Palace the underrated Wayne Hennessey. Liverpool have Jones, who wouldn't get on the bench at any of those clubs.
A goalkeeper should be on their January shopping list but as they also need a centre-back and a striker, that list is looking rather crowded. But as United have perhaps the best goalkeeper in the division, the value of a superb shot-stopper was clearly illustrated.
3. United win thanks to 'old' signings
Should United finish in the top four, as looks increasingly likely, expect to hear the suggestion that England's biggest spenders have bought their way back into the Champions League. Yet Sunday's win owed nothing to their record spend -- 152 million pounds ($238 million) -- in the summer of 2014.
Consider the starting 11. These were all players Van Gaal inherited: two graduates of the youth system, two of David Moyes' signings and seven players purchased by Sir Alex Ferguson, who was in attendance. The out-of-favour pair of Ander Herrera and Radamel Falcao began on the bench -- although both made cameo appearances -- while Marcos Rojo, who was hurt in training on Saturday, joined Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and Luke Shaw on the injured list.
These were the players Moyes had last season, albeit assembled in a different formation and coached by a more skilled tactician. That Moyes' last meeting with Liverpool ended in the most emphatic of 3-0 defeats and Van Gaal's first competitive clash resulted in a competitive win highlighted the difference in the two eras.
The Dutchman is proving adept at finding uses for his predecessors' players. In one case, for Moyes' most-maligned buy.
Fellaini endured an awful start against Liverpool and was dreadful at Southampton on Monday but has proved a useful player for Van Gaal in his own, ungainly way. Ashley Young has let no one down during his recent run at left wing-back or even left-back, and Valencia, another of the wingers who performed so dismally for Moyes, set up Rooney's goal.
Rodgers can argue that his team, too, was comprised largely of last season's players as only three newcomers started (even that is more than the one, Rickie Lambert, who began against Ludogorets last month). Yet that is another sign of bad buying rather than the resourcefulness to prosper with the existing staff.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.