Liverpool suffered a damaging 2-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United, in a feisty encounter at Anfield.
Two goals from Juan Mata sealed the victory that moves Louis van Gaal’s side five points ahead of the Reds in the fight for Champions League qualification, on an afternoon that will be remembered for Steven Gerrard’s sending off less than a minute after being brought on as a half time substitute.
Daniel Sturridge pulled a goal back for the Reds with more than 20 minutes to play, but the damage had already been done. Simon Mignolet saved a stoppage time penalty from Wayne Rooney to prevent United adding a third.
Brendan Rodgers fielded the same side that won 1-0 at Swansea, and once again it was a poor first half display as had been the case in south Wales.
On this occasion the Reds were made to pay however, as United were rewarded for their early dominance when Juan Mata finished cooly in front of the Kop after being played through by Ander Herrera.
Liverpool struggled to find any sort of rythm to their passing, with Louis van Gaal’s side clearly on top. They did have a golden opportunity to level the game on 32 minutes however, when Daniel Sturridge played the ball into the path of Adam Lallana after a fine cross from Jordan Henderson. Lallana missed the target however with only De Gea to beat from just inside the box.
After a late improvement in the first half, Brendan Rodgers introduced Gerrard in place of Lallana at half time. In a crazy 40 seconds, Gerrard played a superb cross field ball, won a crunching tackle in the middle of the park, and then inexplicably stamped on Herrera after the Spanish midfielder caught the Liverpool captain with a late challenge.
Martin Atkinson gave the Reds skipper his marching orders in what will prove to be his final appearance against Manchester United.
The closest Liverpool came to finding an equaliser came when Philippe Coutinho fired a long range strike narrowly over the bar. Whilst that would have been spectacular, what proved to be the winning goal from Juan Mata was in another league.
The Spaniard escaped the attentions of Alberto Moreno on the right flank once again, and scissor kick volleyed Angel Di Maria’s pass across the helpless Mignolet into the corner, to give Man United a 2-0 lead.
It could have been worse had Di Maria picked the right pass minutes later, but fortunatley for the Reds his cut back was behind Wayne Rooney.
Liverpool were given a lifeline when Daniel Sturridge fired past De Gea at his near post via a slight deflection off Phil Jones – who was fortunate to remain on the pitch after late challenges on Lallana in the first half and Henderson in the second only warranted one yellow card – yet the Reds struggled to create another clear chance as they ran out of steam.
Emre Can then bundled over Daley Blind in the box with two minutes of stoppage time remaining, but Mignolet guessed right and beat Rooney’s penalty out to ensure the afternoon did not become even more miserable for Brendan Rodgers’ side.