Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United: Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino hand Reds advantage
By Jack Wilkinson at Anfield
Last Updated: 11/03/16 11:19am
Liverpool took full control of their Europa League last-16 tie with Manchester United with an assured 2-0 first-leg victory at Anfield on Thursday.
Daniel Sturridge's 20th-minute penalty set the Reds on their way in the first European meeting between England's two most-decorated clubs, beating David de Gea from 12 yards after Memphis Depay was contentiously penalised for clipping Nathaniel Clyne.
After a string of fine saves, Roberto Firmino finally broke De Gea's resolve, doubling Liverpool's lead in the 73rd minute to hand the Merseysiders a potentially crucial two-goal lead to take into next Thursday's return at Old Trafford.
United's push for an away goal was drowned out by a stirring rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone', leaving them with a huge mountain to climb after Liverpool staked a strong claim to progress into the last eight of Europe's second-tier competition.
Both sides made three changes ahead of kick-off, most notably Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho returning to the starting line-up as Liverpool sought to end United's run of four consecutive victories in their last four meetings.
Yet, despite the Reds changes, it was United who almost made the perfect start, young Marcus Rashford kneeing Depay's cross wide after Alberto Moreno misjudged the flight of the ball in the opening minute.
Liverpool responded well to the early United chance, throwing bodies forward without hesitation and stoking the already raucous crowd.
The visitors looked to have withstood Liverpool's initial dominance, until both referee Carlos Velasco Carballo and his assistant adjudged Depay to have tripped Clyne in the area.
Sturridge stepped up and sent the ball past De Gea, who could not keep the spot-kick out despite getting his fingers to the ball.
It could have been two shortly after, Sturridge this time turning provider, laying the ball on for Coutinho who saw his effort blocked by United's stopper.
That was a theme that continued throughout the first half, with De Gea thwarting Sturridge's far-post volley - after Chris Smalling's miscued clearance - on the half-hour mark, before Adam Lallana's sumptuous volley three minutes before the interval was also kept out.
Liverpool went into the break with a deserved lead and, to combat that, United changed to a back three, with half-time substitute Michael Carrick sitting at centre-back after replacing Rashford.
It took United 51 minutes to muster their first, and only, shot on target, but Simon Mignolet was more than a match for Morgan Schneiderlin's low, tame effort.
Six minutes later, De Gea was on hand to again keep Liverpool at bay, pawing Coutinho's fierce half-volley away from goal before Clyne's rasping drive received the same treatment.
Reds captain Jordan Henderson spurned a good opportunity to make it two on 69 minutes, screwing wide Lallana's incisive pass.
The pressure finally told for Liverpool as Firmino pounced on Carrick's poor clearance, firing past De Gea at his near post to send the Kop into raptures 17 minutes from time.
Marouane Fellaini then spurned United's best chance of the game, heading wide on 85 minutes, as Liverpool convincingly claimed the first European bragging rights against their north-west rivals.