This is Juanfield: Mata At The Double For United

Date: Sunday, 22nd March 2015

Liverpool: 1 ( Sturridge )

Manchester United: 2 ( Mata 2 )

Attendance: 44,405

The This is Anfield sign is world famous. Set above the stairs of the tunnel as the players approach the Anfield pitch. Legend has it that if you touch the sign, you’re likely to have a good game. Juan Mata must have pretty much rubbed it.

Liverpool were on a decent run, amassing an impressive 33 points from a possible 39. United, on the other hand, were also finding form at just the right time. Louis Van Gaal’s side were two points above Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, and taking up the fourth Champions League place.

The game started with the usual high tempo from the home side. You’ll Never Walk Alone, still ringing out from the Kop when Rooney and Mata got the game underway. United weathered an early storm and started to dictate the early play. A controlled possession game which was starting to overpower Liverpool got United into their groove. A crunching tackle from Phil Jones on Adam Lallana, really setting the tone for the afternoon. Lallana would struggle to get to his feet, but no action from the referee, Martin Atkinson.

Ander Herrera found himself in acres of room and slid a delicious pass into the gap between left full back and centre back, finding the run of fellow Spaniard, Juan Mata. Mata, taking a lovely first touch into his stride, and with his weaker right foot, guided the ball low and into the far corner of Simon Mignolet’s goal. The visitors took a very deserved lead.

Liverpool, buoyed by the home support, come back at United, like wild tigers. Snapping into tackles and hurrying the Red Devils, into silly mistakes. Daniel Sturridge came closest to levelling up the match with a dipping volley, which David De Gea waved goodbye and prayed it looped over the bar and not under. It was the latter.

The half time break saw the introduction of Liverpool skipper, Steven Gerrard. Not considered fit enough to start, the Liverpool captain was called upon to rescue the game, like he had done for many many years before. Gerrard, on for Lallana, who was clearly still feeling that Phil Jones tackle, needn’t had bothered. In just 38 seconds, Gerrard had both smashed into Juan Mata, and then stamped on Ander Herrera. Martin Atkinson was having none of it. A straight red for the England icon.

United, smelling blood, threw on Angel Di Maria, in place of the tiring Ashley Young. Just as the clock ticked onto the hour mark, so came the game’s magical moment. Di Maria, with the ball at his feet on the edge of the box, saw only a wall of red Liverpool defenders in front of him. The Argentine scooped the ball up and over the defenders and into the path of Mata, who had timed his run beautifully. The Spaniard eyed up the delivery and angled his body, leaping into the side scissors position, to volley past the Liverpool keeper. The United fans were absolutely delirious.

With the game ticking down towards the last ten minutes, Liverpool were given a lifeline. Sturridge, picking the ball up on the right-hand side, fired a quick-fire shot past the inside of De Gea’s post. United were in no mood to panic though. A clumsy challenge on Daley Blind in the dying seconds gave United a chance to wrap things up. Atkinson pointed to the spot and Wayne Rooney stepped up, only to fluff his lines in his native City.

Martin Atkinson blew the final whistle on a game which literally had everything. United were now five points clear of Liverpool with only eight matches remaining. Van Gaal’s side would go on to claim that final Champions League place. This is Juanfield, Mata writing his name in United folklore.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Henderson, Allen,
Moreno (Balotelli 66), Sterling, Lallana (Gerrard 46), Coutinho, Sturridge. Subs not used: Jones, Johnson, Toure, Lambert, Lucas. Booked: Allen, Balotelli. Sent off: Gerrard.

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blind (Rojo 90), Carrick, Herrera (Falcao 83), Mata, Fellaini, Young (Di Maria 55), Rooney. Subs not used: Valdes, Rafael, Januzaj, A Pereira. Booked: Jones, Herrera.