This Liverpool just can’t be stopped. Mohamed Salah scored a hat trick as the Reds thrashed their rival 5-0 at Old Trafford, handing Manchester United one of its worst defeats in recent memory. Salah became the first opposing player to score a hat trick at Old Trafford in Premier League history.
The thing is Liverpool weren’t even that good for a lot of this game. Certainly they had been much better against Watford, their passing through midfield a fair deal crisper and Trent Alexander-Arnold all the more devastating. Were it not for the 15 minute period midway through the first half when the visiting engine room began to splutter, this could have been so brutal a drubbing that referee Anthony Taylor would felt compelled to stop the fight.
Undefeated Liverpool (21 points) is now just two points behind Chelsea (22 points) for the top spot in the Premier League, while United is winless in four league matches and stuck in seventh place on 14 points, eight points off the pace after just nine matches in the season.
The visitors scored all five goals by the 50th minute, but the result was marred by a 60th-minute red-card tackle from Manchester United’s Paul Pogba on Naby Keita, which resulted in the Liverpool player being stretchered off the field. Pogba was introduced at halftime and lasted just 15 minutes.
“The result is insane. I’ve asked already and no one can remember something like it and it’s going to take a while for it to happen again,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said postgame. “The boys put a nice piece in the history books … That’s really special, but it’s now not the moment for me where we celebrate like crazy out of respect for the opponent.”
Liverpool had two goals after just 13 minutes and they inflicted damage down the right side. The first goal was scored after just five minutes as Salah fed a wide-open Keita for a simple finish. Then eight minutes later, it was Keita feeding Trent Alexander-Arnold who served up a perfect cross for Diogo Jota’s sliding finish.
Salah went on to score the next three for Liverpool, putting home a cross by Keita in minute 33. Just before halftime, he got a second as Jota fed him in open space on the right. He netted his third right after the break, chipping goalkeeper David De Gea on a fantastic through ball from Jordan Henderson. Salah now has 10 goals in nine Premier League matches and 15 in 12 matches across all competitions.
The contrast was stark. It is easy to paint United against Liverpool, Solskjaer against Klopp, as a battle of individualism and the collective, but to do so is to diminish the quality of so much of the team in white today. In Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and maybe seven others, the visitors had the better individuals. They existed in a system that heightens their qualities and mitigates their flaws. This is the natural outcome.
It was hard to know exactly what United were intending to do to stop Liverpool creating chances. Were they pressing? On occasion Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood seemed to commit to it but Cristiano Ronaldo’s sole notable defensive contribution to the first half was a stamp on Curtis Jones that was rather more offensive, though some how didn’t end up with him seeing a red card.
Those United wide forwards did not drop back as others did. That left huge tracts of land for Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson to advance into. Two of the first three goals came from spaces down the right vacated by Luke Shaw, who had been dragged infield by the weight of numbers committed to central areas by the Liverpool attack.
It took Paul Pogba’s red card in the 60th minute for Solskjaer to plug those gaps by switching to a five man defense. Alexander-Arnold had already laid one on for Diogo Jota by then as had Naby Keita for Mohamed Salah, both low crosses from acres of space down the right to be tapped in at close range. For each goal it felt unreasonable to blame Shaw, who had no choice but to deal with the problems on his inside shoulder.
One would sympathize with the manager if this were not the exact issue that they had faced four days ago against Atalanta. And four days prior against Leicester. Ahead of the match it felt inevitable that Solskjaer would change something because any top tier manager would look beyond the result, assess the opponent’s strengths, his side’s weaknesses and do what he could to mitigate them. There was no evidence whatsoever of United adapting to their opposition.
Liverpool is back in action in midweek in Carabao Cup Round of 16 action against Preston North End. That will be followed by a Matchday 10 Premier League match against Brighton. Man United is already eliminated from the Carabao Cup and next travels on Saturday to face Tottenham, which is one place above the Red Devils in the standings.