BY AARON COOPER
Manchester United have returned to outright third in the Premier League after a 3-0 win over arch rivals Liverpool. The win extends the Red Devils’ winning streak to six matches whilst staying on the tails of second-placed Manchester City.
Goalkeeper David De Gea restated his claim as the Premier League’s ultimate shot-stopper with a standout performance.
First-half goals from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, and a sealer late on from Robin van Persie proved to be the difference in the 191st meeting between the bitter rivals.
United Manager Louis van Gaal was forced to make three changes from the team who won at Southampton, with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones combining for the first-time since September in defence in place of the injured Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo.
James Wilson started ahead of Radamel Falcao despite the Colombian deemed fit by van Gaal.
Both teams presented attacking formations, both lining up with three backs. Injuries once-again required United too play an unfamiliar back three with Michael Carrick dropping into defence upon kick-off.
Liverpool dominated territory in a tense opening stanza, locking United in their own half but could not create any meaningful chances.
A slick 12th minute counter- attack released Antonio Valencia who beat two defenders out wide before neatly directing the ball into the path of an oncoming Wayne Rooney who was all too happy to bury the ball into the back of Brad Jones’s net.
Old Trafford erupted in ecstasy five minutes before the break when Juan Mata tucked in a chance at the back post despite a suspicion of offside. A superb crossed whipped in by Ashley Young in his 250th Premier League appearance created the goal, giving the Red Devils a desired buffer zone.
Another top-notch safe from de Gea denied Raheem Sterling a near-certain goal early in the second half after a cagey back pass from Phil Jones.
The Spaniard proved pivotal once again, denying Mario Balotelli on numerous occasions from close range in what eventuated into a lone battle between the pair.
Despite Liverpool having majority of second-half possession, van Persie iced the cake for United with a simple tap-in with 20 minutes to go.
The introduction of Falcao suggested that United smelt blood in a weakened Liverpool however could not compound additional misery upon the team from Merseyside.
Van Persie attributed the win to close friend De Gea, as well as the Old Trafford faithful.
“Overall it was a very good game. David was outstanding today.
“The fans were brilliant today from start to finish. They were our 12th man as always.”
Man of the match de Gea was simply pleased to get the three points.
“(I’m) very happy to keep a clean sheet against Liverpool.
“We managed to score three goals, and it was good to get the win.”
United 3-0 Liverpool
United: Rooney 12’, Mata 40’, van Persie 71’