MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Against a backdrop of protests against the club’s ownership, Manchester United delivered a performance of intensity and spirit to beat fierce rival Liverpool 2-1 on Monday and finally claim its first points in the Premier League this season.
Composed finishes by Jadon Sancho in the 16th minute and Marcus Rashford in the 53rd earned a victory that will bring some respite for under-pressure manager Erik ten Hag, who made a huge statement in his team selection by dropping star striker Cristiano Ronaldo and club captain Harry Maguire and was validated.
Suddenly, the heat is on Liverpool — widely expected to be a title contender again this season — with Jürgen Klopp’s team still waiting for a win after three games and now languishing behind United in the standings. Mohamed Salah scored an 81st-minute consolation but it was another below-par display from Liverpool.
What is historically the biggest game in English soccer was preceded by a pre-match protest by thousands of United fans angry at the direction and state of the club under its owners of 17 years, the Glazer family.
The supporters called for the U.S-based Glazers to sell the club as they walked to Old Trafford then gathered on the concourse outside the storied stadium, in front of a large police presence. Many lingered as the match began.
The pressure was on United after losses to Brighton (2-1) and Brentford (4-0) to open the season, and the players fed off a frenzied atmosphere that seemed to affect Liverpool early on.
Lisandro Martinez, an offseason signing at center back who has come under enormous criticism in recent days, was particularly impressive and set the tone by clattering into Salah in the first minute, then barging into the Liverpool forward after getting up off the ground. Later in the first half, Raphael Varane, who replaced Maguire, virtually rugby-tackled Luis Diaz to the ground, to roars of approval from United’s fans.
Sancho’s goal came in United’s best spell of the game, the winger showing great composure to trick James Milner by pretending to shoot, cut back inside and place a shot into the corner as Virgil van Dijk stood motionless in front of him.
Old Trafford erupted again when Anthony Martial, a halftime substitute, played through Rashford and the striker sprinted toward the area before placing a calm finish inside the near post.
United had to defend stoutly at times but hung on to end an eight-match winless run against Liverpool and a losing streak of four matches in the league stretching back to the end of last season.
It’s down to United to string a run of similar battling performances together, starting at Southampton next weekend. Ten Hag will have Casemiro, whose $60 million signing from Real Madrid was completed Monday, available for that game and the Brazil midfielder was presented on the field before kickoff.
Maybe things are finally looking up for England’s biggest club.
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