It was always a question of how many. The best Liverpool team in decades never appeared in danger of sparing the worst Manchester United team in decades.
Liverpool showed mercy by almost declaring at 2-0, dictated by their title tussle with Manchester City and Champions League semi-final with Villarreal next week. United remain unlikely participants in that competition next season.
Yet Jurgen Klopp was relentless on the touchline and the supporters groaned at a backward pass. Liverpool responded with another two goals.
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As Klopp strode onto the pitch with the gravitas of a rock star at full-time the United players trudged sheepishly towards the away end, Many in it had already left.
“Who the f–k are Man United?” crowded The Kop. United’s players were detached in every way imaginable, devoid of communication or confrontation, which would have represented a modicum of progress.
This is the worst United side in a lifetime, fully deserving of the chorus of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ on Saturday. The surrender to Liverpool must be the most spiritless and supine by a United side recorded on film.
With ten minutes left, the away section was noticeably sparse. Yesteryear, they would have been locked in. Even the Liverpudlian stewards showed mercy in opening the exits early and some still had the misfortune to witness Mohamed Salah’s second goal and fifth past United this season.
The second-half was delayed for an inordinate amount of time as the referee Martin Atkinson’s headset was fixed and the Kop started ‘ole’ing United players’ completed passes. In the other half, Liverpool had three balls between the 11 of them. United had one.
Whether it is mentality or ability, the gulf between these two footballing institutions was not this wide during Sir Alex Ferguson’s hegemony in the 90s. The only occasion a Ferguson XI went into a match with punters wondering what the margin of victory would be was in the 2011 Champions League final against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, the only challenger Ferguson failed to beat.
This numbing period has to be a watershed moment for United. The players and staff have been rumbled. The squad has to be culled and no one in the dugout can be allowed to occupy those seats next season.
Are United truly comfortable with Darren Fletcher, ostensibly a club ambassador two years ago and now the technical director, reviving them? Fletcher and Mike Phelan, seemingly two jobs-for-the-boys beneficiaries under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, were in the away dugout.
The United supporters chanted ‘Forever and ever’ as the first-half petered out and were more upbeat in the second, Liverpool’s following strangely subdued. Early in the second-half, they sounded worried as Jadon Sancho reintroduced attacking football to his teammates. Klopp was visibly vexed and Marcus Rashford was meekly denied in a one-on-one with Alisson.
Atkinson let the game flow as United’s players briefly mirrored their bullish followers in the Anfield Road End, only tainting their support with a heinous chant about the Hillsborough disaster. As soon as Liverpool regained their rhythm, Sadio Mane slotted in on the half-volley to end the possibility of a contest.
Mane eluded the haphazard Harry Maguire. Maguire clapped the United players onto the pitch encouragingly and pumped his fists. Maguire does not lack commitment but does lack quality, lured into the trap that sprung Trent Alexander-Arnold to square for Luis Diaz in the fifth minute.
Prior to the game, Maguire had the gall to defend his constant selections despite his disaster class of a season. Prematurely promoted to captain, the great United captains were also self-critical. Maguire is too thin-skinned to keep the sinking ship afloat.
“He’s s—,” roared some Scousers as Salah hared at Maguire. “The Scousers are taking the p–s,” a reassured Kop sang at 3-0.
Ralf Rangnick, his hands stuffed into his pockets at 2-0, strode towards the dugout with an air of resignation. Like Solskjaer, he has developed the habit of emphasizing United’s impressive training performances, only for them to precede shambolic showings on matchday.
United have a knack of coming full circle in innovative ways on a monthly basis. At Anfield, their set-up was identical to the side Solskjaer fielded the last time the two teams played with the Anfield stands packed in January 2020, replete with a surprising third central defender. Even Solskjaer eked a 2-0 defeat out of that one.
The first time Phil Jones, the surprise selection, started in front of David de Gea at Anfield in 2011 United were reigning champions and Liverpool. As Liverpool’s players savored their exceptional second goal Jones vainly attempted to rally his teammates. He was hooked at half-time.
Paul Pogba sought treatment as Liverpool players mobbed Diaz after the first and the Frenchman did not last much longer. It was striking how few United supporters put their hands together for Pogba as he ambled off. Some raised their middle fingers and flicked V-signs. The Kop cackled.
Pogba should never have been starting after United supporters verbally terminated his contract on Saturday and he should now never play for United again. His withdrawal from him will raise more questions about United’s injury issues in a run-in largely free of midweek matches. Liverpool, finalists in two cup competitions and Champions League semi-finalists, have a fully-fit squad.
The ‘ole’ing restarted in the dying embers. Hannibal Mejbri, channeling the spirit of Norman Whiteside in 1988, left Jordan Henderson prone and was spared a red card out of sympathy due to the scoreline.
Liverpool were never going to spare United.