van Persie 72'
The differences between the two sides was perfectly encapsulated in the 12th minute. Liverpool had started with a completely different system featuring pace up front and Liverpool had started well, mainly thanks to the return of high pressing in United's half. That good play culminated in a 12th-minute break between Lallana and Sterling, ending with the latter one-on-one with De Gea from seven yards out. De Gea made the save.
40 seconds later, United tore down the pitch. Valencia, up against Joe Allen and Adam Lallana as Moreno failed to get back, nutmegged Allen to go clear down the right. Neither Gerrard nor Coutinho tracked Rooney's run from deep, his shot from the top of the box perfectly placed, with Brad Jones diving in the opposite direction just to add an extra level of haplessness to the situation.
Manchester United have natural goalscorers. Liverpool do not. Last season aptly demonstrated how having fearsome goalscorers can paper over other failings. Last season is long, long, long gone.
Over the course of the match, Liverpool had six outstanding chances to score, arguably better than anything they've created over the last month. Three for Sterling, three for Balotelli. All six from deep inside the box, four with the Liverpool player was one-on-one with the keeper, and that doesn't include a free header from Jordan Henderson from 10 yards out that was off-target. David De Gea saved all six. Sure, two of those chances came after United were already ahead by three. But Liverpool had an awful lot of excellent opportunities to score today, and Liverpool couldn't take a single one of them. And while De Gea was deservedly man of the match, it's not as if any of the six – aside from one on Balotelli – was an especially difficult stop.
Meanwhile, Brad Jones dove the wrong way on two of United's three goals. We've already covered the mistakes on United's opener, Mata was three yards offside on the second, and Liverpool were cut open on the break when piling men forward for the third, with the added bonus of a failed interception from Lovren who subsequently played van Persie onside.
You could make the argument that this was Liverpool's second-best performance of the season. I'm not necessarily sure that's the case – Liverpool wasn't bad in the 1-3 at City, Liverpool deserved all three points in the 1-1 draw against Everton (notice how Liverpool failed to win either of those matches too) – but it wasn't far off. Both Sterling and Balotelli got into good scoring positions; Sterling, Gerrard, Markovic, and Lallana all demonstrated more creativity than we've seen of late. Liverpool started quickly, Liverpool pressed well.
And Liverpool still lost 0-3 to their biggest rivals. Because Liverpool couldn't finish the excellent chances they created and Liverpool still does very dumb things in defense, not helped by a terrible decision from the linesman on the crucial second goal.
So even if Liverpool were better – and better is very much a relative term – Liverpool's strikers and Liverpool's defenders and Liverpool's goalkeepers are not very good, and certainly not as good as Manchester United. And that's why Liverpool lost. And it's why Liverpool will continue to lose matches until those issues are rectified, whether by continuing to tinker with personnel and formation, whether by bringing back currently exiled or injured players (*looks at Sakho, looks at Borini, looks at Sturridge*), or whether it's in the January transfer window.
But Liverpool really need to fix things soon.
Fun fact: After briefly inching above the 2010-11 season results in recent, today's loss means Liverpool are again behind Hodgson's pace.— Liverpool Offside (@LFCOffside) December 14, 2014