Bruno Fernandes’ fantastic free-kick helped Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to a memorable first victory against Liverpool as the playmaker’s set piece practice on the eve of the clash paid dividends.
Sunday’s FA Cup fourth-round encounter at Old Trafford was a far cry from last weekend’s tense goalless draw at Anfield between the reigning Premier League champions and current leaders.
Mohamed Salah opened the scoring for Liverpool, only for goals from Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford to turn the tie on its head.
Salah brought Jurgen Klopp’s men level but second-half substitute Fernandes’ 78th-minute free-kick sealed a 3-2 victory for United.
“He’s got that quality in and around the box,” said Solskjaer. “He’s proven to give players assists or score goals.
“Today was a very good free-kick. He managed to practice a lot yesterday because wherever he starts, I tell him to go straight in. He can’t do extra free-kicks.
“Yesterday he was told that he wasn’t playing so he stayed out practising for half an hour, 45 minutes. I don’t know how long but it worked and it paid off.”
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 24, 2021
The Norwegian’s first win against Liverpool as United manager came in a gripping encounter in which his side impressed in large periods.
“It’s fantastic to win games against last year’s champions,” he said. “They’re a fantastic team.
“We’ve had good results over the last couple of years. Played different systems but this time we play on our terms as well.
“We’ve found a way we believe in, the players believe in and we’re getting stronger and stronger.
“(The) mentality to come back (from) 1-0 down, we’ve shown that so many times this season, and I feel physically as well we’re stronger and stronger and last the games much more.
“We look at the difference from a year or ago, or six months back, so you can’t take too many big strides at one point. But we’re gradually, layer by layer, getting better, winning tight games, so the morale and confidence is very good.”
A fifth-round home clash against West Ham is the reward for United, who made sure Liverpool’s difficult start to 2021 continued.
A victory against Aston Villa’s youngsters is the only win Klopp’s men have managed in their last seven matches in all competitions, but the Reds boss is taking positives ahead of Thursday’s trip to Tottenham.
“We can take positives out of this game, of course,” the Liverpool manager said. “I saw a lot of steps in the right direction.
“It was good preparation for the Tottenham game with their counter-attacking threat, so we know exactly what we have to work on.
“But it’s how it is. If you’re in a situation you don’t like, you want to get out of it – and we want to get out of it.
“For that we have to make steps. Tonight we made big steps, not the final ones but we made steps and that’s for the moment OK.”