A close-range finish from Javier Hernandez just moments after halftime was the difference as Manchester United beat Liverpool 1-0 in an entertaining Capital One Cup tie.
After the 4-1 Premier League defeat to Manchester City at the weekend, David Moyes avoided a second damaging defeat in succession after Hernandez got on the end of Wayne Rooney’s corner, as his side progressed to the fourth round of the competition at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
They will now face Norwich City, again at home.
"You really only want home draws," Moyes told Sky Sports after the draw. "Norwich are a good side, we’ll pay them every respect."
Reds boss Brendan Rodgers restored Luis Suarez—fresh off his 10-match suspension—to the starting lineup for the match, adjusting his formation to a 3-4-1-2 affair to incorporate the Uruguayan.
That enabled the visitors to dominate much of the opening 45 minutes, but it was actually only in the second half that Suarez showed flashes of his best, seeing a free-kick clatter away off the crossbar as his side struggled for an equaliser.
In an end-to-end match that saw 35 total shots at goal (18 of them coming from United), goalkeepers David De Gea and Simon Mignolet were both called into action on a number of occasions.
But the goal came from the simplest of routines; Jose Enrique losing Hernandez in the box as the wily Mexican showed great intelligence and reflexes to turn Rooney’s dangerous delivery goalward.
Visibly relieved as he left the pitch after the final whistle, Moyes sounded delighted to be able to move on from the harrowing fallout of Sunday's derby defeat.
"I think we had to bounce back and get some good results," Moyes added. "I thought it was a really good result tonight.
"I got to see some of the players I haven’t seen much of, and it’s given me some food for thought."
On Hernandez's strike, he added: "The movement is great, real centre forward movement. He’s great in the box and gets his goals. It was a great time to get the goal as well."
Moyes’ opposite number, meanwhile, will have been encouraged by how his new-look side performed in the first half, with Victor Moses operating behind the strike partnership of Suarez and Sturridge.
Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva dominated in midfield, but the visitors were unable to make the crucial breakthrough and would pay the price upon the restart.
“It was a very close game, decided on a corner at the beginning of the half,” Rodgers said. “We’re disappointed, to say the least.
“The players have given everything, We had a few days to prepare for a change of system and they did really, really well.”
The game's only goal came too soon for Moyes’ tactical tweaks to be credited with the strike, but the Scot clearly did change some things in the breaks and they did have an effect—United starting to dominate play as the game matured.
Rooney, the captain for the night, was increasingly influential. He tested Mignolet with another trademark free-kick that the Belgian did well to parry away.
But Liverpool continued to pose a threat on the break; with De Gea making one particularly fine stop to turn away Moses’ header from eight yards out as Suarez also clattered the bar.
Suarez probed De Gea with further efforts, but in general, it was noteworthy that poor decision-making scuppered many of Liverpool’s better openings.
“We created some opportunities but could not make the final pass count,” Rodgers acknowledged.
The closing stages saw Moyes make a number of changes, with Michael Carrick reinforcing the midfield area.
That enabled the home side to see out a victory that was greeted gleefully by the home supporters.
“I think the fans enjoyed that,” Jonny Evans, who impressed with his defensive organisation throughout, said afterwards. “We certainly enjoyed it.
"It was a hard game, they have been playing expansive football and I’m sure it was an entertaining match. We’re just glad we get the goal.”
Fellow centre-back Chris Smalling added: “There was a lot of doubt after the weekend. We needed to go out there tonight and put in a really strong performance and I think we did that.”
Luis Suarez: B+
The Uruguayan was clearly not at his sharpest, spurning a number of openings—particularly one in the first half, mis-controlling the ball after it had dropped over Evans’ shoulders—that he may have otherwise turned into goals.
But Suarez’s fitness appeared good, and he remained a threat as the game went on, testing De Gea with two well-executed attempts. Liverpool fans will be looking forward to seeing him return to league action, although it remains to be seen how he is reincorporated into the team’s formation.
“I thought he was excellent,” Rodgers said of Suarez’s performance. “He tired a wee bit but his actions were fantastic. I thought he did very well considering the length of time he was out.”
Jonny Evans: A-
Probably the man of the match on balance, Evans used his first start of the season to make a real statement of intent to his manager. One slip up to let in Suarez aside, the Northern Ireland international was imperious in the air, making a number of important clearances. Moyes will feel confident about putting Evans in if an injury befalls Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic.
Shinji Kagawa: C-
Given another starting opportunity by Moyes, Kagawa was wasteful in the first half—with his penchant for cutting inside causing his side to lose a lot of width. But his flashes of brilliant creativity increased in the second half, continuing to tantalise United fans with thoughts of what he could produce when on top form.
(GIFS via FeintZebra, quotes via Sky Sports' live post-match coverage)
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