Liverpool defiant in defeat – but lessons must be learned from Old Trafford

Stunned silence swiftly turned to a booming show of defiance.

The 9,000-strong travelling throng from Merseyside had been shocked by Amad Diallo’s dramatic late winner at Old Trafford.

Liverpool’s quadruple dream lay in tatters. Hopes of a return to Wembley as part of Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour had been dashed. This painful FA Cup defeat at the hands of their arch rivals cut deep.

But as the away fans waited patiently to be allowed out around 20 minutes after the final whistle, the mood changed and the noise was cranked up once again. “We are Liverpool” was followed by a rousing rendition of the club’s anthem before Klopp’s name was chanted repeatedly.

If something had to give in Liverpool’s pursuit of perfection then at least it was this. The reality is that they are chasing bigger prizes as they eye Premier League and Europa League glory to accompany last month’s Carabao Cup triumph.

Given the injury crisis Klopp has been wrestling with in recent months it’s something of a miracle that they maintained a challenge on all fronts for so long. Now the manager must ensure that this setback doesn’t have any wider implications.

It feels like the international break comes at a good time for Liverpool. When they resume their title charge at home to Brighton on March 31, Ibrahima Konate and Curtis Jones should both be fit. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Diogo Jota won’t be far behind them.

“The more of the boys we have available, the bigger our chances are to finish the season in style,” Klopp said. “We will go for everything but first the boys have to recover.”

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Liverpool fans had been enjoying their day at Manchester United until the late twist (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Liverpool won’t have to wait long for a shot at redemption with the Premier League trip to Old Trafford coming up on April 7. Those three points are certainly more valuable to them than a place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

However, to secure them there can be no repeat of the glaring errors which blighted Sunday’s performance. Klopp’s side only had themselves to blame for this defeat and lessons need to be learned.

They made life difficult for themselves by starting so slowly and allowing United to grasp the initiative. How was Alejandro Garnacho not tracked in the build up to Scott McTominay’s opener? Sloppy in possession and far too easy to play through, Liverpool could have fallen further behind before their powers of recovery came to the fore.

“We had to organise ourselves a little bit better,” explained Klopp. “We struggled with the man-marking, we didn’t play enough, these kinds of things. In the moment when we found for the first time a way to play then we got rhythm and it looked really good.”

With Alexis Mac Allister’s equaliser swiftly followed by Mohamed Salah celebrating his 13th goal in 14 appearances against United, Liverpool had the perfect platform to kick on and show why these teams are 17 points apart in the Premier League table.

They squandered it. During a dominant second-half display, chances were sqaundered and decision making repeatedly let them down. That was underlined by the five-v-two counter-attack which was wasted after substitute Cody Gakpo led the charge. They let United off the hook and, as Klopp put it, “left the door open”.

United duly who equalised through Antony with three minutes left to force extra time, with Klopp’s decision to replace Salah with the ineffective Gakpo backfiring.

After substitute Harvey Elliott’s deflected strike put the visitors 3-2 up, Liverpool were on the brink of their first FA Cup win at Old Trafford since 1921 but there was no control. Game management was conspicuous by its absence.

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Harvey Elliott scores Liverpool’s third goal (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Darwin Nunez’s misplaced pass left them exposed in the build up to Marcus Rashford’s equaliser and then worse followed with a first ever penalty shootout between these clubs just seconds away. A Liverpool corner became a two-v-one breakaway after Elliott was dispossessed just outside United’s penalty area.

It is the first time Klopp’s side have conceded four goals in a game since the chaotic final day of last season at Southampton and it was also the first time in 46 games in all competitions in 2023-24 that they have lost after going in front.

The manager felt that fatigue was ultimately Liverpool’s undoing in extra time. This was their ninth match across four different competitions in space of 29 days and the second time they had played 120 minutes in that sequence. Legs were weary and minds scrambled late on.

“It got really hard for us,” Klopp said. “That was the first time that I really saw my team struggling. We’ve played a lot of football recently.

“We didn’t even know who to take off. The way we conceded the last two goals you can see we were not on top of our game anymore as we gave two balls away. Absolutely no criticism about that. I saw a team who understood the importance of the game and gave absolutely everything. Today it was not enough and that’s what we have to accept. Now they fly all around the world pretty much. Let’s really hope and pray they come back healthy.”

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Jurgen Klopp admitted his side looked fatigued (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

The final break of the season gives Liverpool the chance to take stock and regroup. When the action resumes it will be relentless with the stakes so high and so little margin for error. Brighton and Sheffield United at home before that revenge mission against United and then the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final with Atalanta.

Klopp had always dismissed talk of signing off with a quadruple, insisting the energy-sapping demands involved meant the odds were stacked against them. He was proved right. This was a game too far for Liverpool. They threw it away but with the bigger picture still so enthralling their supporters refused to stay quiet for long.

The FA Cup was never going to define the final chapter of Klopp’s reign. It’s the Premier League title race and a possible European final in Dublin on May 22 which will do that.

(Top photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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