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It was the most one-sided North West Derby since Liverpool went to Old Trafford three seasons ago and got a 4-1 win over the Red Devils. Today, Liverpool built a 3-0 lead on the back of a Dirk Kuyt hat-trick, eventually defeating Manchester United 3-1, handing their rivals a second consecutive loss. Liverpool jumps back into sixth place, but more important to the English Premier League table, United's lead at the top stays at three points.
The match's opening was relatively even, with two 4-4-2 formations unable to find an advantage over the other. But a lackluster start from Manchester United's midfield meant the Red Devils were unable to maintain any pressure on the Reds, something that led to Liverpool creating the better chances.
In the 34th minute, Luis Suárez gave an effort that went beyond set-ups and tactics, beating four Manchester United defenders to create the opening score. Taking a pass from Soritis Kyrgiakos in the left of the penalty area, Suárez made a move to the byline before cutting back, putting the ball between Rafael da Silva's legs, moving around Michael Carrick, beating Wes Brown before putting a pass beyond Patrice Evra and Edwin van der Sar, giving Dirk Kuty an open net from three yards out. Liverpool, just after the half hour mark, was up 1-0.
Five minutes later, Nani committed a demoralizing mistake, unintentionally assisting on Kuyt's second goal. from a Steven Gerrard cross from the right side, Nani headed back toward his own goal, the only explanation being a back pass for van der Sar. If that was Nani's intent, the execution was poor, with his ball looping over United's defense and onto the head of Kuyt, who finished from the same distance as his first goal, giving Liverpool a 2-0 lead.
Liverpool would carry that lead into the second half, eventually extending it thanks to Suárez and Kuyt. After Wes Brown committed what looked like it would be an innocuous foul, Luis Suárez put a shot on van der Sar from 26 yards out. The United `keeper gave up the rebound three yards from goal, with Dirk Kuyt there to lift the ball into goal. Taking his season goal total from four to seven, Kuyt gave Liverpool a 3-0 lead.
In injury time, Javier Hernández prevented Pepe Reina from keeping a clean sheet. A cross from the right from Ryan Giggs found Chicharito unmarked at the end of this six. The Mexican international headed down and to the left post, beating Reina to make it 3-1, the match's final goal.
With the win, Liverpool moves into sixth, their 42 points putting them two ahead of Bolton for what is currently England's final European football spot. Manchester United, with their third loss of the year, stays three points ahead of Arsenal, but after entering February undefeated, the Red Devils have lost to Wolves, Chelsea, and Liverpool. After their worst showing of the season, Alex Ferguson's team finds themselves within one match's worth of points of the Gunners.
In the 92nd minute, Manchester United ruined Pepe Reina's shutout with possibly the first shot they've had on goal all match. But Javier Hernández's reaction to the goal said everything we needed to know about its importance. Chicharito, upon seeing his header go inside Reina's right post, went for the ball with urgency before remembering. It was the second of third minutes of stoppage time, and United was still down two. His sprint ended after three steps and broke into a jog. The match was still over.
With Chicharito's goal, the scored sits 3-1 as we wait for Phil Dowd's whistle. The tally was set-up by Ryan Giggs, who crossed to Hernández from the right edge of the penalty area, using his off-foot to chip a ball to the edge of the six. It was an easy finish for the unmarked striker, Liverpool treating the match was as much urgency as the resigned United.
With the match moments from going final, United looks set to stay only three points ahead of Arsenal at the top of the league. Liverpool will hand the Red Devils their third loss of the season, each defeat coming in United's last five league matches.
Andy Carroll, the most expensive English player in league history, has made his Liverpool debut, just over one month after being purchased from Newcastle. In the 74th minute, the striker came on, his direct touch coming seconds later when he snapped a header on goal from 17 yards out. Edwin Van der Sar easily caught the shot, but Carroll had still portended his impact.
Despite his prolonged absence, having missed time with the Magpies before migrating to Anfield, Carroll is still tied for third in the league in goals with 11 (trailing Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tévez). The 22-year-old made his England debut last fall but has been dealing with a leg injury since mid-winter. Today marked the first time he has been included in Kenny Dalglish's side.
Dalglish, with his team comfortably leading 3-0, had a nice moment in the 78th minute, able to raise his hand with a smile to the Anfield crowd. The Liverpool legend was serenaded with Happy Birthday, having celebrated his 60th on Friday.
Three seasons ago, Liverpool got a memorable 4-1 win at Old Trafford, their most lopsided win in the North West Derby since 1978. Today, Liverpool has again gone up three goals, and while this match isn't in Manchester, the feel is the same. Liverpool has been the better side throughout, with Dirk Kuyt's third goal of the day likely to be the decisive point in that claim.
In the 65th minute, Kuyt completed his hat-trick, scoring another opportunistic goal, putting hope the rebound of a Luis Suárez direct kick. The ball laid in front of goal for Kuyt to pounce on after Edwin van der Sar spilled a 26-yard direct kick from Suárez. The goalkeeper had to lay-out behind the wall to make the save, but when no United defenders were there to clear the ball, Kuyt had only to lift the ball away from van der Sar to put the Reds up three.
Kuyt is now up to seven goals on the season, though none this day's tallies were particularly remarkable. Luis Suárez's brilliance set-up his first. Nani's lapse set up his second. Edwin van der Sar's spill allows his third.
Yet it was Kuyt, not a defender or a teammate, who was there every time. As a result, United looks set for their second loss of the league season.
Manchester United finally looks threatening, and off a corner kick in the 57th minute, they generated their best chance of the match, A Ryan Giggs corner from the right of goal went long for Wayne Rooney, who played it to Javier Hernández at the right post. Chicharito headed back across the six for Dimitar Berbatov, who headed onto goal at the far post. Raul Meireles, one of Liverpool's two best players on the day, was there to take the ball into his abdomen and clear it, denying United their opener.
Two minutes later, United had another great chances when Soritis Kyrgiakos was adjudicated to have taken down Dimitar Berbatov in the arc. But for a direct kick to close to goal, there was never any down. The spot was too close, and although Gigga's left foot can be surgical, he was again two yards high with his shot.
In the 63rd minute, Liverpool reminded Manchester United that they still intended to be dangerous of the match's final half hour, putting a man behind a high United line, forcing Edwin van der Sar into an outstretched save with his left palm. Patrice Evra cleared the ball, United resumed possession, but we were reminded: Liverpool may be just as good for the next goal as Manchester United.
Just after the 50th minute, Manchester United enjoyed their best spell of possession of the match. Stringing together double-digit passes, United was able to get Rafael da Silva established on the right flank, allowing Ryan Giggs to set up int he middle. But while the spell allowed United to rack up possession and passing numbers, they failed to test Pepe Reina, with the only thing garnered from the exchange was the impression Liverpool is prepared to parry United for the last 40 minutes, if need be.
Moments later, we saw another indication that United may be better playing on the counter, a tough situation to be in when down two. A long ball out left found Wayne Rooney, and as the United attacker cut in onto his right foot, he was able to spot Giggs in the middle of the area, 17 yards out. The veteran's first time shot went two yards over goal; tellingly, United's best chance of the match.
Five minutes later (57th minute), the match's tone seems to have been defined. Liverpool is starting to defend with numbers, not pressure. Ten are behind the ball, though they're no packed particularly deep. The Reds are looking at long passes out of their own end as their best means of establishing possession. As a result, we look set to see how patient United can be while Liverpool relies on opportunism.
It's still 2-0 at Anfield, Liverpool looking comfortable if alert.
At the end of the first half we noted Javier Hernández came on for Nani (video, images of Nani's injury). The move was forced by Nani's injury, with injuries at the win position forcing Alex Ferguson to bring on a striker. While the Manchester United manager has Gabriel Obertan on the bench, it doesn't seem the young Frenchman is trusted enough to effect a result while United's down two.
In the early part of the second half, having two players who can cut-in onto their strong foot appears to have some potential. We've seen Giggs and Rooney willing to come in an augment the passing game a little more than we saw Nani and Giggs do when they were on their natural sides.
But it has only been a few minutes, and in the 49th, we had a reminder that Liverpool has been the better side. The Reds got through United's left, and Raul Meireles was able to play a ball into the six. Edwin van der Sar covered it up and quickly sprung United on a counter that led to a Hernández chance from Berbatov, wide right.
But now in the 50th minute, we're still yet to see what this second half will be about. Liverpool still has their two goal lead.
Five minutes after Liverpool opened the scoring, the Reds were up two, capitalizing on an error from Nani to double their lead. Playing a cross in from Liverpool's right flank, Nani sent looping header back toward his own goal, the only explanation for which was an attempt to give the ball back to Edwin van der Sar. But that is normally a decision made when the penalty area is empty, and we saw way. The ball looped over the United defense and onto the head of Dirk Kuyt, giving the Dutch international his second goal in six minutes.
The faces of Nani's teammate told the story. Wes Brown, after seeing the goal go in, turning back to Nani, arms open as if to ask why. Michael Carrick, after a futile to try and reach Nani's pass, gave a similar look, looking for explanations for an inane pass.
Minutes later, Nani was being carried from the pitch. Jamie Carragher had delivered a red card worthy challenge (but saw yellow), but Nani appeared to be fine for a few moments. During the protest to Phil Dowd, Nani went down again, this time not to get up. The sides argued with each other, with the squad's veterans having to play peacemaker, United's frustrations on display.
In injury time, Rafael da Silva seemed to dish-out retribution, earning a yellow card while taking out Lucas Leiva. Martin Skrtel, in confronting Rafael, also earned a yellow as Javier Hernández was brought on for Nani (video, images of Nani's injury).
At halftime, the league-leaders are down two, both goals from Dirk Kuyt.
Luis Suárez has put Liverpool is front, though Dirk Kuyt's name is on the scoresheet. In the 34th minute, the Liverpool attackers combined to give the Reds a 1-0 lead, but it was Suárez that provided the magic.
Taking the ball to the left of goal, Suárez went from 12 yards out to the byline before cutting back on Rafael da Silva, putting the ball between his legs before going by him. The next touch saw Michael Carrick closing him down, but a poke to the left saw Suárez around the midfielder. Suárez then beat Wes Brown before putting a ball under Edwin van der Sar, past Patrice Evra, onto the goal line, where Dirk Kuyt poked it home. For the first time in the last three derbies, Liverpool had a lead.
The match had been played somewhat evenly over the preceding 20 minutes, but with Suárez's goal, Anfield has come back into the match. Manchester United is down 1-0 and facing a team that;s absorbed momentum.
Fabio Aurelio was a surprise inclusion for Kenny Dalglish, but after 23 minutes, the Brazilian is out. Soritis Kyrgiakos is on, bringing instructions. The defense will have to change-up, but with no natural left-sided players in the game, Glen Johnson will have to move to left back. Jamie Carragher is Liverpool's new right back, with Krygiakos and Martin Skrtel partnered in the center.
Aurelio's absence adds to a injury list at the back that includes Martin Kelly and Daniel Agger. It also had important tactical concerns. In what's looking like an even match where managers will be looking for the right time to tweak (or change from) their 4-4-2s, Liverpool has had to burn one of their three substitutions. The move also exposes Glen Johnson to the flank featuring Nani and Rafael da Silva. Dalglish has moved Maxi back to the left, possibly to compensate, so as not to restricted Meireles.
But where there's little separating these two teams, the ripple effects of this change could tilt the match. For now, in the 28th minute, the scoreline stays 0-0.
A nice play from Chris Smalling prevented another Liverpool chance. Luis Suárez poked a ball through United's defense, finding Kuyt making a run behind Wes Brown. But Smalling did well to track Kuyt, and by the time the Dutcman tried to turn toward goal, the young United defender was there to break-up the chance.
Two minutes later (in the 16th minute), Manchester United finally gave Liverpool a scare. A bouncing ball found Dimitar Berbatov 20 yards from goal. The Bulgarian, even with the right post, hit it first time, the ball just below waist high, putting a shot toward the far post. Berbatov had carried his foot through the right side of the ball, sending the ball curling in to Pepe Reina's far post. The shot hit the upright and went out of a goal kick.
The next chance was Liverpool's. In the 18th minute, Suárez had again dropped back from his striker's position, this time deep on the right flank, at the edge of the attacking third. While he did this, Raul Meireles was looping through midfield, headed toward the far post. Suárez found the Portuguese midfielder, now making a habit of coming from wide to test United's center defense. He met the ball at the edge of the six, but rather than put the ball on goal, Meireles headed down for Dirk Kuyt, just out of the reach of his teammate.
In one of the first tactical changes of the match, we see Meireles and Maxi Rodríguez have switched sides, Maxi now on his natural right. With Liverpool having the slightly better of play, it's still 0-0, now in the 21st minute.
The early minutes at Anfield say Manchester United exhibit an early spell of possession, but at the two minute mark, Liverpool created the first moment of danger, perhaps portending how the match would play out while these teams play this personnel. Luis Suárez broke into United's half on a counter, laying off for Raul Meireles on the right. Suárez continued on toward goal, wasn't followed by Paul Scholes, and nearly redirected a Meireles cross part Edwin van der Sar. Instead, the Uruguyan's shot went right to the goalkeeper.
The teams have come out with matching 4-4-2s. Liverpool his Dirk Kuyt and Suárez up front, Maxi Rodríguez playing on the left, with Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva centrally. For Manchester United, Wayne Rooney is withdrawn behind Dimitar Berbatov.
Now in the 10th minute, Liverpool have looked the better side. They not only have the shot on goal but have been able to send a couple of other balls through United's area, their most successful entries into the final third using Raul Meireles to challenge a seemingly slow Wes Brown.
But with both sides having settled-in at Anfield, it's still 0-0.
The lineups are out for today's match between Liverpool and Manchester United, and while there are no huge surprises for the Red Devils, Reds supporters have a couple of pieces of good news. Fabio Aurelio is fit and will start, part of a four man back line, presumably on the left. Also sure to bring a smile to Liverpool fans' faces: Andy Carroll, for the first time since being purchased from Newcastle, dresses, starting on the bench.
Liverpool, Starting XI: Reina / Johnson Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio / Maxi, Lucas, Gerrard, Meireles / Kuyt, Suárez
Liverpool, Subs: Gulacsi, Carroll, Cole, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Spearing, Poulsen
Manchester United fans can never be surprised by Alex Ferguson's near ever-changing selection, but starting Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea on the bench may raise some eyebrows. Ferguson had elected to go with a ball-control team in midfield - starting all of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick - while Rafael da Silva gets the start at the back. Chris Smalling and Wes Brown will start for Rio Ferdinand (calf) and Nemanja Vidic (suspended) in central defense.
Manchester United, Starting XI: Van der Sar / Rafael da Silva, Smalling, Brown, Evra / Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs / Berbatov. Roony
Manchester United, Subs: Kuszczak, Hernandez, Fabio Da Silva, O'Shea, Fletcher, Obertan, Gibson
If Liverpool did not have a North West Derby staring them in the face, there may have been more reflection on what happened last weekend. A 3-1 loss at a relegation battler (West Ham) - one that played more one-sided than the final score - would normally cast some doubt on the strength of a new project, and the Reds under Kenny Dalglish and Fenway Sports Group are still very much a new project. But because that project is in its infancy - seemingly restructured since the last time Liverpool faced Manchester United - there was a willingness to move beyond last weekend's setback and concentrate on the task at hand: Can the Reds derail Manchester United?
And by derail, we mean prevent them from winning the title, and after Manchester United lost mid-week to Chelsea, a Liverpool win on Sunday becomes even more influential in deciding the title. Not only does it keep the gap between United and Arsenal at three points (with the Red Devils having arguably the more difficult run-in), it also stacks another set of doubts on top of those United were handed mid-week. At Stamford Bridge, the Red Devils had a match for the taking - a chance to end a run of disappointing results at Chelsea that extends back to 2002. But the leaders failed to do so, again forgoing a chance to take a stranglehold on a record-setting 19th first division title. If Liverpool can give United their first losing streak of the season, they'll be compounding that set of doubts, possibly preventing United from taking sole-possession of the record.
Liverpool's ability to do so will be dictated by how readily they can replace Fernando Torres. Obviously, Liverpool has replaced the Chelsea striker. They've incorporated Luis Suárez, and Andy Carroll is due back at any time. But as it concerns matching-up with Manchester United, Torres's absence is of particular importance. In their last four meetings with United, Liverpool has scored six goals, half of which came from Torres. The Spaniard's ability to play close to and exploit United's central defenders with his combination of speed and skill provides a completely different profile to Suárez or Carroll. Or Dirk Kuyt, for that matter. With Torres gone, Dalglish is going to have to find another way to threaten United.
To this point, that other way has been Raul Meireles. Since Dalglish took over Liverpool in early January, the Portuguese midfielder has scored four goals, recently being named the Premier League's February Player of the Month. He is one of five different goal scorers for Dalglish, with Liverpool yet to be shut out in league since King Kenny's return. But of those five goal scorers, only one other has recorded more than one goal: Fernando Torres. With Meireles already tallying more league goals than he ever recorded at Porto, it seems unlikely the 27-year-old is really the second coming of, well, Steven Gerrard.
At the other end of the pitch, it's difficult to forecast how United matches-up against Liverpool's defense because we don't have a lot of examples of this squad going up against three central defenders. By the book, you would think a United club that always has a stable of talented wingers would be well-suited to face the 3-5-2/5-3-2.* But Antonio Valencia is still out. Park Ji-Sung is out. The only wide players available who have Alex Ferguson's confidence are Nani and Ryan Giggs, part of the reason we saw Wayne Rooney pushed out left in United's last Champions League match. While for most teams, Giggs and Nani would be enough on the flanks, some can question whether Giggs a still the wide threat that can trouble right-center back Jamie Carragher.
* - That all assumes Liverpool plays with five at the back. Martin Kelly is out with a hamstring injury. Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio are also out. With Kelly serving as the right wing back in the 3-5-2 and his understudy (Aurelio, presumably) gone, how can Dalglish play that formation without putting Maxi Rodríguez in an unfamiliar position? Dalglish has become linked to this 3-5-2 because of his move to it, but he's only been playing it for one month. It's unlikely he's so married to the formation that he'll force square pegs into round holes.
Giggs' main virtues are his decision making on the ball, leadership, and delivery. For those seasons, he is as effective pinching-in from the left as he is staying wide. If he does come in, he will work with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick to form a midfielder of passers that Liverpool's deeply-deployed formation will have trouble taking off the ball (without compromising their shape). If that trio can stay patient and make smart decisions, the Red Devils should eventually be able to create chances for Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernández or Nani.
But that's the 'if all goes to plan' scenario. It's a similar scenario that should have played out on Tuesday, when Manchester United was better than Chelsea with the ball at their feet. But at some point, you have to have the will to win the game. That's where Chelsea beat United, and that's a trait that we've seen Dalglish start to restore in Liverpool. And while it seems strange to say this in light of what we've seen from Alex Ferguson's sides over the years, this season's United team doesn't seem to have that cutting edge. They don't seem to be able to put away matches like their predecessors could. They don't seem to be able to take advantage of the match-ups.
So while it doesn't seem like Liverpool has a player to match-up with Nani, that might not be enough for United. While a slow Liverpool defense seems ripe to be picked apart by Scholes and Giggs' passing, Wayne Rooney's movement, that might not be enough. While it seems United's ball movement could open up the spaces Dimitar Berbatov thrives upon, that also may not be enough.
At some point, United has to capitalize on their advantages. If they do, it's not difficult to see Liverpool tumble to a second consecutive lopsided loss. If they don't, Raul Meireles will have another chance to be a hero.
Nemanja Vidic is suspended after picking-up a red card against Chelsea, which is too bad. He usually saves his dismissals for this derby.
Out for United: Valencia, Park, Owen Hargraves, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen, Jonny Evans and Anderson. That means Chris Smalling and Wes Brown are likely to start in central defense, unless Ferguson gets imaginative (by putting John O'Shea, Patrice Evra, or Michael Carrick back there). If it weren't for the huge disadvantage United would be accepting on set pieces, it would almost make sense to drop Carrick into a central defense that will be trying to counter speed more than power.
Liverpool will be without Kelly, Agger, and Aurelio. From the players at Dalglish's disposal, we could see a backline of Carragher, Martin Skrtel, Danny Wilson and Glen Johnson. Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is also out, but the man Liverpool fans have been waiting for, Andy Carroll, could dress.
Manchester United's won three derbies in a row, so as a way of copping-out of a real pick, I'm going to go with recent history and pick United 2, Liverpool 1. While Liverpool's performance last week gives me some solace for my pick, I wouldn't put any of my own money on that result. I'm looking forward to Liverpool's players rising to the occasion and making this another classic derby, regardless of who wins.
The last five years of the North West Derby have seen Manchester United and Liverpool alternate control of England's premier rivalry. An October 2006 win at Old Trafford started a four match win streak for Manchester United, a run that saw them outscore Liverpool 7-0. That advantage was extended to eight goals when Carlos Tévez scored in the third minute at Anfield in September 2008, but starting with that match (and Liverpool's comeback), the Reds would run off three straight wins, finishing the aughts with the advantage on United. This decade, Alex Ferguson's regained control of the derby, carrying a three-match winning streak of his own into Sunday's match.
Noting it as a streak, while factually accurate, may imply more dominance than has actually existed. Manchester United's three victories have each been by one goal. During the Liverpool streak which came before, the Reds outscored the Devils by six goals. Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Liverpool and United have split their six meetings, but Liverpool holds a +3 advantage in goal difference.
None of which is likely to influence Sunday's match as much as provide context for it. While the clubs have alternated control of this rivalry, United's current control is very tenuous, one that carries with it no psychological advantages. If anything, Liverpool's recent success against United combine with their recent close-calls provides motivation.
When Pepe Reina dragged down Park Ji-Sung early, giving Cristiano Ronaldo a chance from the spot, United looked set to make it four out of five over Liverpool, taking a lead in the 23rd minute. But that was the last reason United supporters had to smile, Liverpool posting their biggest win at United since Christmas Day's 0-3 in 1978. That day, it was Ray Kennedy, Kenny Dalglish and David Fairclough getting on the scoresheet. Two years ago, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard had the Reds up by halftime, and when Nemanja Vidic was dismissed in the 76th minute (the second of three consecutive derbies he'd see red), Liverpool was on track for their first win in five years at Old Trafford. Fabio Aurelio's direct kick and Andrea Dossena's only league goal completed United's embarrassment.
Liverpool entered the match with a four game losing streak, the start of Rafa Benítez's final season at the club. But this early season result against their rivals gave the Kop reason to hope the previous season's second place form would return. At a minimum, it affirmed Fernando Torres remained a United-slayer, scoring the match-winner in the 65th minute. David N'Gog would add insurance before Vidic and Javier Mascherano were dismissed, the second time in three derbies the Argentine was excused, in what would be Benítez's last win over United.
Five minutes in, it was Torres, again, heading Liverpool up in front of the Stretford End, hinting Liverpool was set to continue their control of their rivals. But Mascherano's discipline would again play a role, the midfielder giving United a penalty in the 12th minute after obstructing Antonio Valencia. Wayne Rooney equalized, helping staunch United's early wound. From there, it played out as a typical Red Devils' win, with Park Ji-Sung beating Glen Johnson to a Darren Fletcher cross in the 60th minute, the South Korean international heading home, ending Liverpool's three-match winning streak in the derby.
The clubs' first meeting of the 2010-11 season saw Dimitar Berbatov finally make an impact in the derby. After two years and four derbies in Manchester, Berbatov had yet to see his name on the scoresheet, something that changed minutes before halftime when the Bulgarian headed United in front. Early in the second half, the striker scored one of the best goals of his career, using his thigh to trap a cross from Nani before putting an overhead kick high into Pepe Reina's goal. Steven Gerrard would score in the 64th and 70th minutes to level the score, but Berbatov's performance would not be denied, completing his hat-trick in the 84th minute.
Most were excited to see United and Liverpool drawn together in the FA Cup Third Round, but within half an hour, the match was defined by two controversial decisions. Dimitar Berbatov theatrics helped draw a second minute penalty against Daniel Agger, allowing Ryan Giggs to give United an early lead. Near the half-hour mark, Steven Gerrard saw deserved red for a two footed challenge on Michael Carrick, leaving Liverpool to fight for a goal against a United team content to protect their lead. In Kenny Dalglish's first derby since returning as Liverpool's manager, Howard Webb was the defining figure, a penalty kick and a sending-off seeing Liverpool out of the cup.
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