LONDON – Liverpool handed their fiercest rivals a painful lesson on Thursday with a dominant 2-0 win over Manchester United in the first leg of a Europa League last-16 clash.
As the two sides took their bitter domestic rivalry on to the European stage for the first time, a penalty from Daniel Sturridge and a second-half effort from Roberto Firmino gave Liverpool a commanding advantage to take into next week’s return leg.
Shakhtar Donetsk will also take a good lead into the second leg with Anderlecht after a 3-1 home victory, as will Villarreal who beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 thanks to a double strike from Cedric Bakambu.
Sevilla’s Steven N’Zonzi was sent off with three minutes to go as the holders, bidding for a third straight trophy, drew 0-0 at Basel while Athletic Bilbao beat Spanish rivals Valencia 1-0 with a 20th-minute goal from Raul Garcia.
Liverpool’s rivalry with United stretches back over 122 years but the 195th meeting between the pair was the first in Europe.
The encounter, played at a simmering Anfield, was fast and furious. It was Liverpool who were in control and they would have won more emphatically if it were not for a string of brilliant saves from United keeper David De Gea.
Klopp’s side, bidding to avoid a club record fifth successive defeat to United, went ahead in the 20th minute when Nathaniel Clyne was tugged back by Memphis Depay and Sturridge finished from the penalty spot.
De Gea kept the visitors in the tie with stops to deny Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho on two occasions but he was powerless to prevent Firmino converting from close range with 17 minutes remaining.
“We were really good from the first second, everything was there but we could have scored more,” a beaming Klopp told BT Sport.
The Liverpool boss was also quick to praise the fans for their support:
A message from Jürgen Klopp to you… https://t.co/smCvGfQP6x
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 10, 2016
BY TOBY DAVIS