Philippe Coutinho’s moment of brilliance extinguished Manchester United’s faint hopes and saw Liverpool through to the Europa League quarter-finals.
Boasting a two-goal advantage from last week’s one-sided encounter at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp’s men journeyed to Old Trafford knowing an away goal would throw their rivals’ comeback hopes off-kilter.
For a while Louis van Gaal’s side looked capable of a memorable comeback, only for Coutinho’s magic to kill the mood – and United’s hopes of progressing from the last-16 tie – as Liverpool held out for a 1-1 draw on the night, seeing them through 3-1 winners on aggregate.
United were always facing an uphill battle but started strongly, keeping firm at the back and attacking with panache. Anthony Martial’s penalty as half-time approached gave the home fans hope, which Coutinho snatched away with a mood-changing individual effort, ghosting into the area and clipping past David de Gea.
It all but ended the tie as Liverpool deservedly progressed and narrowed under-pressure Van Gaal’s hopes of ending the season with a trophy – and Champions League football.
Ugly scenes dominated the final minutes on a night when vile chants about Hillsborough were sometimes audible.
Uefa may take action this time having not punished United for last week’s chants as it was not mentioned in the match officials’ reports – the same reason Marouane Fellaini got away with swinging out at Emre Can.
It meant, much to Klopp’s chagrin, that the Belgian started and was soon proving a handful, catching Roberto Firmino during an edgy start which took 18 minutes to produce the first shot of note.
When it did Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet showed impressive flexibility to claw away Jesse Lingard’s close-range header.
Martial cut in and fired over, while, at the other end, last-ditch defending and dithering thwarted the visitors before De Gea superbly denied Coutinho.
United quickly capitalised as Nathaniel Clyne clumsily clipped Martial in the box, with the France striker slamming home the spot-kick.
Daniel Sturridge nearly leveleed with a fizzing free-kick from an acute angle that hit the crossbar.
Marcos Rojo prodded inches wide as United looked to level the tie on aggregate, only to be hit by a gut punch just before half-time. Running on to the ball wide on the left, Coutinho darted towards the area, cut all too easily past Guillermo Varela and, from an acute angle, clipped over De Gea. United attacked strongly after the break but Mignolet’s goal was rarely under any serious threat. Martial missed the target shortly after Sturridge flashed wide at other end.
Meanwhile, Tottenham were left to concentrate on the league after bowing out with a 2-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund.
Spurs needed a minor miracle to retrieve a 3-0 deficit from the first leg in Germany and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s double secured Dortmund a 5-1 win on aggregate. Son Heung-min added a late consolation for the hosts.