MANCHESTER, England — In simple terms, Manchester United’s 3-2 victory over Liverpool earned the right to play West Ham in the fifth round of the FA Cup, but it could end up meaning much more.
There were no points on offer and no positions at stake, but during a season in which United have positioned themselves in a Premier League title race for the first time since 2013, wins such as this are — at the very least — a psychological boost that also maintain valuable momentum.
Twenty-two years to the day since substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored a late winner to seal a United comeback that beat Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round, the now-manager watched as substitute Bruno Fernandes scored a late winner to seal a United comeback that beat Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
In 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team would not lose again on their way to a Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup treble. This United side would be unlikely to match that kind of run over the next four months even if they were not already out of the European Cup, but Solskjaer believes that certain results can galvanize a group — even in January — and this one had that kind of feel.
Behind to Mohamed Salah’s 18th-minute goal, Mason Greenwood leveled before half-time and Marcus Rashford put United in front three minutes after the break, only for Salah to make it 2-2 just before the hour mark.
Liverpool looked more likely to score again and Salah was denied his hat trick by Dean Henderson’s save, but Bruno Fernandes followed his introduction from the bench to score with a curling, 20-yard free-kick with 12 minutes to go. Salah shot wide with a chance to force extra time and United held on the go through.
For the first time since a March 2020 win over Manchester City, Solskjaer’s team have beaten one of England’s established “big six,” an important hurdle to overcome ahead of the second half of the league season, during which they will play away at City, Tottenham, Chelsea and, next Saturday, Arsenal. Liverpool also visit Old Trafford.
“It’s fantastic to win games over last year’s champions, a fantastic team,” Solskjaer said. “We played on our terms, found a way the players believe in and we are getting stronger and stronger.
“Look at the difference to six months back,” he added. “You can’t take too many big strides at once but we are getting better and winning tight games. The morale and confidence is very good.”