A moment of madness from Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and a two-goal burst from Juan Mata made it a day to savor for Manchester United. And as United’s return to the Champions League moved a step closer, Chelsea maintained its pursuit of the Premier League title with a slender win at Hull on Sunday.
United was already leading at Anfield when Gerrard produced a red-card stamp only 32 seconds after coming off the bench at the start of the second half. Even with a man-advantage, United was made to fight for its 2-1 victory. Juan Mata added to his first-half goal with a scissor-kick and Liverpool threatened a comeback after striker Daniel Sturridge scored.
But United held on to pull five points clear of Liverpool to consolidate its grip on the fourth and final Champions League qualification place, prompting a swift apology from Gerrard.
“I have let my team mates and manager down today,” Gerrard said of his stamp on Ander Herrera. “Even more importantly I let all the supporters down.”
Last season those fans were dreaming of the title before Liverpool finished runners-up, but now it’s a fight for fourth. At the top, Chelsea remains six points ahead of Manchester City with a game in hand after edging Hull 3-2.
After Eden Hazard and Diego Costa scored in the opening nine minutes for Chelsea, Hull scored twice in 74 seconds to draw level but Loic Remy grabbed a second-half winner shortly after coming off the bench.
“We played fantastic football until the 2-0, obviously we lost a bit of quality after their two goals,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. “In the second half we recovered that good level of passing, movementfootball.”
Hull stayed three points above the relegation zone, but Queens Park Rangers moved closer to the drop with a 2-1 loss to Everton after Aaron Lennon’s winner.
Heading into the international break, Man United will now be looking upward in this season of recovery under Louis van Gaal, with City only two points ahead in second place and a Manchester derby to come on April 12 at Old Trafford.
United took 14 minutes to stun the home crowd at Anfield. Herrera threaded a pass between Liverpool defenders Alberto Moreno and Mamadou Sakho for Mata to run onto and clip a shot past Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers made a decisive change at halftime, taking Adam Lallana off in favor of the experience provided by the 34-year-old Gerrard, who joins the Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of the season.
But Gerrard’s temperament boiled over and the midfielder faces a three-game ban for his stamp on Herrera straight after a robust challenge on Mata.
“I tried to jump (Herrera’s) tackle, I saw his studs and I reacted wrong,” Gerrard said. “I’ve been in the game long enough to know when you do something like that, especially at the timing of the game.”
The timing of Mata’s second finish was then exquisite, acrobatically volleying into the net in the 59th after meeting a reverse pass from substitute Angel di Maria. But Sturridge beat United goalkeeper David de Gea at his near post 10 minutes later to ensure a nervy end for the visitors.
“The second half we were not so good and that is amazing a little bit because we played 11 against 10 and it should be easier but it was not,” Van Gaal said.
It was a storming start for Chelsea in northeast England.
Captain John Terry and Costa combined to setup Hazard’s opener after 78 seconds, and Chelsea’s lead was extended in the ninth minute. Cesc Fabregas sent the ball from the halfway line to Costa on the left wing and the Spaniard cut through the defense before curling the shot past goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
Chelsea was cruising until the 26th minute when Andrew Robertson burst past Willian and Branislav Ivanovic before crossing low for Hull winger Ahmed Elmohamady to slot into the net.
Chelsea’s defense was in disarray and quickly conceded again. Ivanovic casually passed the ball back to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, whose slack clearance went straight to Abel Hernandez and the ball was immediately stabbed into the net.
But Remy scored Chelsea’s winner in the 77th, only two minutes after replacing the injured Costa, with the shot squirming through McGregor’s hands.