MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Two goals in three minutes saw Manchester United prevail over Liverpool in the 2014 International Champions Cup final here on Monday night, winning them the second edition of the stateside preseason tournament. Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata scored in the 55th and 57th minutes, respectively, to wipe out Steven Gerrard’s 14th-minute penalty. Jesse Lingard put up the final 3-1 score in the 88th minute.
"It’s nice for the fans in the United States of America but also back home that we beat Liverpool. It’s not our favorite opponent, I think," United manager Louis van Gaal said after the match.
Depsite the loss in the ICC final, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was rather upbeat post-game.
"It was a really good game, obviously for both teams at the end of the pre-season," Rodgers said. "I thought we were well worth the lead and maybe should have had another penalty. We conceded a disappointing goal and then very quickly conceded a second goal and so the game started getting stretched a wee bit. But overall I’m delighted with the whole tournament, what it’s done for us."
The contest started in a spooky setting here at Sun Life Stadium. Smoke from the pre-game fireworks shrouded the early proceedings in a heavy pall that lifted only slowly due to the humidity from a wretched day of rain.
Once it did, it revealed a fairly even game with a regular pattern. United mostly controlled the ball, combining quickly in search of openings between the Liverpool lines. But the Reds absorbed that pressure compactly and looked to catch their opponents on a turnover high up the field, in hopes of breaking quickly and in numbers — ideally through the lightning quick Raheem Sterling.
United got the first real chance in the fifth minute, as Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was served a sharp low cross by Ashley Young, who had in turn been set up well by Darren Fletcher. But the Mexican sort of stepped on the ball, rather than shooting it, and Mamadou Sakho cleared the scuffed ball before Mata could get to it.
Liverpool opened the scoring soon enough. Sterling, as he does so often, put his trickery and swiftness to good use and slipped by Phil Jones in United’s penalty area. The defender seemed to bring him down and Liverpool got the penalty, which Gerrard converted.
For a time there, it looked like Liverpool would put the game away. Philippe Coutinho smacked a shot to David De Gea’s near post from outside the box in the 24th minute, prompting a good save from the Spaniard. Sterling might well have been awarded a second penalty 10 minutes later when Ander Herrera sent him to ground in the box, but the Englishman didn’t get the call that time.
Following a bombastic half-time show with shiny and shimmery pyrotechnics and a performance from some famous DJ or other, Liverpool continued to produce the better chances for a time. First, Gerrard cut out a poor Mata pass and fed Rickie Lambert in a promising position, but the striker’s finish was very poor. Then, Coutinho and Sterling linked up well on two occasions in quick succession, although neither resulted in a goal.
The tide shifted then. Hernandez sent a deep, looping cross at Rooney. He picked it out of the air with a perfectly-placed, one-time, side-foot finish with his left that skipped in by the far post. Minutes later, Shaw squared for Mata just outside the box. Sakho lunged at Mata’s shot, but it deflected past the helpless Simon Mignolet.
Mignolet was almost embarrassed in a weird moment a little later. A flukey ball soared over him and off the top of the goal, just behind the cross bar, onto a piece of metal that keeps the net pulled back. The ball bounced off that and back into the field of play, where the wide-open Rooney rolled it into the vacant net. To Liverpool’s consternation, the goal was initially allowed to stand for a spell, before the correct call was made and it was disallowed.
United would get their third goal though, as Lingard rifled in a late half-volley from outside the box that settled in the low corner, outside of Mignolet’s reach. It was a deserved score, in the end, and United were rightful winners of this tournament.
But new boss van Gaal downplayed the importance of winning in the friendly tournament. "We gave a lot of pleasure to the fans and that’s very important," he said." And of course it’s better to win in preparation time than to lose."
They’ll hope that with this, they’ll have put their disastrous 2013-14 season behind them — for the new Premier League season now awaits.