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Classy Coutinho sends Man Utd out of Europa

Liverpool Players celebrating after advancing to the quarter-finals of Europa League.PHOTO/courtesy

Liverpool Players celebrating after advancing to the quarter-finals of Europa League.PHOTO/courtesy

UNITED KINGDOM, March 17 – Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho’s stylish goal earned Liverpool a 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Thursday as Jurgen Klopp’s men eliminated their arch foes from the Europa League.

Trailing 2-0 from last week’s one-sided first leg, Louis van Gaal’s United claimed a foothold in the last-16 tie when Anthony Martial won and scored a 32nd-minute penalty to restore hope at Old Trafford.

But Coutinho’s goal on the stroke of half-time knocked the wind from the hosts’ sails and sent Liverpool through with a 3-1 aggregate victory, leaving the FA Cup as United’s last chance of salvaging a piece of silverware from their troubled season.

United are due to face West Ham United in an FA Cup quarter-final replay, but in the meantime must switch their attentions to preventing Liverpool from overtaking them in the battle for a top-four finish in the Premier League, starting with Sunday’s trip to Manchester City in the derby.

Liverpool advance revitalised, having become the first English team to eliminate United from European competition, with the memory of last month’s penalty shootout loss to City in the League Cup final fading fast.

United were outplayed from start to finish at Anfield, but seemed determined to assert themselves in the return by fair means or foul — Marouane Fellaini catching Roberto Firmino with an early elbow.

After an enterprising start, they created a cluster of chances around the 20-minute mark.

Jesse Lingard, suspended in the first leg, met Marcos Rojo’s deep cross with a firm header that Simon Mignolet palmed away and when Liverpool failed to clear the resulting corner, Juan Mata saw a mishit volley dribble wide.

Moments later, Marcus Rashford fed Martial wide on the left and the Frenchman skipped past Nathaniel Clyne before blazing over.

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– Rojo chance –

Only a clutch of saves by United goalkeeper David de Gea had prevented Liverpool from running away with the tie in the first leg and he proved his worth yet again with a stunning one-handed save to repel a drilled effort from Coutinho.

Four minutes later United halved the aggregate deficit, Martial drawing an untidy challenge from Clyne and then sending Mignolet the wrong way from the spot.

Suddenly the ground was rocking, but Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson both came close to silencing the home fans, the former hitting the bar with an ambitious free-kick from the right, the latter wastefully hoisting Adam Lallana’s pass into the Stretford End.

United should have levelled the tie before half-time, Marcos Rojo slamming wide from Fellaini’s cut-back, and Coutinho took full advantage by breezing past Guillermo Varela and coolly chipping De Gea at his near post.

The away goal left United needing to score three times to progress. They began the second half with Antonio Valencia on in place of Varela, the Ecuadorean making his comeback after five months out with a broken foot.

Their control of the tie restored, Liverpool took a step back, Mamadou Sakho authoritatively marshalling their defence, and restricted United to half-chances.

Rashford volleyed wide, Fellaini put a header straight at Mignolet and shot over, and Martial also failed to hit the target.

But it was Liverpool who to a soundtrack of gleeful taunts from the away fans who finished on top, with De Gea twice denying Coutinho a second goal and also thwarting substitute Divock Origi.

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