Steven Gerrard was sensationally sent off just 38 seconds into what will likely be his final Liverpool appearance against Manchester United, as Louis van Gaal’s men took a huge step towards UEFA Champions League qualification with a 2-1 win at Anfield.
Long regarded as the biggest game in English football, Sunday’s encounter lived up to the billing with goals and excitement at both ends, yet it will be remembered for Gerrard’s unceremonious exit.
The Anfield captain was left on the bench by boss Brendan Rodgers before being brought on at half-time, only to be dismissed by referee Martin Atkinson less than a minute after his introduction.
Having contested a full-blooded 50/50 challenge with Ander Herrera, Gerrard saw red for stamping on the leg of the Spaniard, meaning he will now serve a three-match ban that will leave him with just five more Premier League games in a Liverpool shirt ahead of his move from his boyhood club to LA Galaxy.
Earlier, Herrera had set up Mata for the opening goal with a superb pass as United suffocated a Liverpool side who had not lost a league game since their 3-0 reverse at Old Trafford in December.
The visitors’ task was made easier in the second half thanks to Gerrard’s moment of madness, with Mata subsequently doubling United’s advantage with a goal that on another day would likely have stolen the headlines.
He found the net with an acrobatic scissor kick, and Van Gaal’s side were on their way to a five-point gap over Liverpool in the race for fourth place.