LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Liverpool pounced on two defensive blunders to beat Manchester United 2-0 in a high-profile all-English match in the Europa League last 16 on Thursday, with only David de Gea's brilliant saves sparing the visitors a heavier first-leg beating.
Daniel Sturridge converted an early penalty and Roberto Firmino added a second goal in the 73rd minute following Michael Carrick's slack defending, making Liverpool a hot favorite to advance after next week's return leg at Old Trafford.
De Gea produced a string of saves in both halves to keep United in the match as Liverpool dominated the first European meeting between England's two most successful clubs, who have both fallen on hard times.
Borussia Dortmund was the biggest first-leg winner, justifying its tag as favorite to win the Europa League with a 3-0 win over a weakened Tottenham team.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's headed opener—his 33rd goal of the season—was followed up by a second-half double from Marco Reus.
In contention to win the English league for the first time since 1961, Spurs rested key players against Dortmund—including top scorer Harry Kane—and paid the price by being overwhelmed in Germany.
Other teams with a clear advantage after the first legs were Shakhtar Donetsk, which beat Anderlecht 3-1, and Villarreal, which defeated Bayer Leverkusen 2-0.
Athletic Bilbao beat Valencia 1-0 in an all-Spanish match, Fenerbahce won 1-0 at home to Braga, and defending champion Sevilla drew 0-0 at Basel—where this season's final is being played. Sparta Prague and Lazio drew 1-1.
Winning the Europa League may be United's best chance to qualify for next season's Champions League, having slumped to sixth in the Premier League, but it will need a big turnaround at Old Trafford to even reach the quarterfinals.
Liverpool's passing was slicker and its pressing more aggressive as the United midfield was swarmed all over.
Regularly forced into defensive duties, forward Memphis Depay gave away the penalty in the 19th minute — felling Nathaniel Clyne as he tracked the Liverpool defender into the area. De Gea guessed the right way but Sturridge's penalty went above the goalkeeper.
De Gea scrambled to save from Philippe Coutinho and stayed big to block Sturridge's close-range effort and then Adam Lallana's instinctive volley.
More saves off Coutinho and Clyne followed before Carrick inexplicably failed to clear a cross into the box, instead popping the ball into the path of Lallana. He squared it to the in-form Firmino, who beat De Gea from close range.
Liverpool avoided a fifth straight loss to United and continued its recent resurgence under Jurgen Klopp.