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What Makes A Classic Football Match? Part 3: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United

In Parts 1 & 2 I nominated Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool and Portsmouth 2-3 Liverpool for Classic Match consideration. These nominees come from a supporter’s perspective. I invite others to say what they deem a potential classic from their own perspectives in the comment section. I’ll cover one more match tomorrow…

3.) Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United – 13 September 2008

Since moving to Boston, I began to develop a strange set of rituals when Liverpool played Manchester United. Trek down to the pub. Squeeze into the standing-room-only atmosphere. Make as much noise as possible. Be devastated by Tevez’s single goal or Bennett’s red for Mascherano. Sulk.

Was it more comforting that I was surrounded by Liverpool kits, by supporters who’d come out with as much hope as me? All of us wondering if this would be the day Rafa beat Fergie? Only to finish the morning (yes, morning) ordering a consolation pint when we’d hoped to drink to victory.

On the 13th of September last year, I tried to maintain the hope. But mostly I braced myself for the inevitable. Liverpool had been playing well. But there would be some O’Shea-like tap-in moment to derail the result. I smelled a 0-1. I went anyway. I did prefer to watch with others. Even when we lost. And, besides: if we won this and I was at home alone, I’d be in a year-long snit with myself for not going. 

Packed in tight with fellow supporters: We shifted on our feet. We speculated. We sang. We nursed our 8am pints. 

Torres and Gerrard were on the bench, still unfit to start, so it was hard to see anything different from previous season’s results. But I reminded myself: in football, one never knows.

That  devastating moment came early when Berbatov found Tevez (who else) unmarked, charging into the box. Tevez fired it past Reina. Less than three minutes gone and we were already a goal down. At least O’Shea had left it until the 92nd minute.

Without Torres or Gerrard, it was hard to imagine us putting two goals past Edwin van der Sar. But I started praying for a draw. A point against United would be decent enough. Deny them the two extra points at least. Part of me buzzed saying, we can still win this. Plenty of time. But I decided to maintain my emotional reserve until we got the equalizer.

Then, nearing the 26 minute mark, Xabi gets the ball some 35-yards out. (Why do I love to slip into the present tense for moments like these?) He sends it in. A promising looking service, but who will be at the end of it? Wes Brown as it turns out. Finally that weird did-that-really-just-happen moment goes the other way for Liverpool: against United. Xabi’s ball takes a deflection. Van der Sar tries to push it out, but he pushes it out against Wes Brown’s knee. The ball bounces back into the empty goal. 1-1. The pub explodes. If an own-goal was to be the key to restoring our chances: we’d take it.

And anyway, after the early minutes, Liverpool seemed the better team. My hesitation to believe began to give way to timid hope.  New guy Albert Riera was showing his potential. Dirk Kuyt made a promising shot from distance. Mascherano was beyond brilliant as if to say to United’s players: “See what I can do when I stay on the pitch?” 

And if Masch’s first-half as-clean-as-it-gets strip off Wayne Rooney wasn’t mouthwatering enough, in the 76th minute, our defensive midfielder charged deep into attacking territory, doggedly weaving past defenders. Giggs tries to hold him up against the byline but Masch pushes the ball to Kuyt. Kuyt turns and finds Babel in a world of space. Babel arcs it home. 2-1!!!!!

If I hadn’t been in a pub packed thick with my fellow supporters I would have fallen on my back. Thankfully, I had a swarm of jumping, screaming bodies to keep me upright. Also, I’d learned to put my beer down whenever Liverpool neared goal, just in case I needed to flail my arms about in celebration. You only need to be soaked with your own lager once or twice to learn that invaluable leason.

The remaining minutes would be tense. But United could not find the equalizer. And Vidic even got a late second yellow for trying to put his elbow through Xabi. Bye-bye, Nemanja. (Have I mentioned how much I love opposition red cards?)

The City match may have be a more well-rounded nominee for classic classic status… two goals down… three goals back… red card… late winner…

But the 13 September match has a contextual edge. Until then, Liverpool had never beaten United under Rafael Benitez. To do it after being a goal down—to do it without Torres or Gerrard (Gerrard came on in the 68th but didn’t look himself or play much of a part)—to finally have that incomprehensible goal-scoring moment be at United’s expense rather than in their favor (the universe is a balanced place, John O’Shea)—this was beyond belief! I couldn’t imagine a better result against United….

Until the visit to Old Trafford… 

Tomorrow… Part 4: Gerrard, Torres, Aurelio and Dossena (Yes, you heard me right: Dossena)…


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