For the neutral or Liverpool supporter, Sunday’s massive fixture between England’s two most historically successful clubs had it all: sending offs, goals, incredible atmosphere, more beach balls & definitely loads of drama. Are United’s fiercest rivals & Northwest neighbors slowly becoming their bogey team? It’s now been three painful defeats in a row & United supporters won’t soon forget last season’s 4-1 tonking at Old Trafford.
Surprise, surprise, both Fernando Torres & Wayne Rooney made the starting eleven for their respected sides in Sunday’s crucial Premier League match up. It seems Fergie was up to his normal mind games this week in regards to his team selection. So full strength squads for both sides (minus Liverpool’s Captain Steven Gerrard who missed out with the same groin problem that saw him leave Liverpool’s mid-week Champions League loss to Lyon).
In what was the fastest half of football in recent memory, Liverpool & Manchester United exchanged quickly-timed blows like two experienced mixed martial artists throughout the opening half. This Liverpool team was by all observations not the Liverpool of recent weeks who lost 4 straight in all competitions. The first 20 minutes were all Liverpool as their midfield combination of Lucas, Javier Mascherano, Fabio Aurelio & Yossi Benayoun easily got the better of United’s Carrick, Scholes, Giggs & United newbie Antonio Valencia with crisp passing & quick forward-thinking attacks.
Liverpool’s best first half chances came when Paul Scholes carelessly lost out in midfield to Lucas who fed Kuyt, Kuyt was unable to finish off himself or find Torres at the far post. United safe, for now. Moments later, Fabio Aurelio produced a stunning free kick from just outside the box only for an equally stunning world-class save from United’s Edwin van der Sar. The spry Liverpool were definitely getting the better of United with early chances & controlling time of possession. United found themselves on the back heel for most of the first half with Fernando Torres doing his best to annoy John O’Shea (a match up United fans will not want to see again), & United’s central defense (the not-so-dynamic-duo) of Nemanja Vidic & Rio Ferdinand.
Liverpool’s first half dominance was conjured up by United’s lack of any midfield cohesion. Michael Carrick & Ryan Giggs failed to involve themselves til later in the match. United’s forward pair of Rooney & Berbatov also failed to produce any rhythm in attack, having problems at times holding up the ball for each other after receiving numerous long balls from deep midfield. United did however have a few bright spots in an otherwise “all Liverpool” first half when van der Sar produced another fine save from a close range Fabio Aurelio header. Fergie may have had a shout for penalty when Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher challenged strongly on Michael Carrick in the box. These things usually even themselves out though as Berbatov appeared to tug down Dirk Kuyt at the opposite end moments later. An extra official behind the goal may have adjudged a spot kick if one was present. Both penalty appeals fell on deaf ears. After all, this isn’t the Europa League.
Balloons & beach balls appeared to loom on & around the pitch all day like land mines waiting to explode & affect play. Not on this day, the only explosion came from Liverpool striker Fernando Torres who was fed brilliantly in on goal in the 65th minute by Yossi Benayoun. Rio Ferdinand continued his odd play by appearing to play way too high a defensive line on the Premier League’s leading scorer. Torres shrugged off the England International defender easily & blasted the top of van der Sar’s net, 1-0 Liverpool. The play of Ferdinand on Torres’ goal, or lack of play for that matter quickly reminded me of Manchester City’s third goal in the Manchester derby. Craig Bellamy quickly & easily beat Ferdinand to slot home against Ben Foster in goal to draw even 3-3. Is Ferdinand becoming a liability for United? How many games will he need to get his form back? Will Ferguson even remotely consider dropping him? Time will tell.
United continued to struggle up front with Rooney & Berbatov failing to link up most of the afternoon. Their best chance to draw level came in the 84th when Antonia Valencia worked his magic on the wing for United & was only denied by the frame of the goal with what would have been a spectacular blast to equal the score. Reina was easily beaten by the force of the strike. It wasn’t to be, United simply weren’t good enough in attack on the day. United still lacked the final ball going forward even when former Liverpool striker Michael Owen came off the bench late on. I could probably count on one hand how many times he actually touched the ball. I want Owen to succeed for United, but today wasn’t his day. He failed to get himself involved in play or make any kind of impact on the game.
Manchester United like most other teams in the Premier League have recently failed in finding a way to deal with Fernando Torres. Neither Vidic or Ferdinand could handle the strength or pace of the Spanish International. Want proof? Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Liverpool marked the third straight game in which Vidic hasn’t even lasted the full 90, & no, he hasn’t sucumed to injury. Vidic has now seen red each time he’s taken the field v Liverpool in three straight games.
An exciting match that had everything ended 10 v 10 on Sunday with Liverpool easily looking back to their best. Fergie will definitely lament his teams recent dip in form against their hated rivals. Are the cracks starting to show in a United attack that is finally missing one Cristiano Ronaldo? Or, was this a one off loss that (let’s be serious) United were always going to struggle to win with Liverpool’s recent form? Come on EPL Talk readers,……what say you?