When you consider that the match between Manchester United and Liverpool didn’t come alive until the 65th minute when Gerrard scored a penalty, it’s amazing to consider how much drama and action were sandwiched into the last 25 minutes of the clash between these two legendary sides at Old Trafford.
For the first 65 minutes, there was really only one side playing and that was Manchester United. Liverpool tried to volley back United’s goal attempts for such a large portion of the match but was unable to create even a few chances in return. For the entire first half, Liverpool had zero shots at goal. But everything changed in the second half in this game, and we finally saw two sides battling back and forth after a stroke of genius from Fernando Torres who showed his incredible skill to cut-back inside the box. But more about that later.
Here are the observations I took from this game:
- 2-0 (and 2-1) are the most dangerous leads for Man United. Just as Manchester United surrendered leads against Fulham and Everton, United did the same against Liverpool even when they were cruising 2-0 ahead. Except this time they were able to secure a final goal to win the match 3-2. Man United’s inability to hold on to a lead can again be blamed on defensive mistakes. This time it was Jonny Evans cutting down Fernando Torres in the box. And Liverpool’s second goal was a fault of Darren Fletcher who created an opening in the wall.
- Fernando Torres’s greatest gift is in creating something out of nothing. Torres’s body may not be anywhere near full fitness, but his mind is still razor-sharp. Both of Liverpool’s goals Sunday were a direct result of Fernando Torres creating havoc around the penalty area. The first was the way that Torres took the pass from Joe Cole, and then thundered into the box, knowing that Jonny Evans would be unable to deal with his sharp cut back, which led to Evans chopping Torres down for the penalty decision. The second goal resulted from the free kick outside the box where John O’Shea pulled Torres down. The Irishman should have received a red card, but again it was Torres’s ability to create something out of seemingly nothing which made the difference for Liverpool. Regarding Torres, Liverpool supporters must be wondering when he’ll return to his true self and regain complete fitness, and how even more dangerous he’ll be again when he attains that level.
- Nani has inherited Cristiano Ronaldo’s worst attribute. Earlier in Ronaldo’s career at United, the Portuguese player flopped from the mildest contact to try to win calls. And now Nani all of a sudden was trying the same thing at Old Trafford. Nani is the type of player who doesn’t have to do this. And United isn’t the type of club either that needs to resort to these tactics to win games.
- Liverpool desperately lacks creativity. If you watched this match and pretended that the team playing in white was some anonymous side, you would have thought they were a mid-table or lower-table side such as the lack of chances they created and the lack of creativity should on the field. The late resurgence from Liverpool came from a penalty and a free kick, not from open play. But even though Liverpool battled back valiantly after scoring those two goals, they lacked the engine in midfield which could create chances. Xabi Alonso, Liverpool misses you.
- Konchesky owned Nani in the first half. When Manchester United’s attacks began in the first half through Nani who attempted to get the killer cross into the box, they were foiled each single time by Paul Konchesky who blocked so many crosses that I lost count. Most of them were blocked and deflected out from a corner. But Nani’s inability to get a ball into the box showed how much they miss Antonio Valencia. After several chances were blocked, Giggs and O’Shea got more involved on the right to get the crosses in for United.
- The roles of Berbatov and Rooney have reversed. In the past it was Rooney who scored most of the goals and Berbatov became provider. Now the tables have turned and it’s Rooney who is involved in being the creator while Berbatov is on top of his game for United and demonstrating his prowess in front of goal. And what a brilliant hat trick it was by the Bulgarian.
- Gerrard performed under pressure. The amount of pressure that was on Steven Gerrard’s shoulders when Liverpool were awarded a penalty was immense. If the player had missed the chance to score, he would not only have the 76,000 people at Old Trafford on his back, but you can imagine that the press would begin drawing their knives about the sinking ship at Liverpool and how Gerrard missed a glorious chance to bring the Reds back into this game. However, he took the penalty cleanly and showed how well he plays under pressure. He also got the bonus of a goal from a free kick later in the match.
- Supporters in good voice. It was a joy to listen to both sets of supporters singing and chanting throughout almost the entire match. Some of the song lyrics were inappropriate from what I’ve been told, but it’s still good to hear large portions of the crowd singing for once.
- Liverpool look like they are playing inside a shell. Hopefully for Liverpool, Sunday’s comeback will give Roy Hodgson’s side confidence to begin playing better this season. But throughout most of the game at Old Trafford, Liverpool looked like a side that was playing inside an egg shell that it was unable to break out of. The team was timid, lacked confidence, was unable to keep possession, and didn’t pass the ball around enough. Until their late fightback, Liverpool looked like a ghost of a side.
- It’s time for Carragher to be dropped. He’s Liverpool through and through, but it’s time for Jamie Carragher to spend some time on the bench and allow some of the other defenders like Agger and Skrtel to start more for Liverpool. So many times in the past year we’ve seen Carragher unable to keep up with the speed of the opposition. Or like on Sunday, we saw him foul Vidic in the box by aggressively pulling his shirt (and luckily for Liverpool, getting away with it). He handled the ball outside the box late in the second half, which was again missed by the referee. These were just two of the many errors Carragher committed for Liverpool. Unfortunately he’s walking liability.
Away from the actual game on the pitch, I must say that Craig Burley was a joy to listen to. It’s refreshing to hear a co-commentator be so direct and critical, and irreverent at the same time. When Nani fell to the ground and pretended he was hurt, Burley called out “Pick yourself up, son” in his deep Scottish accent. Burley later went on to describe how Nani knows that soccer is a contact sport, so he needs to take it, get up and play on instead of playacting on the turf at Old Trafford.
Speaking of the presentation of this game, I was so excited at the build-up to this game that I watched for the 15-20 minutes before the match kicked off on FoxSoccer.tv (which was flawless Sunday, congratulations to Fox). The pre-game build-up featured close-up frontal images of each player as the team line-ups were unveiled. It was a refreshing change to the typical presentation of line-ups we’re accustomed to seeing. And it worked really well. I also enjoyed watching the pre-match interviews featuring Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Hodgson, two veterans of the game.