Sunday’s match between Liverpool and Manchester United was a perfect example of why the Premier League is the most exciting league in the world. You had everything from an incredible dribble by Luis Suarez to beat four players and help create the first goal to the surreal antics of Nani. But most importantly, the action-packed game had passion, tenacity, drama and feistiness. It was the type of game where you couldn’t take your eyes away from it for any of the 90 minutes for fear of missing something remarkable. And for neutrals, it had the current title leaders suffering an embarrassing defeat in front of their arch-enemy. Not only that, but the win by Liverpool now raises the question whether Manchester United has what it takes to lift the top flight trophy for the 19th time.
Let’s start with Manchester United. This was one of the worst performances by the Red Devils in a very long time. Ryan Giggs, often a key link in their success, was absolutely awful. His free kicks were wasted and didn’t test Pepe Reina. His corners often didn’t clear the first Liverpool defender. And his passes were far below par. In a game against Liverpool where set pieces were Manchester United’s greatest opportunity to grab something back in this game, Giggs failed time and time again. His only redeeming factor was the cross that led to Hernandez’s goal.
Besides Giggs, none of the United players had a good game against Liverpool. Nani started the first half pretty well and caused Liverpool a few problems with a chance in front of goal as well as his runs across the pitch. That was until the 39th minute when he made an awful mistake by mistiming a header that floated over Michael Carrick to Dirk Kuyt who made it 2-0 to Liverpool. Five minutes later, Jamie Carragher committed an awful tackle against Nani. Carragher was lucky he was only punished with a yellow card for the foul, but the developments that happened right after Nani was fouled were bizarre. Nani, who was obviously incensed, ran over to referee Phil Dowd and pointed at the damage that Carragher had done to his leg, but then fell down with the aid of a Steven Gerrard push as tempers flared and both teams got in each other’s faces. While Dowd was calming players down and showing Carragher the yellow card, Nani was in tears on the ground and was being consoled by Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel. Nani was then stretchered off the pitch, looking like he was in incredible pain. Whether the pain was one of embarrassment from his earlier mistake and antics after being fouled, or whether it was sheer pain, we’ll have to wait and see how long Nani is out to get a better idea.
As for the rest of the United players, there were no heroes. United began the game by playing a lot of long diagonal balls to the wings, but those were easily defended by Liverpool. In the second half, Wayne Rooney switched to the left wing but that didn’t result in anything worthwhile except for a couple of harmless crosses and a shot saved by Reina in the 87th minute.
For United, the defeat to Liverpool exposes several issues. Without Nemanja Vidic (banned) and Rio Ferdinand (injured), United’s defense is penetrable. When someone like Giggs is playing poorly, there is little to no depth on the bench to replace him (due to injuries and not bringing in many new players). And most worryingly of all for Manchester United, opponents now feel that United are no longer invincible. With Sir Alex Ferguson expected to receive a ban of up to five matches, losing Ferguson couldn’t come at a worse time.
Liverpool, meanwhile, will be buoyed by the incredible win. From the minute the game started, Liverpool looked more committed to winning this match. They began with guns blazing with Suarez failing to accurately control a chance in front of goal in the second minute, Liverpool pouring on a blitzkrieg of attacks in the third minute and a tame effort from Maxi Rodriguez in the fifth minute. Liverpool continued the pressure and created chances, which they were rewarded for in the 34th minute when Luis Suarez went on his dizzying run that led to Kuyt poking the ball into the net.
Liverpool today showed what a powerful force they could be in the Premier League in future seasons. For the big matches, they have what it takes to frustrate opponents. Kuyt and Suarez linked up well throughout the game. Gerrard played much better than usual and had a couple of chances go agonizingly just wide. Raul Meireles continued his excellent form by reducing Rooney’s to a minor role in this massive match.
The debut of Andy Carroll in the 73rd minute for Liverpool was a positive addition. While he didn’t have many chances in front of goal, he quickly showed his ability to slot nicely into this Liverpool team which will add a different dynamic.
But without a shadow of a doubt, the player of the match Sunday was Luis Suarez (even if you ignore his dribbling run that led to the first goal). The Uruguayan forward constantly created havoc for Manchester United’s defenders as he created plenty of chances, found plenty of open space and passed his way in and out of his opponents. The energy and drive that Suarez exhibited was wonderful. And his free kick which was spilled by Van der Sar leading to Kuyt knocking the ball in to the net was sublime.
Congratulations to Liverpool on a well-deserved win.
If I had to name another man of the match in this game, it would be Phil Dowd. The much maligned referee was calm under intense pressure Sunday and managed to keep the game under control while making sound decisions. His decision to wave off an appeal for a penalty in the 59th minute when Dimitar Berbatov’s header was blocked on the line by Meireles was correct. And Dowd’s decision to not show a red card to Carragher and Rafael Da Silva, during a separate incident for a foul on Lucas Leiva right before the half time whistle blew, was wise. Instead of killing off the game with a couple of rash decisions, he made reasonable decisions and booked both players with a yellow instead.
In the space of one week, Chelsea and Liverpool have handed Arsenal two presents in the form of victories against Manchester United to narrow the gap at the top of the table to three points. Whether Arsenal can take advantage of Manchester United slipping up, we’ll have to wait and see. A lot depends on what Arsenal does in their game in hand against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on April 20. But if it does come down to the wire, the May 1 match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium could be a crucial decider. That would be followed by another crucial game for Manchester United against Chelsea on May 7.
Can Arsenal overtake Manchester United for the league title? Should Carragher or Da Silva been sent off? Can Liverpool make a run and climb into fifth place? Share your opinions in the comments section below.