Editor’s note: Liverpool one, Manchester United one. A single point for both sides, but which club should feel pleased with their performance, and which manager made the correct decisions, or not? Here are three dissenting opinions from EPL Talk’s Chris Binnie, Frank Sale and, me, The Gaffer. Let us know who you agree with in the comments section below, and share your own insights and opinions regarding this, one of the biggest matches of the season.
Liverpool Heading In The Right Direction After 1-1 Draw With United — By Chris Binnie
For English football fans worldwide, the second half spectacle didn’t disappoint when Manchester United met Liverpool at Anfield today. Relative to the second half one could almost describe the first half of the meeting of old enemies as insipid.
It was not for a lack of trying from both parties however and what with Wayne Rooney and other front men being left on the bench and Phil Jones’ previously untried ephemeral role to effectively block all midfield work from Steven Gerrard, the tactics from both teams meant any highly entertaining play-making was cancelled out, as was anything more than a couple of half chances for scoring.
In hand with the return of their talisman to fitness, Gerrard, one thing that Liverpool Football Club can be proud of is that, in terms of their title-chasing hopes, they’re definitely making noticeable progress in the right direction.
The highly visible abundance of enthusiasm on display from Liverpool, which admittedly was during one of their biggest matches of the season against Manchester United, was without question extremely encouraging. The adept and skilful crossed balls flying at speed in from the wing by Stewart Downing and the long, pacey runs by José Enrique for significant sections of the pitch were distinctly lacking last season.
The omission of Bellamy and Carroll in the game had its own consequences such as the aerial threat Carroll provides in the box from set pieces and crosses and the sparky urgency that Bellamy poses to any alarmed defence when attacking.
Dalglish said after the match that he thought it was “fitting” that Gerrard got the goal for Liverpool, from the free kick and he thought that, during his first full ninety minutes on the pitch for seven months, Gerrard had performed to his usual expected standard of excellence. Noticeably exhibiting flair with a couple of trick shots, side-flicking the ball to colleagues, through the course of the match Gerrard showed that his own confidence in his ability had not abated at all during his injury respite.
There is little doubt that Liverpool Football Club stood up and wore their Sunday best, for what some described as the “most important club match in the world”, but if today’s performance is anything to go by then the club has come along by leaps and bounds. Consider for a moment that less than a year ago fans were realistically facing a relegation threat, whilst under the management of the now departed Roy Hodgson (only part of the blame for which should be apportioned to Hodgson).
The passionate performance from players that knew the club’s heritage and knew what it meant to the fans to do well against United was unfortunately only partially rewarded with a point for a draw. Harnessing Gerrard’s powerful contribution in midfield for the rest of the season in order to hook him up with Luis Suárez and Carroll will be an interesting watch and hopefully the goals will really flow as result. What should Liverpool and Dalglish take from the solidarity and stamina they showed as a team today? As a squad they’re making fantastic headway and, although there’s still a long way to go, the newly melded and formidable team whether it’s this season or next should soon be a real force to be reckoned with.
Liverpool Should Have Taken Advantage of an Unusual Manchester United — By Frank Sale
A draw was a disappointing result for Liverpool in the 12:45PM kick off on Saturday. After a very flat first half and a slightly better second half, the game certainly did not live up to expectations after Ferguson billed it the greatest game in English football. However it didn’t pass without incident and Liverpool will feel they should have walked away with all three points. Ferguson got everything wrong. His tactics and the formation, let alone the starting eleven, which was barely recognisable. Manchester United were average, and should be very happy with their point. Rooney was demoted to the bench which summed up his miserable week after his England sending-off and subsequent three-match ban for Euro 2012, the talking point before the match. Sir Alex gambled with his starting line-up, also leaving Nani and Hernandez on the bench, and it didn’t pay off.
What did pay off was Dalglish’s decision to start Steven Gerrard. The 31-year-old was a presence all over the pitch, supporting Charlie Adam and Lucas Leiva when United were in possession while still finding the energy to drive forward and showcase his crossing ability. He inspired Liverpool and injected a life and buzz into the team. Gerrard capped a fine performance with a goal, squeezing his free-kick between Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck in the United wall to hand the home side the lead after sixty-eight minutes. Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing also showed how much width they provide Liverpool with. The pair combined on numerous occasions to surge past Smalling and deliver dangerous balls into the box, but it was clear that Liverpool lacked a presence in the air. Martin Kelly excelled at right back and looked comfortable keeping tabs on the in-form Young and generally added a different dimension to the Liverpool team.
United never impressed in the first hour. Their midfield possessed no creativity, and this took its toll, because the delivery to Welbeck was simply not good enough. The reigning champions failed to trouble Reina, as Liverpool dominated the pitch. However, once Gerrard had given his side the lead, Sir Alex introduced Nani and Rooney. Manchester United then began to pick up their game, and when Hernandez came on, he continued to enhance his reputation as a clinical goal scorer in and around the 18-yard box. He made an immediate impact and from a corner managed to spin away from Skrtel and head the ball past Reina to equalise and earn a point for United in the last ten minutes.
Although Rooney may have inspired his fellow team-mates, he himself was very quiet and took up an unusual position, playing in the centre of midfield, and only really game into the game when he made an excellent defensive header denying Suarez a clear opportunity to score.Fergusonsaid that he was left on the bench because he was ‘devastated’ after his Euro 2012 ban, and this really did show.After Hernandez had silenced the Anfield crowd, there was still time for Dirk Kuyt and Jordan Henderson to force De Gea to make some decent stops. The United keeper has had his fair share of critics this season, but he is just settling and came through today’s game with class. This was a game that Liverpool could and should have won. Dalglish perhaps made a mistake in not bringing on Bellamy and Carroll on, as both players have the potential to add positives in the attack. Manchester United fall behind their new arch rivals,Manchester City for the first time this season, while Liverpool remain in fifth place and continue to fight for a place in the top four.
Liverpool Miss Golden Opportunity To Punish Manchester United — By The Gaffer
Sir Alex Ferguson has done it again. He set out with a precise plan against Liverpool. He risked it by resting some of his key stars, and as I predicted, gambled on Manchester United stifling Liverpool until the 65th minute to come back and draw. Even after Steven Gerrard scored the free kick, I was confident that United would come back and draw this game. The writing was on the wall.
That said, I was extremely disappointed with Liverpool’s performance. You had a full-strength Liverpool side starting against what was essentially a B-side Manchester United with star players such as Nani, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia on the bench, while Nemanja Vidic didn’t even dress and you had, gulp, Jonny Evans, an aging Ryan Giggs and an out-of-position Phil Jones in the side. If Liverpool is to mount a serious title challenge this season, this was the sort of game where Liverpool should have punished Manchester United. Even Liverpool legend Kevin Keegan said before the game that Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting eleven was an insult to Liverpool FC.
With Liverpool, there was too much bluster and not enough precision. Dalglish’s side controlled possession in key moments of the match but they were unable to create as many chances as I would suspect. And the chances that they didn’t create were wasted by Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt. Put Javier Hernandez into that one-on-one situation that Suarez had against De Gea and Chicharito would have scored nine times out of ten. Kuyt, meanwhile, had a late chance in the game but shot straight at De Gea.
Manchester United set out to get a draw in this match and they got exactly what they wanted. Sir Alex Ferguson made a calculated move in starting with the line-up he had today. He walked away from Anfield with one point and with players who will be well-rested for next week’s Champions League game. Sir Alex Ferguson found the perfect balance in getting what he wanted and preparing his team for their next game. For Liverpool, they have to start all over again next weekend with a home match against Norwich City. And judging by the performance the Canaries put on today and comparing that with how Liverpool lacked imagination, the Reds are going to have a tough time against the recently promoted side.