1. There we have it. United have beaten Liverpool home and away for the first time since 07/08. There was a huge gulf between the two sides at the start of the day, with United top of the league and Liverpool all the way down in 8th. Whilst Rodgers might claim there isn’t 24 points difference in quality between the two sides, the grim reality for Liverpool fans is that there really is. The league table doesn’t lie. United made light work of Liverpool in the first half and 3-0 or 4-0 would have been a fairer scoreline, based on the chances we had and the penalty that wasn’t given. I wouldn’t even say that United were playing that well but had completely dominated and David de Gea had nothing to do. Liverpool were let off the hook though and to be fair to them, were better in the second half, particularly the last 20 minutes. After Sturridge got the equaliser you had to wonder if they had another goal in them, particularly after Vidic was forced off with injury with over 10 minutes to play, but we held on and got the three points we deserved.
2. The biggest talking point after the game seemed to be the performance of Danny Welbeck. I’m a big fan of Welbeck and was amazed with how much he improved last season. This season hasn’t gone as well for him, which can be excused by fewer appearances and the fact he has regularly been played out of position. Yesterday, there was no doubting his work rate, with him chasing everything down. He had some involvement in the first goal and had a few chances himself, but I found him fairly frustrating. Whilst I’m not keen on the comparison I’m about to make, it has to be said. I don’t want another Carlos Tevez of the 08-09 season, who works his bollocks off but only scores a handful of goals. Welbeck is a striker and seems to be massively lacking in confidence in front of goal at the moment. Towards the end of the game Welbeck burst forward, getting away from two players, before stopping the ball just before the line. He had been in a position to shoot, but having taken it too far, he now needed to set up Van Persie for a simple tap in. Instead, he fell over, and took the ball with him. For me, that summed his day up. He would get himself in good positions, he would create space for himself and others, but right at the end he’d fuck it up. Whilst not an unreasonable levels, there were plenty of people in the crowd giving him a hard time, more than they were anyone else probably. I was amazed to learn on the way home that Gary Neville had given him Man of the Match. Whilst not wanting to criticise Neville, who is without question the best pundit out there with a brilliant football brain, I can’t get my head around how he thinks Welbeck performed better than anyone else yesterday.
3. What was less surprising was Robin van Persie scoring the opening goal. He has goals against Liverpool, City and Chelsea away, as well as Arsenal, and now Liverpool, at home. 17 goals and 6 assists from 19 starts. Incredible. It is interesting to note that we have had 16 different scorers this season in the league though, which is more than any other team in the league, so any accusations of us being a one man team are inaccurate. He’s scored 30% of our league goals, whilst Suarez has scored 43% of Liverpool’s. Van Persie’s goal was top class, with lovely one touch passing between Cleverley, Kagawa and Welbeck in the lead up, before Evra drilled across a perfect ball which Van Persie took first time, leaving Reina with no chance. Van Persie could have put us 2-0 up after Young played in a great ball not long after the opening goal, but he rightly assumed he wouldn’t have time to take a touch, and hit it first time just over the bar. In the second half, Antonio Valencia put in a good ball and Van Persie could only flick it behind him, and Reina had to be on his toes to save it. Robin is a great striker, clearly, but a brilliant footballer too. He is just fantastic on the ball, his feet are so fast, and I love watching him play. He’s a superstar. He said he chose ’20’ as a squad number because he wanted to win our 20th title this season. If we do, he is the driving force behind it, and already a favourite for the Golden Boot and Player of the Year awards.
4. When the team was announced, I was worried that we were going to be overrun in midfield. I assumed that Kagawa could drop back and help with defensive duties if necessary though. Then when they lined up, with Kagawa on the wing, not Welbeck as I had assumed, I was concerned. Whilst I had to applaud the manager for going two up front, it was a worry to think of what Liverpool could do with Gerrard, Lucas and Allen padding out their midfield. I needn’t have worried. Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick absolutely bossed it in the first half. We were rewarded for our braver formation with less than ten minutes played in the second half when our defenders put us 2-0 up.
5. Welbeck was clear through on goal when Skrtel cynically brought him down. Was it a clear goalscoring opportunity? The home crowd thought so, chanting “OFF! OFF! OFF!” but there was no way Howard Webb was giving us anything yesterday. Thankfully, United went on to score from the resulting freekick, after an excellent delivery from Van Persie. As well as being the top scorer in the league, only three players have more assists than him. Evra got up well and his header flew past Reina. I was confused at the time to see Nemanja Vidic reel away with his finger in the air, whilst Evra ran off celebrating in the opposite direction. Evra’s header did take a deflection off our captain though, a crucial one I’d say, and the goal has been given to him.
6. Webb infuriated the home crowd throughout the game, for missing seemingly obvious fouls on our players and blowing his whistle every time a Liverpool player went down. Several nasty or cynical challenges went without punishment, encouraging Liverpool players to keep trying their luck. Whilst it’s dangerous to hand out yellow cards too early on in games like this, it would have sent a message to our opposition. In the last minute of the first half we had a great chance to double our lead after Rafael made a fool of Johnson and got the ball across to Van Persie. He could only flick it on but as Kagawa charged in to put in the rebound he was bundled over by Wisdom. The angriest the crowd got was probably the reaction to this, after Reina had gone to ground. Liverpool attacked and had the ball around the box, whilst Reina was clearly flat out in the Liverpool goal. The referee didn’t stop play and no Liverpool player kicked it out. Once their move broke down and United were on the attack, Webb blew his whistle. He had been happy to let Liverpool play on and try to score though. Gerrard was guilty of several fouls, the late and cynical type which break up an attack, the kind Paul Scholes gets booked for every time, and not one of them brought a yellow card for Gerrard. After all the fuss about Webb giving United favourable decisions, it was clear he had no intent of sending any Liverpool player off, for fear of perpetuating the myth.
7. Cleverley made more passes than anyone else yesterday, followed by Michael Carrick. Cleverley also made more passes in the final third than anyone else too, with a 92% accuracy rate, which is very impressive. Whilst played out of position, Kagawa had a great game too and I was disappointed to see him subbed off. The tide had started turning by that stage so it made sense to bring on the more defensive-minded Phil Jones, but Kagawa had been linking well with our forwards.
8. Whilst United had been rewarded for going 442, Liverpool suffered because of Brendan Rodgers’ more conservative tactics. They offered next to nothing up front and David de Gea had nothing to do until their goal, with an hour on the clock. Suarez had a wild shot in the first half, before Wisdom slipped at the crucial moment and shot miles wide in the second half. The first save De Gea had to make resulted in the goal, with Rio Ferdinand blocking his view, but him still managing to get a hand to Gerrard’s shot. There was nothing he could about the rebound though, that fell straight to Sturridge. The player who couldn’t make it at City and Chelsea then ran to the Liverpool fans, doing the ‘5 times’ salute, which is just brilliant. He’s made two sub appearances for them and they haven’t played in the European Cup since 2009, when they failed to get out of the group when finishing 6 points behind 2nd placed Lyon, and 8 points behind group leaders Fiorentina. But yeh, knock yourself out celebrating success you contributed nothing to, in a competition your team are nowhere near good enough to even qualify for anymore. Had Sturridge played from the start though, maybe we would have been looking at a different scoreline. It was Cleverley who lost the ball in an awful position in the lead up to Liverpool’s goal, with him and Carrick losing their grip on the game a bit. Both Sturridge and Borini hit wide of the target shortly after, prompting a rare appearance from Sir Alex Ferguson on the touchline. Then Suarez broke through in to the box and somehow Rafael managed to stop him, but the ball fell to Sturridge a few yards out, and thankfully, he struck over the bar. Not long after, Sturridge hit the side netting, and we were really up against it. After doing nothing for an hour, Liverpool really turned it on for the last half an hour, with three strikers on the pitch. They were aided further by the injury of Vidic, who was replaced by Chris Smalling. Thankfully we held on for the three points though and they were deserved, given our domination for the vast majority of the game.
9. It feels absolutely brilliant beating that lot, even when they are mid-table nobodies, and whilst it would have been nice to have battered them after that first half showing, the defeat was made all the more painful for them after being given hope from Sturridge’s goal. As a result of the game we’ve now amassed 55 points which is our biggest ever tally at this stage in the season. It also indicates a steep improvement over recent years. Last season we were on 51 points after 22 games (behind City on 54), the season before it was 48 points, and the season before that, 47 points. We’ve played a lot of our most difficult games already, with City, Chelsea and Everton still needing to come to Old Trafford as we’ve played them all away, and are looking in a great position. We’ve got a trip to White Hart Lane ahead of us at the weekend, which could be tough when you consider they beat us at home, then a string of relatively easy fixtures. It’s looking good.