Manchester United vs Liverpool is a fixture which grabs the attentions of the World. Two of the most successful teams in the World, historically, who have the added local rivalry added on top, battling it out for pride as well as points.Before today, United had won the past four out of five trips to Anfield, claiming the bragging rights over their local rivals. Aside from Scholes and Neville, United had their first XI available to them, and were keen to prolong the bragging. Ryan Giggs, who scored his one hundredth league goal for United in his last game, was focussed on the importance of the game, for him individually as well as the team, eager to claim the three points. Images of him and Neville celebrating with the United fans after John O’Shea’s winner last season were fresh in his mind, and he was eager to make the difference today.
Whilst Giggs was the captain, it was Rio Ferdinand who proved to be the real leader today. I have confessed several times I am not his biggest fan, but I can offer nothing other than praise for him today. He made crucial tackles, was a commanding influence over our superb defence, and celebrated like a proper Manc at the final whistle. Hats off to him.
With time for reflection, whilst overjoyed at the result, I am also surprised with how little Liverpool worried our defence today. For the opening months of the season we had an incredible defensive record, but it was easy to spot their flaws. It was sheer good luck that we weren’t made the pay for more of the mistakes the back five were frequently making. “Thank god we’re not playing a decent side” I said on several occasions, watching a poor opposition’s striker putting the ball wide after our defence had allowed him far too much room. I was certain that Torres and co. would take advantage of those mistakes today.
With half an hour played, when Van der Sar screwed up royally, I got that horrible feeling of dread in my stomach. That feeling you get before the ball has hit the back of the net, but the one you get when you know the opposition are going to score. I rate Edwin highly, but today he was all over the place. Torres should have scored when the ball fell for him kindly from six yards. He somehow managed to head wide. On another occasion, Van der Sar charged off his line, only to run in the back off Vidic and end up on his arse. It was the quick thinking of Evra which prevented Liverpool taking the lead.
Just before half time we got a corner and our fans were up for it. Getting a goal just before half time would be just what we needed. Rather than playing the ball in to the first man, Giggs pulled the ball back to Rooney who was stood on the edge of the area. He rifled the ball in to the box, just wide of Reina’s outstretched hand, allowing Tevez to stab it home. Benayoun, stood helplessly on the line, ruled out any question of offside.
In the second half particularly, Liverpool dominated the possession and the chances, yet the final stats show Liverpool had just four shots on target to our two, and memory will tell you that Van der Sar wasn’t troubled on even one of these occasions. Their two best chances came from VDS fuck ups, not through anything they had to offer.
This is their year, the Liverpool fans will tell you, just as they did last season, and the season before, and the season before. The “Rafalution” is upon us, after all. But if we needed any confirmation that Liverpool are out of it, we were given that today. United is their biggest game of the season, and to struggle so obviously at home against us only cements the argument that they are again not ready to play with the big boys. They didn’t have the imagination, strength or passion to keep themselves in the game. The best chances of the game fell to United, with Rooney kicking himself for not finishing when one on one with the keeper. Our defence did their job without breaking in to a sweat. I was honestly surprised at how easy Liverpool were to contain.
The next time a dipper talks about Ronaldo diving, do remind him of Torres’ bellyflop in the first half. Rio stood up to challenge Torres for the ball, and once Torres lost out to the better man, threw himself to the ground, resulting in Man of the Match Ferdinand being rather pissed off. Torres was AWOL today, after all the fuss made about him before the match. Missing the open net was his most memorable occasion of the match and struggled to leave his mark after that.
Coupled with Arsenal’s win at home against Chelsea, United are now nine points clear of the dippers and five points clear of Chelsea. Arsenal have a one point advantage, with Spurs at home, Portsmouth away, Everton away and West Ham at home taking them up to the New Year. United have Everton at home, Sunderland away, West Ham away and Birmingham at home. I’d say we have the easier fixtures, just, and hope that we can get a few points advantage here and there. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see us top come 2008.
This weekend could have gone better if Chelsea had shown up, but a Petr Cech fuck up saw the end to that idea, however nothing can bring me down from a win at Anfield. Well done United. The tactics were spot on, snuffing out every Liverpool attack and taking advantage of the best opportunity we created. I’d be livid if the circumstances were reversed, United dominating possession and chances for a whole half at home, and go on to leave with nothing, but Ferguson showed his quality today. United weren’t at their best, but played the perfect game to get three points from Anfield.
Is this win at Anfield crucial for United?