Saturday, March 14, 2009

Manchester United Still on an Inter-Mission While Liverpool Prove the Real Deal

Liverpool came to Old Trafford and conquered. A stunning 4-1 win over their rivals Manchester United has thrown the title race wide open and has given the Anfield giants an outside chance of winning that elusive title.

Goals from Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Fabio Aurelio, and Andrea Dossena left Manchester United and Alex Ferguson all scratching their heads, after they had taken the lead through an early Cristiano Ronaldo penalty...

Going into the match, Liverpool had built an impressive momentum after they had dismantled Real Madrid 4-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday. Their cause was helped by an erratic Alex Ferguson selection where Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes both found themselves on the bench for the lacklustre Anderson and Park.

United were quick off the blocks and dominated the opening 10 minutes. Liverpool having to weather an early storm. But as the half wore on Liverpool started to come into the game.

Liverpool began to close down the United midfield down at every opportunity and with the supply lines being cut Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez began to look as peripheral figures on the pitch.

Only through their own high workrate and endeavour did the duo even make contact with that elusive ball. With midfield a congested area United were forced to go long time and time again, but the central partnership of Hyppia and Skrtel mopped everything up.

Before the match the Liverpool were rocked by an argument between Benitez and Jamie Carragher after the Liverpool defender initially refused to play at right fullback. But he recanted and with his presence in the full back slot the Reds defence looked impenetrable.

As Liverpool started to gain the upper hand United won a penalty. The ineffective Carrick passed to Tevez who played in Park, he drew out Reina but his toe poke under the Spaniard caused the 'keeper to misjudge the path of the ball completely and he hauled down the United midfielder.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a perfect penalty to hand United the lead and to give them the upper hand.

Within minutes, Liverpool were level as Nemanja Vidic made a schoolboy error and completely misjudged the flight of an innocuous long ball. With Fernando Torres hot on his shoulder he then attempted a clearance but slipped and left the Spanish hitman with the simple task of slotting the ball past Van der Sar to level.

United seemed to retreat into themselves after that. Carrick and Anderson offered nothing in midfield and a general fear overcame the entire Red Devils team. Senior players like Ferdinand, Vidic, and Ronaldo all refused to take responsibility and passed the ball on like it was a hot potato.

With Javier Mascherano and Lucas having their best games in midfield for some time, invisible walls were built all over the pitch and United had no answer to Liverpool's tactics.

Don't underestimate Liverpool's performance. This match against United was closer to the manner of their victory in the second leg over Madrid than in the first.They closed United down all over the pitch and gave them no room to operate.

When they had the ball they attacked with swift rapier like thrusts and Torres terrified Ferdinand and Vidic every time he touched the ball.

Michael Carrick, wearing the No. 16 jersey that has become synonymous with Roy Keane, looked a shadow of the great ex-captain in midfield. His lack of mobility causing both him and his team huge problems.

With the scores level and Liverpool on top, the Anfield giants always looked as if they would score next. And they did just that on the stroke of halftime through a Steven Gerrard penalty.

Ferguson stomped down the tunnel at half time and everyone watching the game expected a whole raft of changes to be made. United needed to do something rapidly to get back into this game.

They were dominating possession but looked like deer caught in the headlights of an on rushing car, and failed to create anything of real substance. In contrast Liverpool were dominating the match, every attack had United in trouble and their defence were hardly worked at all.

Only the erratic handling of the usually stable Pepe Reina offered United a way back into this game. And Ferguson would need to make the change sooner rather than later if they were to gain an unlikely win.

Ferguson did nothing...

Nothing, nothing, nothing. Hard to believe for United fans but he sent the same team back out to face a Liverpool team who had the smell of blood in their nostrils.

Had he given them the famous hair-dryer treatment? After analysing the second half performance you would have to say no. Ronaldo continued to look disinterested. Rooney and Tevez continued to work hard without the ball and never really looked like they would ever gain the ball.

The match continued in the same fashion as the first half. Liverpool strangling midfield without the ball and looking impressive with it.

They looked the more dangerous team and eventually Ferguson decided to act...with 20 minutes to go. Scholes, Giggs, and Berbatov came on in one large move for the training cones that were Ji-Sung Park, Anderson, and Michael Carrick.

And within 60 seconds, the move backfired in incredible style.

Torres played the ball to Gerrard who knocked the ball past Vidic. The Serbian who had a nightmare afternoon hauled the Liverpool maestro down, giving them a free kick on the edge of the box and received a straight red and his marching orders into the bargain.

With United all at sea and down to 10 men, Steven Gerrard and Fabio Aurelio stood over the ball while Van der Sar arranged his wall.

Obviously expecting a Gerrard special his wall was easily breached by Aurelio's superb free kick. Van der Sar was a spectator as the beautifully flighted ball nestled in the bottom corner.

With United 3-1 up to the good and United down a man the match was as good as over. Discipline began to leave the United team and their shape completely left the team. Rooney rampaged all over the pitch with his never say die attitude while Ronaldo, Berbatov, and a pretty much the rest of the team all looked for corners to hide in.

The final insult came in the closing moments when Andrea Dossena was sent free in the United half. Van der Sar came rushing off his line when there was no real need to come and Dossena lobbed him beautifully to give Liverpool their first double over United in seven years, Rafael Benitez's 100th win as manager, and more importantly, a lifeline to the title.

Player ratings
Man Utd

* 01 Van der Sar yellow card (5)
* 22 O'Shea (5)
* 05 Ferdinand yellow card (4)
* 15 Vidic red card (3)
* 03 Evra (5)
* 07 Ronaldo (5)
* 16 Carrick (4) (74 Giggs (5) )
* 08 Anderson (3) (73 Scholes (5) )
* 13 Park (5) (74 Berbatov (4) )
* 10 Rooney (5)
* 32 Tevez (5)


* 25 Reina (5)
* 23 Carragher yellow card (6)
* 37 Skrtel yellow card (6)
* 04 Hyypia(7)
* 12 Aurelio (7)
* 20 Mascherano yellow card (8)
* 21 Lucas (8)
* 18 Kuyt (6)
* 08 Gerrard (8) (90 El Zhar(-) )
* 11 Riera (6) (67 Dossena (7) )
* 09 Torres (9) (81 Babel (5) )

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