Sunday, October 25, 2009

REDemption for Rafael Benitez as "10-Man" Liverpool Beat "9-Man" United 2-0

Ten man Liverpool beat "nine" man Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield in a pulsating clash where both sides went at each other as if it was a cup final.

Both Nemanja Vidic and Javier Mascherano saw red as Fernando Torres scored the opening goal and the unlikely David Ngog coolly slotted the second past the returning Edwin Van der Sar.

The commitment and passion from Liverpool was a joy to see as they hassled Manchester United to every ball, and completely dominated and out-muscled the Red Devils all over the pitch.

The win was well deserved and pushes the troubled Reds into the top 5, only six points behind leaders, Chelsea.

Rafael Benitez deserves much credit for the way he motivated his struggling side, despite the absence of their talismanic captain, Steven Gerrard.

Welcoming Fernando Torres back into the fold, they looked a different proposition to the team that surrendered to Sunderland and Lyon in recent weeks.

Too many United players chose to take the day off. Paul Scholes was poor, Michael Carrick was his usual anonymous self, and Dimitar Berbatov might as well have not been on the pitch.

The Bulgarian international has come in for much criticism since his move to United from Spurs, and this was his big chance to shine on the biggest stage yet. But his performance was way below par, and United might as well have only played with 10 men when he was on the pitch.

Barring the odd flick or nice piece of control, he was a ghost to Liverpool’s fervent players.

But Liverpool deserve much credit.

Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun worked tirelessly on the flanks and shut United's full backs down at every opportunity, denying the Red Devils every avenue of escape as they tightened their grasp on the match.

In midfield the much-maligned Lucas Leiva probably played his best game in a Red jersey, and even came in with the assist for David Ngog's cool winning goal in injury time.

He was ably partnered by Javier Mascherano. The other half of the South American midfield covered every blade of grass and closed off many United attacks before they even saw them.

The only blight on his otherwise outstanding display was a ridiculous sending off for a stupid challenge on Edwin van Der Sar in injury time.

The tale of the first half could be summed up as Van Der Sar vs. Liverpool. The giant Dutch 'keeper was making his second appearance of the season and he put in the kind of display that 'keepers only dream about.

He made a whole series of outstanding saves from Dirk Kuyt, Fabio Aurelio, and Benayoun as Liverpool tried to force their adventurous play home. United's only real chances of the first half fell to Wayne Rooney.

The English international was his usual energetic self, harrying Liverpool's defenders at every turn. Unfortunately the same can't be said of his striking partner, Berbatov, who again looked a shadow of his former self.

With the game poised on a knife-edge as both teams traipsed in for their half-time talks, it was easy to see that Benitez was the happier manager.

Ferguson changed things slightly and pushed Giggs further forward in an attempt to give some support to Rooney, but the move did nothing to deny Liverpool's dominance, and if anything it worked to Benitez's gain.

The second half was every bit as frantic as the first, with both sides probing for that vital opening.

United's goal was being peppered by crosses from both sides while United chose to venture through the centre by looking for Berbatov and Rooney to race onto through balls.

The opening goal came in the 64th minute after Liverpool had begun to turn the screw in search of that opening goal after Benayoun found Torres in the box and the Spanish striker tucked the ball home to give Liverpool the lead their play deserved.

United then came into the game and started to look something like their normal selves as they began to eke out chances, Michael Owen being brought into the fray as Fergie chased the equalizer.

But it was almost a case of too little too late, as Liverpool were easily on top and weren't in the kind of mood to relinquish that hard earned lead.

As the game moved into the final 10 minutes the inevitable United onslaught came, but Liverpool dealt with everything they had to throw at them. Agger and Carragher were magnificent in Liverpool's defence, as were Johnson and Aurelio who provided many out balls that their United counterparts were being denied.

The most contentious part of the match fell in the 87th minute as Michael Owen raced away from Liverpool's defence with the goal at his mercy, only to be unceremoniously dumped by Carragher, who was extremely lucky only to receive a yellow card for his professional foul.

Moments later Vidic saw red for his second bookable offense. The giant Serbian now has the envious record of being sent off in all of his last three games against Liverpool.

United then had their last chance of the game as Wayne Rooney headed over from Valencia's cross.

In the end, all the jokes were on the United faithful. Despite all the beach balls and masks and banners on show, they just couldn’t inspire their team to a win that would have been the nail in Liverpool’s and quite possibly Rafa’s coffin.

And as the game moved towards its end, Mascherano produced a moment of sheer madness when he bundled Van Der Sar over when it was easier to stand off as the United 'keeper was going nowhere.

It was the final act of a highly entertaining game, and Rafa's job is safe for another week...

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