Manchester United extended their recent run of good form by dispatching mid-table Liverpool 2-1 without too much trouble.
Sir Alex’s men are now unbeaten in the league since mid November, a run of 10 league games, winning 9 and drawing the other away to the impressive Swansea. This has seen the Reds cement a 7 point lead at the top of the table, 24 points ahead of yesterdays visitors who are now just 12 points clear of the relegation zone.
With Jonny Evans injured and sat behind us with his fiancée Helen McConnell, the Reds started the arguably first choice pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic, with Evra and Rafael either side of them and De Gea in net. A midfield of Young, Cleverley, Carrick and Kagawa sat behind Welbeck and Van Persie.
United started the game brightly with Carrick particularly impressive when recycling possession frequently sending the ball out to either wing where Liverpool seemed ill-equipped to deal with the overlapping runs of Evra or Rafael. Kagawa started the game on the left and had perhaps his best game for the club in terms of the quality of his touch, and seemingly improved strength on the ball and was instrumental in the superb pass-and-move build up play to United’s first goal.
A sequence of fantastic passes from Kagawa to Evra, back to Kagawa, to Cleverley, to Welbeck, to Carrick, to Kagawa, to Welbeck, to Cleverley, to Evra who crossed for Robin van Persie to slide the ball past Reina really highlights the difference in quality between the two sides. At no point during that sequence did any Liverpool player look likely to steal the ball, or even anticipate where the next pass would go, they were left chasing shadows as United cut through them with ease. A damning indictment on a team that’s apparently attempting to reinvent itself (for the thousandth time) into Barcelona-lite.
By happy coincidence, Liverpool restarted the game with 19:18 on the clock, another reminder of their fading significance to accompany the Stretford End’s chants of having knocked the scousers off their perch, and them ‘not being famous any more’ – not to mention ‘Luis Suarez, your teeth are offside…’
The rest of the first half was a stale affair, Liverpool failing to create any real chances, while United probed and prodded and should have been 2-0 up during a goal mouth scramble that saw Pepe Reina stay down injured. Referee Howard Webb allowed Liverpool to counter attack, leading to a threatening cross to United’s penalty spot before halting the game so Reina could get treatment once United won the ball back. Webb was shockingly poor in many aspects yesterday, but allowing Liverpool to counter then halting play only when United won the ball back was his most egregious error. Liverpool had plenty of opportunities to put the ball out of play if they were truly bothered about the health of their keeper, and either Reina was injured enough for Webb to stop play, or he wasn’t. He didn’t magically get MORE injured because United won the ball back.
Both teams made a change at half-time with United bringing on Valencia for the largely ineffective Young, and Liverpool bringing on deluded couldn’t-cut-it-at-City, couldn’t-cut-it-at-Chelsea Daniel Sturridge, who proclaimed this week that he’d joined “The biggest club in the world” – though neglected to specify by what means he measures this, given that it’s not the size of fan base, success, current league position or stadium facilities. Perhaps ‘tolerance of racism’ or ‘speed at creating t-shirts of support for racist players’ was his yardstick – though his previous employer gives his new one a run for their money in both instances..
United extended their lead after 53 minutes as a superb free kick from Robin van Persie found both Vidic and Evra free at the back post – unbelievably negligent marking if ever there was some given the effectiveness of Evra from set pieces this season. Evra headed towards goal, and Vidic claimed the faintest of deflections on the ball to steer it past the hapless, and apparently totally recovered, Reina.
Sir Alex’s men then appeared to be too comfortable with the two goal lead, as if lulled into a false sense of security by Liverpool’s abject play until that point. Sturridge did make a difference to them, giving Suarez someone to play off, rather than running round like a headless chicken, hoping the ball would bounce for him as he’d spent the previous 60 minutes of the game doing.
Liverpool equalised 3 minutes later after some sloppy play from Cleverley allowed Steven ‘kisses the badge on his chest, then puts in a transfer request’ Gerrard to unleash a shot on goal which De Gea could only parry into the path of Sturridge. The new signing, who has now played approximately 100 minutes for Liverpool, then gave the 5 finger salute to United’s fans – to indicate their European Cup wins. I nearly fell over laughing at the sight of this, a reminder from one of their own players of a long-gone era when Liverpool were a successful club, celebrating the wins of a competition that they’re no longer good enough to qualify for, and which Sturridge hasn’t played a single minute for them in.
Although the lead had been halved, the goal provided the funniest moment of the day as the away fans set off a red smoke bomb in their own end (despite the fact that United were playing in red, and they were playing in black) – happily celebrating the fact that they were now just one goal behind the home side. This was the personification of the small-time, mid-table no-mark club that Liverpool have become.
Liverpool huffed and puffed for the rest of the game, carving a few half chances but never really exerted the pressure of a top club whilst United’s defence stood firm to complete the double over them this season.
The win saw the red half of Manchester temporarily open a 10 point lead up at the top of the table, which was later reduced back to 7 with City’s win away at Arsenal.