Manchester United took all three points from Anfield for the first time since 2007, in a controversial game which was eventually won from the penalty spot by Robin Van Persie.
On a poignant day in which the lives of the 96 Liverpool fans who tragically died in 1989 at Hillsborough were remembered, Liverpool put in a sterling performance that was more than worthy of the occasion, but as has been the case thus far for the red half of Merseyside, a lack of cutting edge in the final third meant that Anders Lindegaard was largely untroubled, despite the vast amount of possession enjoyed by Brendan Rodger’s men.
United won the day however, courtesy of Robin Van Perise’s fifth league goal of the season in three starts, which he struck with real venom from the penalty spot to win a crucial three points for United on a day where they vastly underperformed at Anfield once more. Given that United had not won at the home of their most fiercest rivals since 2007, it is three points that United will take gleefully, but massive concerns remain after another unconvincing performance. Sir Alex put it best when he said:
“We are pleased with the result, but not the performance.”
United began the game with a bright opening five minutes or so, looking to take the game to Liverpool, but it was a period that did not deliver much for the Red Devils in terms of goalscoring opportunities. Ryan Giggs went closest with an attempt that was always rising and going away from the goal, though it did have Pepe Reina scrambling across his goal.
Liverpool were in control of the game not long after, but they too struggled to create much in the way of shots on goal. Suarez tested Anders Lindegaard with a fierce low cross, and the Danish goalkeeper was perhaps lucky that his palmed save fell to Jonny Evans who could clear the ball, and not the onrushing Fabio Borini, who is still looking for his first Premier League goal for his new club. Steven Gerrard went close as well shortly after, breaking clear of Ryan Giggs at a corner and smashing a low drive just outside Lindegaard’s near post.
The game saw it’s first real moment of controversy in the 39th minute when Jonjo Shelvey stole the ball off Ryan Giggs. Though the midfielder had relieved Giggs of possession, he wasn’t able to bring the ball under control, giving Evans a chance to win the ball. Both players threw themselves into the contest, with neither player looking like they were in any real control of their respective tackles, but Shelvey clearly went over the top of the ball, and failed to make any contact with the ball, resulting a red card. Jonny Evans was perhaps lucky to escape a similar punishment, with his only saving grace perhaps being that although he did have his studs showing, he did not go in over the top of the ball but rather parallel to it, and did make first contact with the ball.
Still, though the red card was perhaps warranted, Liverpool will feel rightly aggrieved that Evans escaped similair punishment.
Going down to ten men would have hampered most clubs against Manchester United, but it only served to inspire Liverpool, and despite being at a numerical disadvantage the hosts continued to boss proceedings. Again though, despite their control of possession, they had a hard time of penetrating the United defence, with their only other chance of note in the first half coming from a free kick, which Lindegaard easily saved.
The ineffective Nani was replaced at half time by Paul Scholes, and his first real contribution of the match was to set up Steven Gerrard for the game’s opener. Barely 50 seconds into the half, Liverpool had worked the ball towards United’s goal, and the ensuing scramble eventually saw Scholes scuff his clearance high into the air in Gerrard’s direction, which he brought down on his chest, before smashing a cracking volley beyond the helpless Lindegaard.
It was no less than Liverpool deserved for their efforts, but it would prove the highlight of an otherwise disappointing day for the club.
United replied in the 50th minute with a brilliant goal of their own, when Rafael got on the ball and decided to take the game to Liverpool himself. Prior to this point, United offered very little in the final third themselves with the little of the ball they had. The Brazilian full back changed that with a driving run beyond the young Spanish winger, Suso, before laying the ball back to Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian winger chipped his first time cross in the direction of Shinji Kagawa, who had a quiet day himself, who chested the ball down to the feet of Rafael, before curling the ball into the back of the net off the far post with his weaker left foot.
The game quickened again after that point, with the ball moving freely from end to end, but again, it was Liverpool who enjoyed the greater spells of possession. Luis Suarez forced a great save out of Anders Lindegaard in the 60th minute, and he was forced into action 12 minutes later when Suarez cut the ball back for Suso who could only fire his shot straight at the United keeper, who vindicated Sir Alex’s faith in him ahead of De Gea with a fine performance.
The match winning moment came in the 76th minute when a horrendous mix up between Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger allowed Antonio Valencia to burst through clean on goal. The Ecuadorian drove through on goal with ferocious pace before being confronted by Martin Skrtel. The winger shifted the ball to his right, taking the ball away from Skrtel, but as he cocked his right leg for his shot on goal, Johnson came flying in from behind, failing to win the ball and bringing Valencia to the ground. The decision looked a correct one, with Johnson clipping Valencia’s right heel, as well as putting hands in his back, giving Mark Halmsey very little option but to give the penalty.
There was still plenty of hope for Liverpool, given United had missed all three of their penalties in the previous three fixtures, and Pepe Reina came ever so close to saving it, but there proved to be too much power on the shot from Robin Van Persie for the Spanish keeper to direct it away from the goal. Van Persie did well to hold his nerve as well, after an almost five minute wait to take the penalty whilst Liverpool’s physios attended to Daniel Agger who had been injured in the mix up with Johnson.
It certainly was not a performance United will be too keen to remember, however they will be delighted to take the three points. particularly given that City dropped another two points on the same day, in their 1-1 draw with Arsenal, leaving United clear in 2nd place behind Chelsea.
United: Lindegaard 8, Rafael 8.5*, Ferdinand 8, Evans 7.5, Evra 7, Giggs 5, Carrick 5, Valencia 6, Kagawa 4, Nani 4, Van Persie 5
Man of the Match:
The Brazilian full back has been a joy to watch this season, and last night he was the player who showed more urgency than any other in a white shirt.
It is rather concerning that United relied so heavily on their full back for any sense of attacking urgency, but he came up with the goods with a fine goal and a sterling defensive performance that helped United on their way to three points, with his second goal of the season.
A great performance from a player who is looking better and better with every game he plays.