Well, we escaped Anfield on a day of high emotion and drama with a vital three points, especially in light of the events the day before at Stamford Bridge and later that afternoon at the Etihad.
We caught a break just before the interval, with Liverpool’s bald midfield enforcer Jonjo Shelvey diving in on Evans with a tackle that, to be totally fair, could have gone either way. Up until that point we’d been pedestrian and downright poor, bossed around midfield and hemmed hopelessly with our backs to goal. Our play was a bit like the beard I’m currently sporting: patchy, unconvincing and totally second rate.
The positive was the form and organization of our defence. Another change saw Ferdinand replace Vidic (who, at the time of writing has been confirmed as requiring surgery and will be out for the next 8 weeks) and partner a maturing Jonny Evans, both of whom channeled the spirit of Lazarus to overcome knocks, bumps and bruises to see out the 90 on their way to being some of the best afield.
I’ve been interested to see what people made of the defensive performance, with those we’ve seen to date having been shabby at best. For mine, given the occasion and the way the game unfolded, this was our best effort of the season. Yes, there was some culpability for their goal, with one of Ferdinand or Evans remiss in not picking Gerrard up (blame for this could also be apportioned to Ryan Giggs, who failed to track the Liverpool talisman into the box), but given we had no possession or territory for the first half, with wave after wave of unrelenting pressure bearing down, to turn at 0-0 was a great achievement. Just because a defence is under siege doesn’t mean they’re failing to hold up or are playing poorly, in fact, so long as your clean sheet remains in tact its quite the opposite. Our back four were cohesive and hard working, something they had to be to keep Liverpool at bay.
Anders Lindegaard – 7/10
I’ve made it perfectly clear I’m on Team De Gea (maybe I could get a shirt made up to support the Mayor of Whoville. I say Whoville because he looks like one of Dr. Seuss’ delightfully festive creations). If I haven’t made my position clear and have simply imagined making such a statement that sentence should leave you with no uncertainty as to how I feel about the matter. A settled back four, including goalkeeper, is what great sides are built on. There is a confidence that comes from continuity, with comfort of the goalkeeper arguably the most important factor in a miserly defence.
However, our chopping and changing of this position, with reward and opportunity afforded to the man who most deserves it, appears to be beneficial. More to the point, the opportunity itself gives each man the stage with which to perform and stake his claim.
Competition in this most mental of positions seems to be spurring both men on. De Gea had moments against Galatasaray where he said forcefully ‘this position is mine’, but so too did Lindegaard on Sunday night, with a handful of brilliant reaction saves saying he could be the one. One such save, the one down low to deny Suarez, was as sharp as you’re likely to see. Showed good composure and control of his area, too, with involvement in several back passes, distributions from deep and collects showing he was switched on. A cool head inside the Anfield furnace, that’s a must have.
I’d expect as the season develops a choice will be made between he and his Spanish competition, with the next 4-6 weeks crucial in determining who the man between the posts will be.
Rafael – 7.5/10
After Rafael had taken Kagawa’s beautiful chested ball with one touch I lurched forward in my seat, anticipating and hoping more than anything else. Recollections of his stunning volley against Arsenal a few years back made me optimistic the little Brazilian might conjure some samba magic once more. And didn’t he just. Holding the finesse button like you would in FIFA, his curled shot gave the lunging Reina no chance, drawing left to right before clipping the post and giving us a route back into the game. It was no less than his performance in this game and the start of the season deserved.
His work rate has always been phenomenal, his energy and industry just as impressive, but so far this season we’ve seen maturity added to the mix. An impulsive and costly challenge seems to be simmering below the surface as always, but only as fuel for his competitiveness. Like The Hulk he embraces his vice, that fear of failure in his case, and harnesses it for the betterment of his game.
Attacked menacingly and with purpose, linked well with Valencia as is becoming the norm, defended stoutly: it was a great outing for the young man who is only getting better.
Jonny Evans – 7.5/10
After the 6-1 to City last year, in which Evans saw red for a foolhardy and ill-advised challenge, we were all thinking rash thoughts. It was hard to take, obviously. Evan’s dismissal just after half time ruined any chance we had of getting back into that game. We hadn’t played poorly to that point, but a goal (which would quickly become two) and a man down made it a very tall order indeed.
My bold statement after the match that Jonny Evans should never represent United again was symptomatic of just how irrational heartbreak can be. He, I thought, had shown no accountability or awareness as to where the game was heading, could head and would head at the time of the tackle and was a chief reason as to why we suffered that most embarrassing of losses. He’d lost his head and turned what should have been a disappointing result into an embarrassing time capsule. That’s how I reasoned it out.
But it was just one game. His form since, especially in the absence of Vidic last season, has been superb. His output at Anfield on Sunday night was just as impressive and integral to the final result. He and Ferdinand showed they know their Kipling, keeping their heads when those around (read: in front) them were losing theirs. The last line was commanded, with this apprentice following close behind his master.
Top performance from Jonny.
Rio Ferdinand – 8/10 (Man of the match)
There’s no replacing class, is there. Ferdinand took the field for the 401st time in a United shirt and was up against it from the get go. Just as he has been time and time again, however, he was more than up for the fight. His ability to read the play hasn’t diminished like his pace, his persistent back and soft tissue injuries failing to curb his anticipation. Just as well, as Liverpool have a few lively and tricky types in advanced areas.
You could see him relishing the test and threat of Suarez, raising his game to the occasion and using the tricky striker as an opportunity to show he’s not a spent force just yet. Watching Rio as he corralled him, not letting him get one over him was a flashback to the indomitable Ferdinand of old; he was intent on beating the Uruguayan whenever they were opposed, refusing to concede even the most insignificant of victories. I was roused from my seat with each and every one of his one-on-one victories. He commanded the team from the back and was, to my mind, the best man afield.
With the news of Nemanja Vidic floating through this morning it looks likely that Rio has a busy few months ahead of him. Stay fit, big guy.
Patrice Evra - 5.5/10
C’mon Patrice! That little French engine that could battle away and definitely broke even down his side. His best is behind him, no doubt about that, but his post match comments show the fire is still burning in him to compete.
Inspired by the events of the corresponding fixture last season, Evra would’ve been out to put in a good show. That he was booed for being racially vilified (how dare he! How dare he be the victim of racial taunts) wouldn’t concern him, it’d spur him. Opposed to the lively and likely Raheem Sterling (raw, but extremely talented, we’d be beside ourselves he was coming through the reserve ranks at United), Evra was ran at, baulked and generally pestered all afternoon; such was their plan to isolate the full back. To his credit, however, he wasn’t beaten or exposed as he has been a few times recently.
His part in a determined back four during the opening hour: closing down, spreading, staying compact; pretty much doing the right thing in every instance was why we weren’t two, three or four goals back.
Michael Carrick – 4.5/10
Struggled to find a foothold for most of the first half as he and his midfield cohorts were out hassled, out fought and outrun. Perhaps the gaffer was out thought. Where was the combative, hard working grafter to butt heads in the middle of the park? I know that’s not Carrick’s job, but a partner to roll their sleeves up whilst Carrick makes sure his suit and tie look good makes us a much better side. Give the number 16 time on the ball and he’ll cut you up, it’s why it doesn’t happen.
We couldn’t create the situation where Carrick could have time and space, as such his impact was severely curbed and his influence negated. Has started the season well, but was probably left to do what should’ve been someone else’s job at Anfield. I could imagine that he shot a few glances into the stand just to make sure Anderson and Cleverley were on the bench, hoping they might have been coming on to make his job a bit easier.
Ryan Giggs – 4/10
It’s been an uncharacteristically slow start for Giggsy. Not cause for concern or panic just yet, not by a long way, but his experience and calm just wasn’t the right fit given the circumstances. We had no answers for their intensity in midfield and whilst he got stuck in and tried to turn the tide he looked hopelessly outmatched.
Thought we should’ve played Anderson or Cleverley in this position, if only to combat a more attacking Liverpool. What Giggs gives you in experience and poise can never be underestimated, but when the heat is on and the pressure being exposed, we need players that match the intensity. This isn’t to say Giggs has no intensity, far from it, but rather Anderson or Cleverley are players we can sacrifice skill for work rate.
Nani – 3/10
Chocolates to boiled lollies in the space of a few days for the sublimely talented and equally as inconsistent winger. Best afield in a heartening display against Galatasaray, we saw most of his best traits. Unfortunately his outings on Merseyside have been worse than disappointing this season. In his 45 minutes on the pitch he certainly battled away, with more attention or criticism directed his way as a result of failure to make an impact. Truth be told he wasn’t really at fault for our sluggish opening 45.
He was a small part of a larger machine that failed to work for nearly all of that first period. Part of that machine’s failure was it didn’t give Nani the opportunity to play as he can.
Every time he assumed possession of the ball he was expected to accomplish the extraordinary. Like van Persie he was required to beat a man to advance the play, with support trailing far behind. It wasn’t conducive to chances or, as it turned out, victory, with the Portuguese making way at half time for some who could (hopefully) hold the ball in midfield, thus a sort of sideways concession that Nani was paying the price for his central midfielders failure to maintain possession. He’s been judged very harshly on this performance without due consideration that the role he was designated is pretty hard to accomplish when we don’t leave our defensive half.
As such the rating is for impact more than performance, if that makes sense.
Antonio Valencia – 6.5/10
Referees don’t get replays. Contact might’ve been slight, but it was there. Johnson, like Shelvey, committed an act that required action from the official, and when you give them a decision to make sometimes its not going to go your way.
Shame is it distracted from his incredible collect of the ball in midfield. All three involved in the race looked at the loose ball, each other, back at the loose ball, at each other individually, back at the ball and thought in what I hope was perfectly timed Wes Anderson self awareness and delivery ‘I need to win this ball’. Thus a race began.
His speed to not only intercept but ultimately skip clear was not so much a surprise, as we know he’s quick, but rather a moment of excitement so sheer we knew something good was about to come. Overall he had a solid outing, competing well and providing some incision once we assumed control numerically and territorially.
Shinji Kagawa – 6/10
Tried, probed and prodded. Looked dangerous when advanced and, as has become his hallmark, moved brilliantly around the pitch into space and out of congestion. Like the others charged with carry out our attacking endeavors was left to do a pretty difficult task given the amount of ball and options being provided, but tried nevertheless.
His assist for Rafael’s opener was all we’ve come to love about the Japanese creative midfielder. A hearty dollop of first class execution wrapped the awareness, selflessness, vision and composure neatly and nicely. That he so quickly realized taking possession himself was pointless, as he had his back to goal and would be closed down, forcing a disruption of the play, and just as quickly gave and made the opening for Rafael was sensational.
I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favorite traits of his is his instinct to turn and face goal when he assumes possession, so to assess the play and options ahead. Even better is when he feels he has the scope to take off into that space.
Robin van Persie – 4/10
That’s how you take a penalty. Reina got a touch, but it was never going to do anything but send it higher into the net.
Like Nani he really had a hard time of it, playing for and chasing scraps, closing down space in a hopeless attempt to apply some pressure. As always he was tidy when on the ball and showed great willingness to attempt to make something out of virtually nothing. He wasn’t as frustrated as he was against Galatasaray, but then again he wasn’t as involved so how can we know.
The life of the loan striker is an isolated one, often lived for little reward. Hopefully Rooney can get in and force the boss to play two genuine forwards. I think its something van Persie would relish; that being the opportunity to be a bit withdrawn and support Rooney. Good thing is Rooney would likely feel the same way, meaning a frontline that alternates between deep and advanced, with both massive goal threats.
Paul Scholes – 3/5
Replaced Nani at half time, the substitution giving a good gauge of where everyone could see we were struggling. Good to see it was actioned so quickly, as we could hardly delay trying to get on top.
Was a bit unlucky with their goal, as his attempted tackle took an awkward deflection and bobbed invitingly for Gerrard. Still, he completed his customary 95% + pass completion rate and used the advantage of the extra man to ensure once we equalized the only team that was going to score was us.
Javier Hernandez – 2.5/5
Has a good record at Anfield and, now, has a win there too. Came on to press the advantage and run in behind a tiring defense, but never really got the chance.
I must sound like a broken record, but the improvement in his control, first touch and distribution has been marvelous. I’m not sure if it’s a case of some hard work done in the off-season with a coach or player, or perhaps he’s calmer and nerves aren’t so much a factor anymore. Either way, we’re now comfortable playing the ball to Javier in advanced positions because we know he’ll control it, retain it and deliver to a teammate.
Danny Welbeck – 2.5/5
The big man came on to see the game out, compete and use his size and presence to make sure we could secure the three points. Like against Galatasaray, really. Didn’t do anything spectacular; hardly had the time, but still did his bit and was tidy doing so.
Rio Ferdinand – 3
Rafael – 2
Jonny Evans – 1
Kagawa – 6
Scholes – 6
Valencia – 5
Nani – 3
Ferdinand – 3
Van Persie – 3
Welbeck – 2
Rafael – 2
De Gea – 2
Carrick – 1
Buttner – 1
Anderson – 1
Jonny Evans – 1