The two most successful clubs in English history clashed at Old Trafford in the early kick-off on Saturday in what proved to be a blistering contest. The Red Devils prevailed 2-1 after 90 minutes, but the headlines will no doubt be stolen by the shenanigans involving Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra. The Uruguayan striker refused to shake Evra’s hands prior to kick-off in a move that increased the temperature of an already simmering clash. Wayne Rooney was the hero for United as he scored a brace at the start of the 2nd half to blow away Liverpool.
The striker took his tally to 21 goals for the season with two quick-fire goals after the restart as United finally converted their dominance into goals. Liverpool were abject for most of the game as they struggled to create anything of note, until Suarez made things interesting by halving Liverpool’s deficit ten minutes from full time. But the home side held on to go top of the table and for Evra it was a personal victory as was evident from the full time celebrations.
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs started together for United as Sir Alex went for an experienced midfield that also comprised Michael Carrick. Giggs started on the left though while Antonio Valencia slotted into the right. Ahead of them Wayne Rooney continued to fill the role of playmaker while Danny Welbeck led the line. At the back, Rafael da Silva, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra started in front of David De Gea in goal.
Kenny Dalglish once again chose to start with Charlie Adam on the bench against United as Jay Spearing, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson formed a three-man central midfield, with Spearing sitting just in front of the back four. They were flanked by Dirk Kuyt and Stewart Downing while Luis Suarez was the main man in the centre. Jose Enrique made a welcome return at left-back as he slotted in alongside Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson.
Johnson was Liverpool’s biggest threat in the opening ten minutes as he twice cut-in from the right to have pops at goal. United enjoyed their own moments in the opening exchanges as Welbeck and Rooney were combining well in attack while Enrique was having a tough time dealing with Valencia and the overlapping Rafael.
Rooney was twice denied by Pepe Reina as the Spaniard first got ahead of him for Valencia’s cross before collecting his weak header from a corner. The Red Devils continued to get great purchase down the right as Rafael and Valencia once again combined well on the wing, with the Brazilian getting a shot on target this time. The home side settled down quicker as Liverpool did not press high up the pitch, but both sides looked to their respective right wings for creativity.
United’s best chance of the half came on the half hour mark as Scholes and Giggs combined to open up Liverpool’s defence. United tip-toed their way around Liverpool’s back four as Scholes fed Giggs on the left, who reciprocated by putting a dangerous cross into box, which Scholes headed straight towards Reina from just six yards out. The home side were well and truly in control as Welbeck got behind them a few minutes later to wreak havoc before Evra put a header high and wide.
Suarez, who was a mute spectator for most the half, did cause some trouble in the closing minutes as he twice found space behind United’s defence, but Ferdinand denied him on both occasions, with his 2nd tackle needing to be perfect as he was the last man. United were the better side in the opening half as they passed the ball with a lot more purpose than their opponents, who were very conservative on the ball.
The 2nd half then had an explosive start as Rooney broke the deadlock a minute after the restart with a thunderous volley from a corner. Valencia won a corner on the right, from which the ball was flicked on towards Rooney, who evaded Johnson to smash the ball past Reina. The drip turned into a flood two minutes later as Rooney doubled his tally. Valencia stole the ball from Spearing before bearing down on goal and rolling the ball towards Rooney, who calmly placed the ball between Reina’s legs with his left foot.
The Englishman should have completed his hat-trick ten minutes later when United once again ripped open Liverpool, with Valencia playing a ball into the box and as the ball rolled to Rooney past a Scholes dummy a 3rd goal seemed inevitable. But the striker succeeded in toe-poking his shot wide of the post. Dalglish had seen enough to ring in the changes as Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll came on for Downing and Spearing respectively on the hour mark.
Liverpool’s shift to a more attacking formation opened up the game as the ball pinged between both boxes. Just when the game looked to have lost its edge, Suarez popped up to get a goal back for Liverpool from a free-kick. The striker won the free-kick after being fouled by Carrick, and Enrique curled the ball into the box, which Ferdinand failed to deal with and the ball fell to Suarez a couple of yards from goal for him to make it 2-1.
Man United were looking to take the sting off the game as they chose to protect their lead. It was an edgy end for the home side, who once again had De Gea to thank in injury time as the Spaniard made a brilliant finger tip save to tip over Johnson’s powerful effort.
The Red Devils thoroughly deserved the three points as they dominated the game from start to finish. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side made all the running in the first half as Liverpool chose to sit back. But the game turned completely in United’s favour at the start of the 2nd half as they shell-shocked Liverpool with those quick-fire goals. Valencia was once again the creator supreme for Man United as he was a constant threat on the right and Rooney continued his goal scoring form from last week as he grabbed a brace for the 2nd week running.
Liverpool were blunt in attack for most of the game as they rarely got behind United’s defence, with Suarez being isolated for most of the game and until the late goal he was kept under wraps by Evans and Ferdinand. The Suarez-Evra affair shows no signs of dying down as both players were guilty of adding fuel to the fire. While Suarez’s actions before kick-off were unsporting, Evra did himself no favours by going overboard with his celebrations after the final whistle.
But all Sir Alex will care about is that United temporarily leapfrog Manchester City into top spot as Roberto Mancini’s side don’t play Aston Villa until tomorrow. Liverpool on the other hand stay in 7th place, four points off Chelsea in 4th.
Man United: De Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney, Welbeck
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Spearing (Carroll 61′), Gerrard, Henderson, Kuyt (Adam 75′), Downing (Bellamy 61′), Suarez
Final Score: Man United 2–1 Liverpool
Goals: Rooney 47′, 51′, Suarez 80′