Manchester United versus Liverpool. It’s one of those fixtures that Liverpool fans look for when the fixtures are done in the summer. It is one of the biggest games in the calendar, and regardless of league position both sets of fans waits with trepidation hoping for a win. As most are probably aware, this had a little bit extra on it. This would be the first game for Suarez against Patrice Evra since the ban, and it was at Old Trafford, and it was never going to be a friendly crowd.
A lot has already been said about the handshake (or the lack of one) incident. The way I see it, if a man accused me of being racist, and there was no truth to it (and certainly no evidence of it) but I got done due to some somewhat flimsy reasoning into probability; and if as a result I got a lengthy ban from work, and publicly branded as a racist (even though the report concluded I was not); I would probably find it extremely hard to shake hands with that person the next time I saw him. For Evra to grab his arm and try to force a handshake is pointless; it’s not like he didn’t see your hand and he’s now going to shake his hand. Similarly if Rio feels it was wrong of Suarez to not shake Evra’s hand; but its perfectly ok for him to do the same then fine. As for Suarez being a disgrace, I suppose somebody has forgotten all about the likes of Cantona kicking a fan, or Keane stamping on players, or Rio “forgetting” about a drugs test.
The first half was what I would expect from a United Liverpool game with both sides trying their best to win it. United looked dangerous down their right, with Valencia looking like he had the better of Enrique, whilst Liverpool also had a couple of chances, with again most of their work coming from the right. Not sure what it is about Enrique but after a good start he has been somewhat off form in recent games, and Valencia has made him look very ordinary and slow, which is no easy feat with Enrique being an former sprinter.
The trouble then started in the second half (well during the half if you include the tunnel bust up, which I assume may well have been started by United players given that the media has said nothing about it; and you know full well that if it had been Liverpool we would have heard about it by now, and at length). Liverpool just never started the second half, and within minutes Rooney found himself unmarked to put in a corner that had been flicked on by Jordan Henderson. 2 minutes later Rooney double the advantage. Sloppy start to the second half, and we seem to have issues with restarts.
You’d think with this being United, the lads would find something within themselves to wake up and take charge of the game. You’d think that they would try to do something to give Suarez something from the game. In fact you’d think that of all the people on the pitch Stevie Gerrard would have had something to say, but the majority of the players on the pitch just looked like they didn’t care. They looked like a team that knew they were beaten. What surprises me is that no changes were made for a long time. Kenny doesn’t strike me as the sort of manager that can’t see the poor attitude on the pitch.
This game was crying out for changes to be made, to bring on Bellamy and possibly Carroll to create some extra attacking options. Downing had been poor all game, and seemed to have put in more effort into bickering with Enrique than he did on doing something with the ball. Jay Spearing, for all the growing he has done, also showed that he is nowhere near the finished article. I love that he’s getting minutes and I suppose you might as well get him playing in the big games now, in a season which we won’t be winning the title, than maybe having to rely on him and potentially lose the title. However, at times he just doesn’t seem to have the composure that he’s going to need if he is going to play the holding role. Dirk Kuyt was also having a very average game; and Stevie G was not himself by any stretch of the imagination.
With Bellamy and Carroll coming on for Downing and Spearing it lead to a slightly more attacking formation but with less players in midfield the problem was getting the ball to them. Any time we got the ball and looked for a counter it was all very pedestrian. There was no movement, and we constantly had to stop moving forwards, knock it back and then across only to find out it was exactly the same down there and United now had 11 men behind the ball. The final change saw Adam come on for Kuyt. That to me was the change that somewhat changed the game. Adam, for all the criticism he gets for not helping out at the back, actually went into the game as though it was a United Liverpool game. He chased things down, he got stuck in. In essence he did what Gerrard would usually do.
In the end it was another run by Suarez that led to a foul, which Adam took and led to the goal off Rio Ferdinand. That meant a frantic 10 minutes was on the cards. Suddenly the 11 men on the pitch seemed to wake up and we started to take control of the game with a large part of the final 10 minutes being played in the United half, but really it was all way too late. That passion needed to be there much earlier, it needed to happen as soon as they went 2 nil up; in fact it would have been nice if it had been there from the start of the second half before they even had a chance to go 2 nil up.
All in all a disappointing end to the game, and I suppose the Suarez/Evra situation meant that the media is focusing on that, rather than another woeful performance. I mentioned earlier that February was going to be an important month and we’re made a right hash of it. We do of course have 2 more chances to try to redeem ourselves in February, and with those two games both being cup games, victory in both of those would see us through to the next round of the FA Cup and of course the first bit of silverware for Kenny Dalglish since his return.
However, to do that we’re going to have to play a hell of a lot better than we did against United. Cardiff may not on paper be as good as United; and the same is probably even more true of Brighton and Hove Albion, but you know that they’re going to be coming to these games looking for an upset. You know that their 11 men on the pitch will be doing their utmost to win, and if we don’t match that desire then we don’t have to worry about February being bad, but the fact that our season has turned to shambles.