Manchester United’s miserable run of results at Anfield continued today with a 2-1 loss at the hands of their greatest revivals. The result left United dumped out of the FA Cup.
United lined up as expected, without Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Nani and Phil Jones. Less expected was the formation which centred around a midfield three of Giggs, Scholes and Carrick, with Danny Welbeck up front flanked by Valencia and Park. David De Gea was recalled in goal.
Maxi tested De Gea early on, but the United keeper saved comfortably. True to current form however, it was United who dominated possession for the vast majority of the first half with Giggs testing Reina in the Liverpool goal after a lovely lay-off from Park. Later, the in form Antonio Valencia’s commanding run at the Liverpool rear guard finished with a fine shot, but the post came to Liverpools rescue.
For all of Uniteds dominance, it was Liverpool who took the lead in the 21st minute. An earlier corner had raised question marks of the United keeper and these were compounded when he started to come to claim another corner. He was surround by three Liverpool players, including Andy Carroll, making getting to the line of the cross very difficult, and, in hind sight would have stayed on his line where he would have prevented Agger scoring for Liverpool. De Gea undoubtedly held some accountability for the goal but the ease in which Agger rose to head home must also be questioned.
Having gone behind it wasn’t long before Ferguson’s men regained their composure and dominated the ball once again. Paul Scholes at the heart of this period of play, passing the ball around effortlessly. I often get anxious when large amounts of possession like this doesn’t result in a goal, but six minutes from half time United made there dominance count with an equaliser. Jose Enrique failed to deal with a ball into the corner which allowed the very impressive Rafael nip in and steel the ball before crossing low and hard to Park who’s first time shot into the bottom corner left Reina with no chance. the travelling support and those of us watching on T.V. were ecstatic seeing Park and Co. celebrating in front of the Kop end.
The remaining final minutes of the 1st half played out in the same manner, United retaining possession and looking comfortable, before the teams went in level.
The 2nd half promised much but in reality offered very little. Liverpool tightened their midfield and closed down much quicker than in the previous half resulting in less possession for United and a game which failed to flow.
Both sides had weak penalty claims waved away early in the 2nd half. Liverpool may have gained hope of getting a second when they saw De Gea miss handle another cross, sighting it as a United “weakness,” but rarely put the young United keeper under pressure in that respect. De Gea did give us a heat in mouth moment when he was unsure whether a ball back to him could have been classed as a back pass. Instead of risking picking the ball up he chose to clear with his feet but was somewhat complacent, handing the ball back to Liverpool just yards out. Thankfully, the chance came to nothing.
Whilst being reasonably comfortable still, chances for United were now less common. It was Michael Carrick now who found himself central to United’s attacking prowess, highlighted when he found Danny Welbeck with a fantastic through ball over the Liverpool defence. Welbeck was through and cleverly knocked the ball around Riena who found himself playing sweeper. On this occasion though he was rescued by Skrtel who tracked back to clear. Minutes later Carrick himself tried his luck with a 20 yard left tooted effort which went narrowly wide.
Perhaps the key moments during this match were the substitutions. Dalglish removed Gerrard, Maxi and Carragher in quick succession, replacing them with Charlie Adam, Bellamy and Kuyt. Sir Alex in turn responded by replacing the fantastic Paul Scholes, who perhaps is still looking for match fitness, with Hernandez.
With the substitutions in place Liverpool were more creative and looked to push United back. United resisted Liverpools advances and the match was looking like heading to a reply before in the 88th minute Andy Carroll flicked on a Reina long ball which was picked up by Kuyt, typically, who took the ball into the box and fired in low and hard beating a helpless De Gea. Patrice Evra will be disappointed with the goal, he had a very good game in very difficult circumstances, but he found himself way out of position to allow Kuyt in.
With Liverpool scoring so late on and United shell shocked, desperately trying to win the ball back they were caught at sixes and sevens at the back in injury time and were lucky not to fall further behind to an Andy Carroll header, but he struck the post and Kuyt failed to convert the follow up.
With great disappointment and frustration United found themselves out of the FA Cup. There are positives which can be taken; Smalling, Evens, Rafael and Scholes were faultless throughout the match. Also with a weakened team, lacking in too much variety on the bench, they dominated at Anfield. The disappointment of the going out of the cup is always big, to your biggest rivals it’s even worse. However, I feel the biggest disappointment of this game was not just going out to Liverpool but not turning our control and dominance into goals. On another day it would have been a different result, and with a full strength squad this game could have been a stroll in the park.
With regards to David De Gea, question marks will again be asked. These will be mainly by the media, not those within football as such. Yes, today he fluffed a couple of crosses, and made an error with the ball at his feet, but he also made a couple of very tidy saves. His confidence won’t be soring at the moment after apparently being dropped after the Blackburn match. Once he is in again for a run of games we will see him improve greatly, his confidence will improve along with his decision making and cross taking. A young lad who is not used to dealing with so many crossed balls in Spain will only get better, and once he improves on that side of his game we will have a top, top goalkeeper.
Pre Match, much had been made of the Suarez : Evra situation. Both sides tried to appeal for calm in the days leading up to the match but the sad fact of the matter was that with every touch of the ball Evra was loudly booed by the home fans. The boo’s would turn to torrents of abuse whenever Evra found himself on the touch line. Patrice Evra has never done anything wrong, essentially being abused by fans because he was racially abused by one of their players. Being booed and having shouts of abuse towards Evra for this are disgusting on their own but add to that one “gentleman” who has been captured in photo’s making “monkey arm” gestures towards him and you see how this situation has not moved on at all.
Dalglish had said in his programme notes that Liverpool Football Club want everyone to move on. While their fans still believe that Suarez is innocent and Evra is a liar they won’t move on. The situation made worse once again by Dalglish, who believes that the abuse suffered by Evra today was “Friendly banter.” Really? If he believes this, their fans will believe it and on the situation will go.
It also hasn’t gone without noting that ITV (who televised todays game) also appeared to enjoy stoking the fire. He was on my television today more that David De Gea. I fail to see the purpose of this, other than winding up United supporters. Today was meant to be about football.
To his credit Evra played well today and looked totally focused despite what was going on around him. Mentally strong, he showed why he is our Vice Captain.
As far as the game and the result are concerned, we move on taking the positives and working on the negatives as always and look to bounce back with a win against Stoke next. The best part, we get to exact revenge at Old Trafford in two weeks time.