What is it about United and big games this season? Arsenal, City and now Liverpool have all been hyped up beyond belief only to fall a long way short of living up to their billing.
Sunday’s game against Liverpool was given an added edge by the departure of Roy Hodgson and the ascension of Kenny Daglish to the manager’s position at Anfield. With Liverpool being given 9000 tickets for the FA Cup third round tie at Old Trafford and a new found belief that ‘King Kenny’ was going to somehow miraculously turn around the team’s fortunes, the stage was set for an explosive affair.
Unfortunately – well at least for Liverpool – Ryan Giggs’ early penalty and Steven Gerrard’s sending off, all but ended the game as a competitive fixture as United strolled to a 1-0 win without ever getting out of second gear against lacklustre opposition.
Gerrard, Daglish and rather bizarrely through the medium of twitter, Ryan Babel, may have all lamented the refereeing decisions of Howard Webb, but if their totally honest, the most inconsistent Liverpool team in the last 40 years was always going to struggle against a United team that barring a loss in the Carling Cup has remained unbeaten all season.
Despite the fact that the game itself was a mediocre affair, United can at least take solace from the fact that with several players rested or injured, what could have been a tricky match was anything but. Although there may only have been one goal in it, there was never any real question of who was going to win.
So what did we learn from the FA Cup tie with Liverpool, other than Howard Webb is the best referee in the history of football and the scousers should never be given an upper tier following their urine and chair throwing exploits?
1. Jonny Evans is not a lost cause. Prior to the game, I along with many other United fans felt Vidic and Rio would be able to cope with Liverpool’s threat. So when it was announced that Vidic was rested and it would be Evans partnering Ferdinand many of us had more than a little apprehension. However we shouldn’t have worried as Evans produced the sort of sturdy display he was often associated with before his dip in form. Admittedly he was helped by a toothless Liverpool attack but Evans comfortably dealt with whatever came his way and was more than willing to carry the ball forward. He even hit the post with a decent header.
He received a standing ovation from the Old Trafford faithful when he was replaced by Chris Smalling late in the game. Hopefully Evans can now rekindle the form which made him an integral part of United’s record breaking defence of 2008/09.
2. Michael Carrick should be an England regular. Watching Carrick quietly go about his business mopping up loose balls and spraying passes about with aplomb- not to mention getting stuck in a bit more than usual, my mind wandered back to Bloemfontein in the Summer.
Sat there in the South African heat I watched an average German side tear apart a dreadful England one as Gareth Barry wandered about the pitch like a man who’d just woke up.
Since then I’ve yet to be impressed with any midfielder who’s filled the defensive role for England and why Carrick hasn’t been given the job is beyond me.
Carrick may have his detractors, but as he’s shown throughout the season, given a chance and a decent run he can often be the unsung hero of the United team. Now’s the time for Capello to realise what everyone inside Old Trafford can’t help but have noticed on Sunday, a side with Carrick performing well in it, is a difficult one to beat.
3. It’s time to give Rio Ferdinand the skippers armband. No disrespect to Nemanja Vidic who’s done an absolutely sterling job Captaining United, but is there any doubt who the best man for the role really is? I can understand that Sir Alex got a little fed up with the Skipper merry-go-round but Rio has been back in the side for the vast majority of games lately.
Although it may seem a tad unimportant which defender is actually given the job of wearing the Captain’s armband but it is a vital role. The Captain has to speak with the referee when certain incidents occur, is the natural leader all the others turn to and more often than not is the one organising and marshalling the defence.
Rio showed again on Sunday why he is perfect for the role, not just with a superb display- just pipping Berbatov for man of the match in my opinion but also on the way he organised the defence. A back four with Ferdinand in it looks at times, almost impenetrable, Vidic is quality but for me Rio is simply the best in the world.
4. Certain fans should be banned for life from Old Trafford. I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat myself, I cannot understand why fans who can be clearly seen making airplane gestures are not ejected immediately and banned for life from the ground. Although it may be in the interests of safety to not start pulling fans out of a 9000 strong mob, there’s still no excuses. Some of the Liverpool fans were prime examples of pond life. Throwing urine filled cups and bottles wrecking chairs and throwing them, not to mention other disgusting behaviour is unacceptable.
One fan even pulled down his trousers and waved his knob at us, well I think it was his knob but without a high-powered telescope it was difficult to tell.
These idiots have bought tickets through their club, they know who they are so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find their identity and put a ban on them. Why fans can still make airplane signs and get away with it is beyond me. It’s time for a zero tolerance policy to be implemented at Old Trafford for these scumbags who think it’s okay to desecrate the memory of the Flowers of Manchester.
5. The atmosphere could do with improving. Too many times, this season Old Trafford has been quiet. Although there was a lot of fans making noise against Liverpool, it wasn’t quite the pressure cooker we were hoping for. With 9000 die-hard scousers inside the ground, you knew the Liverpool fans were going to be a rowdy bunch. Unfortunately the response from United’s fans wasn’t always the most audible. Don’t’ get me wrong on its day The Theatre of Dreams is still one of the loudest grounds in the country and United fans are among the world’s best.
It’s just not for the first time this season, I along, with many other Reds I spoke to after the game, were left feeling a little bit let down by the somewhat muted atmosphere. Perhaps it was the early goal and the lack of real energy in much of the game, but there can be no excuses for not outsinging the scousers.