I think all but the most deluded of United fans will be in agreement that Liverpool deserved to win.
Although it’s fair to say that all the goals could be considered soft and avoidable to a certain extent, the performance as a whole was a shambles and Liverpool were simply the better team on the day.
Admittedly I was a pessimist going in to the game. I had many fears about what sort of state the defence would be in without both Ferdinand and Vidic commanding the back line, and coupled with the fact United were going into the game at Anfield on the back of a defeat at Chelsea merely days earlier with an away record that has been less than stellar by United standards and it would be considered understandable that my expectations for the game were somewhat underwhelming.
Throughout the game United failed to establish themselves for any prolonged period of time and the one saving grace is that Hernandez pulled out a late consolation to make sure the dent in the goal difference was not so hefty.
And with that it has fallen upon me to bring five things that we could take away from the game.
1) The worst fears confirmed – No Ferdinand, No Vidic makes for serious problems
When one of the trusted pairing is missing, it is fair to say United are able to cope. In Ferdinand’s absence, Vidic has more than held his own, commanding the back four and taken on the role of captain with real professionalism. It was worrying to see Vidic get himself sent off out of frustration against Chelsea during the week, and left many United fans worrying if there would be any real strength for the game at Anfield and led many to speculate whether the predicted inclusion of Wes Brown would suffice.
It seems the fears were justified as all afternoon United struggled to cope with the pressure applied by the Liverpool attack and I felt that the leadership normally provided by Vidic was missing, without anyone truly willing to take it up, and this seemed to be compounded when tempers began to flare and actions were being made out of anger rather than maintaining any real composure. However for all the defensive frailties, they were not helped by a midfield that was outclassed on the day. For all the weakness that was shown, I do feel I ought to point out that in my opinion, Chris Smalling again showed an air of maturity in his play, and was able to cope with the pressure that big games such as this bring.
2) The return of Valencia cannot come soon enough
I, like many United fans, rate Valencia quite highly. His work ethic coupled with a quality cross and a rapid pace have made for a very effective player down the right wing in a far more traditional sense than we have become used to in recent years, with the likes of Ronaldo and Nani tending to play anywhere in their attacking roles. In truth, I am not expecting Valencia to perform miracles and suddenly deliver the calibre of performance he would regularly provide for United after coming back from such an horrific injury.
In fact, I always have a fear that players who sustain these kind of injuries may not come back the same player they once were. However, it must also be said that Valencia’s attitude has often been commended and I feel that no matter what, we can expect maximum effort on his part when he does return. I am not one for believing he should be rushed back after only recently taking up training, but considering Park is still missing having sustained an injury and having seen arguably the player of the season in Nani being stretchered off after a horror tackle from Carragher, it would be fair to say that the sooner that Valencia returns to action, the better the outlook may be.
3) The midfield is lacking
Nobody can doubt the contribution that Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have provided this season, and indeed their entire careers, to United.
They have been the symbols of professionalism at an age when many careers would be put out to pasture. However, to expect them to be providing top drawer performances week in week out at this stage of their careers is perhaps wishful thinking and the need to find the talent to replace them is becoming ever more evident. Michael Carrick’s new contract left many perplexed when there was strong speculation to suggest that his days at the club were numbered the belief in his ability to consistently perform had diminished. Remaining fairly anonymous all game, his contribution was minimal at best and was made to look mediocre by the far more energetic and clinical Liverpool midfield.
In fact I was more than surprised to see Darren Fletcher had been left on the bench for this game. Fletcher revels in these fixtures, breaking up play and generally adding a stability to the defence behind him. Although the true effect of one player might be questionable on the whole, I do believe his inclusion certainly would have done no harm in adding strength to a midfield that was made to look off the pace.
4) United – Liverpool games will always get tempers flaring
The game seemed to be just as much about arguments and bickering as much as it was about the football. The players seem to take the attitude on to the pitch that would always accompany the hype of a match up of such intense rivalry. We always commend the players when they do their best for representing the club and take pride in what this fixture means to them. However, there’s a fine line between being passionate, and giving your all, and allowing it to descend in to immature actions and constant clashing of heads.
In games like this, in the heat of the moment, it is quite easy to let frustration take place and tempers to get the best of them. I think the overall atmosphere of the game was showcased best when we saw the ever-cool Van Der Sar run most of the pitch to get involved in the backlash that entailed Carragher’s horror tackle on Nani. And on that note it should be pointed out that once again, the lack of consistency by the referee was there for all to see. I am not going to entertain the notion that he was biased one way or the other, but most will agree that on most occasions Carragher would have been sent off for a tackle that led to Nani being taken off on a stretcher.
The fact that it is reported that he went to the United dressing room to apologise for it, though admittedly admirable, shows just how reckless a challenge it was and how a booking was probably not the card warranted in that situation. Although it must be said that some may argue that Rafael was lucky to stay on the pitch after reacting to a lunge from Maxi by then going in two-footed on Lucas. A poorly controlled bit of play where tempers were allowed to boil over.
5) Hernandez can always be relied upon for goals
On an afternoon that added fuel to the argument that United are seriously lacking this season, it added some comfort that Hernandez still kept working away and managed to sneak a consolation goal on an otherwise dreary day. Whenever called upon this season, we have seen Hernandez use his pace and movement to great effect and poaching goals when they are needed most. One gets the sense that to him, every goal is worth scoring and it is a quality that is sure to give him the possibility of a great future leading the United attack.
United are going through a difficult spell at the moment, 3 defeats in the last 5 games is a run that some would deem a “crisis” all too quickly. Without doubt Sir Alex Ferguson will be sure to correct these issues, hopefully in time for the crucial return leg of the upcoming Champion’s League tie in the coming week. The fact that United remain top despite their shortcomings these season epitomises just how open the Premier League has been this season and how fortunate it is that Arsenal themselves seem to slip up when it matters most. However, United cannot continue to rely on their rivals own faults if they are to succeed this season.
To sum up: a difficult afternoon for the United faithful and a tough week for the club as a whole.
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