Liverpool traveled down the M62 to face their fierce rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford, for a fixture that had the potential to kickstart either teams season. And it was to be Roy Hodgsons first game to test his wits against an old arch rival of Liverpool, in Alex Ferguson. But sadly, it wasn’t to be Roys day.
Liverpool were going into this game with some unsteady League form. But form usually goes out the window in these types of heated fixtures. And the team that started at Old Trafford for the reds of Liverpool was one that could easily cause some damage at any ground across the country. Torres was up front with Meireles in support. And Gerrard started in midfield alongside Poulsen with Maxi and Cole supporting the wide areas. Not awfully defensive, would you say? But ultimately, it was the defence of Liverpool and also the unwillingness to pressure the opposition that led to Liverpools loss.
Man Utd kicked off the game and from the first whistle looked more eager for the ball than Liverpool did. Within minutes, Liverpools defence was under pressure. Nani found himself in the Liverpool box with space and time to shoot, but his effort went well wide. A warning if ever Liverpool needed one, to remind them that the players would be required to work hard.
The game carried on with Liverpool not really having much of an impact in an attacking sense, because if they did have the ball, the urgency was missing and the players would be closed down quickly. Man Utd were more territorial and were quicker to attack. Their drive paid off close before the break when some poor defending from a corner was taken advantage of by Berbatov, who headed in from close range, while Konchesky could only see the ball fly past him on the near post. It was a blow. But not really an unexpected one.
The second half was under way and still the frustration was there for Liverpool fans. Still no urgency to put the opposition under any sort of pressure and still more isolation for Torres.
Nani went close with a shot rebounding off the bar and not long after, he became provider for Berbatov to score his second. Nani, with time on the ball picked out Berbatov amongst two Liverpool defenders in the box, who controlled the ball with his knee and unleashed an overhead kick past the helpless Pepe Reina.
It was getting to the point where you could not see any way for Liverpool to impose themselves aggressively into the game. But on the 64th minute, Torres was brought down in the penalty area and Liverpool were awarded a life line. Steven Gerrard stepped up to the penalty spot and planted the ball in right corner. This sparked Liverpool into life and suddenly there was a belief about the team. There was more movement and above all, there was more urgency and intention to do some harm to their fierce rivals.
Man Utd looked on the back foot. And rightly so, as that is what will happen if you stand up to them. Their defence was shaken and was lacking confidence. And six minutes later Torres was there causing danger again. Breaking past O’Shea as the ball was played through to him, with what looked like a one on one chance with the goalkeeper in the making, Torres was brought down by the defender on the edge of the box. But referee Howard Webb bottled it and only handed the Man Utd defender a yellow card. It should have been a red. Up stepped Gerrard again, who curled the ball through the wall and past the cemented Van der Sar. It was two each and Liverpool were finally beginning to impose themselves into the game.
But for some reason, the Liverpool players withdrew. They didn’t carry the assault on and Man Utd were allowed to creep back into the game and get their confidence back. And again, like previously, some poor defending allowed Berbatov get his hat trick against Liverpool. The ball was crossed in and he out-jumped Carragher to head the ball past Pepe Reina and to put Man Utd back in the lead. And ultimately, take all three points.
This time, there was not enough minutes for Liverpool to form any sort of comeback. And the final whistle was blown.
Questions will continue to be asked of the players urgency and intention in the league this season. They will also continue to be asked of the Liverpool defence, as the Liverpool back line is looking far from solid so far this season. Huge improvement is need to get the reds back up the table.