As club football returned after the international break, Liverpool hosted arguablly their fiercest rivals in today’s 12:45 kick off. Manchester United were the visitors to Anfield and were looking to break our unbeaten record for the season. Our form against United hasn’t been great, well truth be told it’s been terrible, under Rafa Benitez who was still looking for his win against our North West rivals. With injury worries over both Gerrard and Torres forcing them to start on the bench our side looked very short in terms of fire power. With Robbie Keane still waiting to open his account for the Reds and Dirk Kuyt with just three league goals all of last season, our forwards didn’t, on paper, look likely to causing the United defence a problem. Although we were handing a debut to former Manchester City winger Albert Reira who’d want to shine on his debut. United were also handing a debut out to deadline day signing Dimitar Berbatov as well as welcoming back Michael Carrick from injury.
The game started at the usual high tempo with United keeping the ball fairly easily and when Berbatov was able to drift into the box and pull the back for Tevez, disaster struck right in front of the Kop. United were 1-0 up after Javier Mascherano had let his compatriot run free and score the goal. It looked like another defeat to our rivals was on the cards again. So early into the game and the pre-match planning had gone out the window. Our two superstars unfit and United looking comfortable on the ball.
We had our own chances in the early going as well though, mainly through Dirk Kuyt who was playing back in his more familar forward role today with Yossi Benayoun down the right wing. A volley from outside the box flew wide from the Dutchman who was gifted another chance by fellow Dutchman Edwin Van Der Sar after the United keeper flapped at an Aurelio free kick. Our number 18 failed to convert and instead his shot was blocked by the thankful Van Der Sar.
As the half wore on Van Der Sar’s form got extremely worse and in the end we profitted from it. After the ball was rolled to Alonso on the edge of the United box his shot was blocked by the arm of Patrice Evra and spun towards the penalty spot. The opposing keeper had a rush of blood to the head and decided to come and flap at the ball again. This time though he could only push the ball onto Wes Brown and the ball bounced back past Van Der Sar and into United’s net, still ensuring Rafa Benitez hadn’t had a Liverpool player score in this fixture in the league. The game stood evenly poised at 1-1 at half time despite Carlos Tevez wasting a golden opporitunity shortly after our equaliser.
The second half started with Liverpool looking the more promising side and Yossi Benayoun really should have given us the lead but his poor control led to Van Der Sar being able to see the ball out for a corner. Chances continued to flow as Mascherano’s tempting ball into the box was meant to met by Robbie Keane but unfortunately the Irishman only hit mid air and the chance had gone. The side was gaining in confidence by the minute though and even Martin Skrtel took a long range effort which was met by a comforable save from United’s keeper which left our Slovakian still looking for his first goal.
The half was given another boost when Steve Gerrard came on for Yossi Benayoun who again had been poor. Gerrard’s first involvement was giving the ball away to Ryan Giggs who shot instantly to have Reina backpeddling to tip the ball over. United’s first and only real chance of the second half. Our next substitution was Ryan Babel coming on for Albert Reira who had surprised a few people with just how good his debut was.
Babel in the end was the match winner after a great surgeing run from Mascherano and a clever roll back by Kuyt found the ball at the feet of Babel who hit into the net, in front of the Kop. The entire ground eruptting because it looked like our first victory over United under Benitez in the league. The game still had drama though after two cynical fouls by Vidic saw him seeing red before the end of the game for two yellow cards, although both fouls could easily have been straight reds. Dirk Kuyt also wasted a simple chance from just three or four yards out in the late stages.
This victory saw us go top, although Chelsea have since won and returned to top the table, but our unbeaten record goes on. We played really well today, something we hadn’t done so far this season. We’re keeping on the heels of the early pace setters and we’re finally showing signs of true champions. If we can keep this kind of form up throughout the season we’re in a real chance of bringing our first Premiership title to Anfield. Our attention now turns to the Champions League on Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll be taking confidence from today’s very deserved victory to see us through a difficult game in Marseille.