However, Liverpool’s display for the first hour lacked exactly that. It was a spineless display during this period that secured Manchester United a 2-1 victory against their bitter rivals from the other end of the East Lancs.
Poor individual performances were present throughout all areas of the team. Joe Allen in particular looked completely out of sorts, meanwhile, Stewart Downing and Raheem Sterling offered nothing in the final third. Tentativeness was the order of the day.
There were plenty of spells of possession, but, annoying as it is to admit, the hosts were in complete control of proceedings without having to go through the gears.
Pre-match previews were beset with features on Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie. Liverpool’s defenders mustn’t have noticed, because the latter was given an unacceptable amount of space on 19 minutes to side foot home Patrice Evra’s low cross. The provider also was given too much space in which to operate by right-back Andre Wisdom.
Further chances for the home side followed. Tom Cleverley’s left-footed volley flew just wide of the post, van Persie guided a shot over and should have done better. He had another chance when Rafael got on the wrong side of Glen Johnson before crossing to the Dutchman, who guided a back-heeled effort towards goal before the ball was eventually cleared by Martin Skrtel.
Very nervous moments for Liverpool, because a two goal deficit – given their impotence in attack – would have probably been insurmountable (so it proved after the game) and the half time whistle was somewhat of a relief.
Rodgers responded by sending on Daniel Sturridge for Lucas and it changed the course of the game. Lucas has never been the quickest, but since his return from injury, he looks leggy and out of tune with the pace of the game.
It is noted that Rodgers doesn’t seem to give Lucas as many minutes as previous managers, but the Brazilian anchor man is the type of player who needs to find his rhythm slowly. The question of whether he recaptures his previous form is a slight concern.
Unfortunately for Liverpool though, Lucas’ replacement was unable to make his impact before Liverpool fell further behind – and the goal yet again was a result of catastrophic defending.
On 54 minutes, van Persie curled a free kick towards the back post and it floated straight onto the head of an unmarked Patrice Evra, who nodded the ball onto Nemanja Vidic before it bounded into the back of Liverpool’s net.
After the game, Evra appeared to unashamedly plead with Howard Webb to award him with the goal, no doubt an attempt to rub Liverpool’s nose in it given his history, but unless he gets the sympathy vote, the goal won’t be his.
It was poor defending all around for the clinching goal, and Pepe Reina shouldn’t escape criticism because he could easily have stopped the ball, instead letting it squirm under his right arm. His bitter frustration after the goal should have been aimed at himself as well as his teammates.
Reina is making too many mistakes lately and needs proper competition for his place. His nervy performance encapsulated Liverpool’s toothless first half display.
Although it’s unacceptable to provide a response after going two goals down, respond Liverpool did. Steven Gerrard’s 57th minute shot was saved low by David de Gea, but the ball fell straight to Daniel Sturridge, who slotted home left-footed.
Goals change games and Liverpool sparked into life. They could have equalised on 70 minutes when Luis Suarez fizzed a superb cross-field ball to Daniel Sturridge; after a couple of quick step-overs he found space to fire in a left-footed shot that flashed just wide of the near post. He should have done better.
The last quarter of the game confirmed Liverpool fans’ thoughts – this was the worst United team in years and they were there for the taking. On 85 minutes, Sturridge missed another opportunity.
His strike partner Luis Suarez took on a couple of United defenders before losing control of the ball, but he battled on incredibly well (as he always does – he is an example to young players in this respect); eventually the ball fell to Sturridge, but he could only lift a right-footed shot way over the bar.
A great chance which was again the produce of Suarez and Sturridge – early indications are that the two will work well together and Sturridge on an individual level looks very good. His movement is intelligent, his anticipation is equally razor sharp, and he possesses bags of pace and skill – the former Chelsea man ticks all the boxes and his performance was a major positive to take from the contest.
Liverpool continued to huff and puff, aided by a welcome return from Fabio Borini, but it was Sturridge again who had another opportunity. His shot smashed the side netting after Daniel Agger’s flick.
An equaliser wasn’t to be, and in all fairness, it probably wasn’t deserved. Liverpool didn’t turn up for 55 minutes and gifted United two easy goals. No team can expect to get anything from a game against the league leaders after such a horrendous initial spell.
Their dynamic final half hour was too little too late, and the annoying part is that this result was down to their own trepidation in defence and attack as opposed to superb play from their opponents. Indeed, attack is the best form of defence against United, but Liverpool could barely put one together for the first hour. Such a shame.
There were however some rays of hope that shine on in the aftermath of today’s game, clearly the brightest beacon was Daniel Sturridge – we have already outlined his early promise.
So too was the return of Fabio Borini. The jury is very much still out on the Italian, but his appearance contributed to the change in the game; he will provide much needed competition in the final third.
His acceleration and movement is that of a ‘sneaky’ forward and it is expected that this will cause opposition defenders plenty of problems once throwing Sturridge and Suarez into the mix. All of a sudden Liverpool have lots of attacking options.
No doubt about it, Liverpool will live to fight another day, of that we can be certain. This is a young, naïve team that require patience and support – better days than this will come, but first half performances like that must be eradicated in the much shorter term.
United have won the battle yet again, but will they win the on-going war of taking over the most successful club in England before Ferguson’s retirement and prior to Brendan Rodgers’ masterplan taking full effect? We shall see.
L4L Man of the Match: Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan carried the burden of Liverpool’s attacking play throughout the first half and looked the only one likely to threaten United’s goal. He may well be ‘laden with controversy’ but Suarez’s work ethic and will-to-win mark him down as a potential future captain. Let’s hope he stays around long enough and stays away from trouble long enough to become a contender for the armband.
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