Amidst what was an intriguing encounter between two of Britain’s most illustrious clubs, another battle was unfolding, that equally intriguing, and equally integral to the outcome. Many believed that the die, which is this year’s title, had already been cast. The trophy would be spending another season with its current residence (Manchester United), and that seemed like a foregone conclusion.
Regardless of the title’s destination however, last weekend’s game provided the backdrop for an amazing sub-plot battle between Nemanja Vidic and Fernando Torres. The former of who is tipped highly to win the PFA player of the year after his role as the crux of a miser-tight Manchester United backline this season, faced the the latter of who, when fit, is the quite possibly the most dangerous and clinical striker in the world.
Vidic made it his duty to follow his nemesis wherever he went. He had the unenviable chore of preventing the Spanish hotshot from delivering his trademark blows that have been so restricted this season due to a myriad of frustrating injuries. The day’s mission began well for the Serbian centre-back as he stabbed the ball away from the striker’s clutches on numerous occasions in the opening 25 minutes, clashing repeatedly; on one occasion they both collapsed to the ground in the area, embraced in an onerous tussle. The real battle of the day was truly on.
Then came the big moment of the afternoon’s showcase. Vidic, who was once again playing the role of the rock in the middle of the United defense, engaged in a brief yet fatal moment of complacency, passing by the chance to head a long ball back up the field with the intent of delivering the ball to his goalkeeper for a more assured clearance.
Torres, ever aware, seized on this scintilla of opportunities, using his blistering pace to disarm his rival, leaving himself with the simple and inexorable task of placing the ball into the corner of the net. First blood to Fernando Torres, and unfortunately for Vidic, things would only get worse.
The most deadly weapon in any striker’s arsenal is confidence. Fernando Torres often finds his best form once the first blow has been struck, and further evidence of this was to follow. Unsatisfied with leaving his adversary red faced for the equalising goal, Torres let loose further siege on the United back line, and once again Vidic received the brunt of the Spaniard’s skill and finesse. Torres delivered the classic nutmeg to the Serbian, knocking the ball through the legs of the defender in an insult outweighing any verbal barrage he could possibly offer.
To do this to the best in the world seemed to be an almost unthinkable occurrence. Vidic was certainly not enjoying himself, and the goal had clearly rocked his confidence. His frailty, like his authority in so many of this season’s shutouts, spread through the back line. In a moment of clumsiness so far-fetched from the usual composure and assurance of the Manchester United defence, Evra derailed Gerrard and the referee pointed straight to the spot.
The second half saw the majority of play in Liverpool’s half, contrary to what the final scoreline would suggest. Despite this, Vidic was far from comfortable in his duties, Torres continuing to prove an ever present threat. Still, the Serbian defender was not fretting for much longer, but this was not due to a sudden command of his foe’s movement, nor did he find himself getting to grips with the mesmerising footwork of the Spaniard.
In a desperate lunge, Vidic cast his own special farewell on the day’s proceedings, and after being wrong footed by Torres’s accomplice in attack, the defender hauled down Gerrard as he closed in on goal. The referee had no hesitation in holding aloft the red card. The battle, at least as far as Torres and Vidic were concerned, was over. The winner of the battle was as clear cut as the decision to give the defender his marching orders. Torres one, Vidic zero.
Millions all over the world watched this match with great fascination, and it is these sub-plot battles that take part in such heated encounters that make the game so intriguing to such a large audience. This particular confrontation was one I had waited a long time to see.
Strength versus speed. Skill versus Power. The best defender in world football, of that I am still certain, despite his exit on Saturday afternoon, coming up against the best striker in the world, of that I am even more convinced. It was a contest for which I was not alone in my eager apprehension, not alone in watching so ardently, and without a doubt, I, along with millions all over the globe, was not disappointed with what I saw.