The alarm bells were ringing in my head before kick off. Not only had Xabi Alonso failed to recover from his midweek calf strain, but Alvaro Arbeloa had aggravated his hamstring injury in the warm up, meaning Jamie Carragher had to do the graveyard shift at right back, with Sami Hyypia coming in to face the effervescence and movement of Rooney & Tevez.
I have to be honest, I was worried. Yeah we had Gerrard & Torres back firing, but still, I was worried. Even more so when Pepe Reina made an error of judgement to bring down Park Ji-Sung, allowing the ever-lovable Cristiano Ronaldo to bury the penalty in the same place he always seems to. “No chance” I announced, “we came from behind at Anfield, we definitely won’t here”.
I should have more faith, I really should. Whisper this, but Liverpool were already playing pretty well before Reina’s indiscretion. Lucas Leiva seems to have found a bit more confidence and composure with a sleek new hairstyle, and he & Javier Mascherano competed admirably with Manchester United’s much-vaunted passing duo of Michael Carrick & Anderson, whilst Gerrard & Torres showed glimpses of what was to come with a few nicely worked moments.
Of course it took an error from another much-vaunted player, Nemanja Vidic, to let Torres in for the equaliser. The Serb inexplicably failed to deal with Martin Skrtel’s agricultural punt upfield, and with Torres around that is a cardinal sin. The Spaniard made up five yards of ground to nick the ball clear of the flailing defender, before steadying himself to reverse the ball past Van der Sar one on one. He even showed how immersed he has become in LFC culture by giving a nice “5 Times” gesture to the baying home fans. Lovely. Vidic was rattled, Torres started winning aerial duels, he nutmegged him, he found space where most strikers do not, and before half time he used this space to roll in Gerrard behind Patrice Evra. Evra went to ground and didn’t get the ball. Penalty. At Old Trafford. All we needed now was Danny “Cucumber” Murphy.
Actually no we didn’t, the skipper has taken over the mantle of nervelessly converting big penalties. Arsenal, check. Atletico, check. Real, check. United away? Check. Tevez pointed to Van der Sar’s right, Gerrard went to his left. 2-1, and a kiss for both the Liver Bird, and the camera. Beautiful. Just before half time as well, best time to score according to the cliche makers.
Now for the fun and games. I have enough experience of United/Liverpool games to know how the second half pans out. Basically Liverpool retreat into a shell, defending in numbers and looking to play only on the break, whilst United wheel out sub after sub in a desperate bid to break down the door to an equaliser (and then usually a winner). Berbatov, Giggs, Scholes, Denis Law…they all get sent on, but it mattered little when Vidic tried to control a nothing ball using his hip, and Gerrard steamed past. The foul was cynical, the foul was blatant, a nice double of red cards for Nemanja against the Reds this season. He must have woken up in the night shielding himself from Torres-shaped ghouls.
Anyway, Fabio Aurelio decided now would be a good time to show that his much-talked-about free-kick prowess actually exists, with a peach of a strike over the wall and into Van der Sar’s top left hand corner. So good that the Dutchman decided it wasn’t even worth diving. 3-1 and it was curtains I’m afraid. The cigars were out. Babel came on to stretch the shell-shocked United defence, and should have created a second for Gerrard with an astute back-heel that the skipper blazed into the Stretford End, before Andrea Dossena followed Babel, Ronny Rosenthal & David Fairclough into the “Super Sub Hall of Fame” with a ridiculously assured lob from another long punt in the final minute. Glorious to see that ball bounce into the net. Two in two for the man with the wide neck, maybe left wing is his new vocation in life.
Of course Ferguson couldn’t resist a little dig at the victors, claiming United were “the better side”. I doubt even the Noble Knight can look himself in the eye on that one. I think this text, received as the fourth goal dropped in, is more accurate.
“Dossena as well…..rub it in why don’t you?!”
Sums it up really.