Friday, January 18, 2013

Three Stages: Manchester United 2 - Liverpool 1

Three Years
Not one, not two, but....

As might be expected, Liverpool-loving Columnist Scott has a rather different take on his team's 2-1 loss at the hands of the League leaders:

When Liverpool traveled to Old Trafford last Sunday for another shot at the League leaders, Manchester United (having lost the September home fixture, 2-1, after being Burgled then Buggered), hopes were high.  Unfortunately, on the way to an identical score line, the game exhibited three distinct stages with the result directly attributable to the length of each part.

First, during the “Warmup”, neither side seemed able to do anything dangerous.  For the first 20 minutes the players seemed to be simply having a jog around the pitch and stretching a bit.

But then, as if United heard the starting gun and Liverpool did not, in the 20th minute, Patrice Evra centered the ball to Robin Van Persie whose first time, side-footed shot, and resulting goal, looked all too familiar.  The goal was most impressive to me because (1) it seemed to come out of nowhere and (2) Van Persie was marked pretty closely but only needed the half yard to work his magic.

That goal touched off the next stage of the game, Manchester United’s dominance, which would last, agonizingly, until the 57th minute.  During that time, Liverpool lacked creativity in the final third, Steven Gerrard played too deep, United always seemed to get a foot on a pass or dribble and, in general and in every way, United was the better team.

First Andre Wisdom then Glen Johnson failed to deliver their crosses into the danger area.  But it didn’t really matter because Luis Suarez was the only one there, surrounded by defenders, as Liverpool was not getting bodies into the box.  The final deft touch was sorely lacking.  In the 37th minute, Suarez turned on Rio Ferdinand but put his volley way over.  Two minutes later, during a rare foray forward by Gerrard, there was hope of a magical combination with Suarez but the horrible return on the give-and-go ruined the trick.

Meanwhile, at the other end, only luck was keeping United from scoring again – in the 26th minute a wide open Van Persie seemed to be uncomfortable with the space he was gifted and fired over the bar from a routine cross.  In the 33rd minute Joe Allen made a horrific back pass that was pounced on by Danny Welbeck and only some heroics by Daniel Agger saved the day.  And in the 41st minute, Tom Cleverly put his volley wide when Allen’s clearing header was not clearing enough.  All this before, in the 45th minute, Van Persie’s clever flick behind got cleared by Martin Skrtl only as far as Pepe Reina who then collided solidly with Shinji Kagawa.  And, yes, I agree with those who say that either Liverpool should have played the ball out of bounds to let their ‘keeper recover or Howard Webb should have let play continue once United regained possession.

The second half resumed with United still playing better.  In the 49th minute, when Lucas finally did get a yellow card, I found myself asking how it is that he goes so long until he gets those.  Brendan Rodgers took no chances on a red card though, and opted for a more attacking mindset, when Lucas came off shortly after for Daniel Sturridge.

Signs of life were immediately noticed when Sturridge almost found Suarez in the box with his first touch, but might have shot himself.  And then Wisdom showed his age and why he is a defender by not even hitting the target when Suarez put him through.

Unfortunately, these stirrings were crushed when, in the 53rd minute, Van Persie returned Evra’s favor in the first half by finding the defender wide open on a freekick to head home.  While Nemanja Vidic’s accidental head robbed Evra of the goal, it still counted and the mountain Liverpool had to climb seemed insurmountable.

But then, the final stage of the game began in the 57th minute when Sturridge scored by following Gerrard’s shot which was weakly parried away by David De Gea.  While Reina had to work hard to save Kagawa’s blistering attempt in the 64th minute, Liverpool owned the rest of the game.  Maintaining possession, winning the ball back quickly and moving it around much better, the visiting Reds now looked the much more likely team to score.  Johnson put a shot wide in the 68th minute before Sturridge did the same after being fed by Suarez who seems to be working well with the newbie.

By the 72nd minute, there was no doubt as to who was playing better on the field and even Sir Alex lifted himself from his cozy chair to do a bit of yelling from the touch line, his volume increasing as the minutes ticked by.  By the 84th minute, I was convinced Liverpool would find the goal their recent play deserved.  And the chance came in the 85th minute when, after Suarez fought hard for the ball in the box, it fell for Sturridge who was only around 10 yards out.  Even his miss did not dampen the efforts of the visitors who pressed on and continued to look dangerous.

Of course such pressure leaves you exposed to counters and, in the 87th minute, only Johnson’s tackle (football style) of Antonio Valencia prevented a 1v1 with Reina.  In the end, after Sturridge’s 90th minute attempt only found the side netting from a quickly-taken free kick, it just wasn’t Liverpool’s day.

Ultimately, the result was due to the middle stage of United’s dominance being longer than the last stage of Liverpool’s dominance.  If the game had gone another 15 minutes, I have no doubt Liverpool would have scored.  Still, despite the defeat to the Evil Empire and Darth Ferguson, it is hard to help feeling that Liverpool is continuing the upward trajectory that will eventually see them in the top four and challenging for the title.

This is farlieonfootie for January 18.

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