van Persie 81' (pen)
Fun times. Always fun times.
Well, let's get it out of the way.
There was Gerrard's dismissal in the FA Cup against United in Dalglish's first match two seasons ago.
There was also Javier Mascherano versus Steve Bennett against United in 2007-08. That one was a good one.
Suffice it to say there's some history here. Sadly, I've come to expect the worst possible decisions happening in the worst possible moment when these two sides meet. Because it's Manchester United, because it's Liverpool, and because sports are trying to kill me. And succeeding.
The closest comparison is probably Spearing's sending off at Fulham last season. Both players stupidly, rashly went in two-footed. Evans rolled around on the ground, Shelvey got sent off. Both players probably should have seen yellow, especially given all the contentious history which surrounds this fixture. But that the Liverpool player got a red card while the United player went unpunished should surprise no one.
Of course, we're not done. What, that's not enough controversy for you? Too bad.
Earlier penalty shouts for Agger and Suarez had been ignored, then Valencia gets that in the 77th minute, already falling over before Johnson even attempts his tackle. After a five-minute delay due to Agger's injury (of course), van Persie notched the winner. Liverpool rarely need help being torn apart on the counter-attack, on a giveaway of their own making – this one from Agger in United's half, prompting Valencia's three-on-two breakaway – but Manchester United certainly had help. And to compound matters, Agger eventually stretchered off after being unable to walk off. Early reports suggest the medical staff fears he tore his MCL. Fantastic.
United's two goals were United's only shots on target until a late time-wasting effort from nowhere. Liverpool bossed the game with 11 men, and were the better side with 10. And lost almost wholly because of the referee's decisions. That's hard to take against any side. It's utterly soul-killing against Manchester United.
It had been 39 minutes of butt-kicking but no name-taking until Shelvey's red. Liverpool needed the first two minutes to get the ball off United, but from there, United barely got it back until the sending off. The frequent "can't take their chances" failing reared its ugly head, but United never, never, never looked likely to spring the ubiquitous stomach punch. Allen and Gerrard bossed the midfield, while Kelly and Johnson were outstanding. Both those facets continued after Liverpool went down to 10 men.
It was only fitting that Gerrard struck immediately after the restart, aided by Liverpool bringing on Suso for Borini even though it was a substitution forced by injury, with the Italian suffering an ankle knock. The 18-year-old showed no fear, starting the move which ended with Gerrard's strike. Suso ran at Scholes and Evra before crossing, which Ferdinand headed out to Johnson, beating one man before Scholes' tackle. Which sent the ball straight to Gerrard, wholly unmarked 10 yards from goal. Chest, left foot, goal.
But Liverpool were only ahead for five minutes thanks to Rafael's admittedly wonderful goal. Rafael split Allen and Suso, and laid off for Valencia. Cross to a wide-open Kagawa, chest down to set up the right-back, insane swerver off the inside of the far post from no angle. Couldn't do it again on a bet, etc etc. It was just United's fifth shot, and its first on target. Because of course. It's now the third league match this season where Liverpool's opponent scored with its first shot on target. Through five matches. Both Arsenal and City scored with their second.
Despite the result, I remain incredibly impressed with how Liverpool stuck to its game after the sending off. Liverpool were very good in everything but goals until the red card, then changed formation twice in the second half to trouble United despite the man disadvantage. We've had something to be aggrieved about in almost every match this season, but today takes the horrific-tasting cake. The team were simply on the end of two unconscionable referee decisions and a worldy from Rafael.
Henderson replaced Sterling in the 66th to give Liverpool more support in midfield. Both Suso and Suarez had excellent chances to re-take the lead: the former's shot pushed over the bar by Lindegaard, the latter blasting across the face of goal from even less of an angle than Rafael's equalizer.
Then disaster (and Halsey) struck. Liverpool had kept the ball in United's half until Suso's ill-conceived pass to Agger. However, Agger, under pressure from van Persie, made the strange decision to back heel the ball away into unoccupied space. Valencia beat both Agger and Johnson to the ball, taking each other out in the process (where Agger picked up his injury) and raced toward goal with only Skrtel and Allen in their own half. The two defenders did well to close off passes to Giggs or van Persie, but then came Johnson charging back and that decision. Despite Liverpool's continued belief despite all those set-backs, game over. And to compound the compounded matters, Kelly also picked up an injury in stoppage time. Borini, Agger, Kelly could all miss extended spells, with Shelvey suspended and Lucas also a long-term casualty. Tremendous.
United win at Anfield for the first time since 2007. Liverpool are winless through five league games. Rodgers is now the ninth consecutive manager to fail to win his first match against United as Liverpool manager, a streak dating all the way back to Bob Paisley. Blah blah blah.
Regardless of result, and how painful each bad result as been, today truly was further evidence of progress. Just like the draw at Sunderland was, despite the disappointing draw. We were all prepared for a rocky road – or should have been, at least – especially given the dismal fixture list to start the season. Soon enough, that progress will turn into results. It has to.