Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Benayoun Alonso Mascherano Riera
Brown (og) 26’
Finally. And what a way to do it.
United made a dream start, with early pressure leading to a Tevez goal within three minutes when Berbatov beat two men to the byline and was able to cut back to Tevez (Mascherano failed to follow him into the box). But Liverpool didn’t crumble, slowly grew into the game, and fortune finally favored them in the 26th minute when Van der Sar could only palm Alonso’s deflected shot off Brown for an own goal.
The old maxim that goals change games comes true again. And it’s brilliant that it came true against Manchester United – the old enemy, and a team that never loses after going a goal up.
Even though Kuyt had two decent chances in the 6th and 12th minutes, Liverpool didn’t respond right away. It took time to take control, but when you go behind to United – a team they haven’t beaten in the league in over four years – it’s impressive enough that heads didn’t drop immediately. There admittedly was loads of luck in the equalizer, but it’s about time Liverpool got that luck against United.
The rest of the half looked fairly similar to those games where Liverpool’s been the better side, but unable to capitalize. Kuyt’s dug-out shot straight at Van der Sar was Liverpool’s only effort on goal even though the home side was establishing more and better possession, while United went close in the 28th when Tevez shot over after good work from Berbatov and Anderson.
Liverpool really turned the tide after the break. Alonso and Mascherano were awesome in midfield, keeping possession and dictating tempo. Kuyt linked play well as a supporting striker, Benayoun did far better on the right (and was a threat getting into the box), and Riera finally gave Liverpool much-needed width on the left, with the debutant most impressive working as an outlet to relieve pressure when United was better early on. He also formed an effective partnership with Aurelio, who was solid at left back.
And Babel coming on for Riera in the 71st minute ended up changing the game. Gerrard replaced Benayoun three minutes earlier, but it was the speedy Dutchman who was Liverpool’s hero this time.
In the 77th minute, Mascherano did well to get to the byline, and when Giggs tried to let the ball run out instead of clearing, Kuyt was able to take possession and cut it back perfectly for the on-rushing Babel. Once again, he fills the role of supersub to a tee.
Liverpool's dominance in midfield kept United from ever really looking like getting back into the game. The home side continued to keep possession excellently, and Ferguson stole Mourinho’s desperate tactic, throwing a center-back (Vidic) to the front hoping he’ll win a long punt. And it backfired when Vidic picked up a second yellow for leading with his elbow going for a header in the 90th.
Kuyt should have sealed it in the 92nd after Babel returned the favor in a similar situation, but Van der Sar sprawled well. And United provided the requisite heart-in-mouth moment in the fourth minute of injury time, but England’s Hero™ Wayne Rooney could only fire wide when he got the ball at the top of the box.
Now that Liverpool’s finally made the breakthrough against United, after all the misfortune and maladies they’ve suffered in recent years, they need to put it to full use. This will be a massive confidence boost. They were without Gerrard and Torres. They went behind after only three minutes. And the team replied with far and away its best performance of the season.
Every player should hold his head high; it’s quite difficult to pick a man of the match, but I’ve got to go with Mascherano, who put in a sterling, lung-busting performance, and despite losing Tevez for United’s goal. However, Alonso’s right there too for his return to form in midfield, Skrtel was imperious in defense, and Riera, even though he only played 71 minutes, had a tremendous debut and looks likely to add another dimension to the team.
I’d forgotten what a win over United felt like. It’s been a long time coming.