For the second match in a row: *shakes head* Football, man. Football.
A first half set play goal, followed by increased United pressure and the inevitable equalizer following a defensive mistake. In a 4-1-4-1 formation with Carragher holding in midfield, Liverpool were unable to settle on the ball, in a typically frenetic no-holds-barred cup game.
Then, Dalglish's substitutions changed the game. Bringing on Adam and Kuyt for Carragher and Maxi just after the hour mark allowed Liverpool a greater foothold, with Bellamy for Gerrard 10 minutes later giving Liverpool greater impetus going forward without conceding ground in the center of the park. Meanwhile, Ferguson's response, removing United's third midfielder – the tiring Paul Scholes – for a forward, matching Liverpool's 4-4-2 formation, ensured United were outnumbered in the middle, with Chicharito's theoretical release valve smothered by the impressive Skrtel. Kuyt's late winner, his
The home side had the first chances, with De Gea saving Maxi's fierce shot in the 4th and Gerrard unable to control Henderson's cross in space in the box five minutes later. Meanwhile, Valencia cannoned an effort off the bar after bursting down Liverpool's left in the 17th, cutting in after beating Maxi for pace. But Liverpool struck first, and on a corner no less. Carroll, parked in front of De Gea, cleared out the goalkeeper and three defenders, leaving plenty of space for Agger to connect with Gerrard's cross. His first goal of the season as well, I might add.
But Liverpool were unable to take advantage of the early lead. Dropping deep and unable to settle on the ball, United grew in ambition. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool paid the price for a singular mistake, as Rafael – easily United's best player in the first half – out-muscled Enrique far too easily, sped towards the byline, and cut back for an open Park parked on the penalty spot.
Liverpool needed some stellar defending soon after the restart, as Agger scrambled Giggs' cross out of the six-yard box and Skrtel did well to cover after Reina was exposed, chasing out of his area trying to close down Welbeck, who beat Liverpool's back line to a ball over the top.
Then came the game-changing substitutions. Kuyt provided far more of a threat than the again-disappointing Maxi, even prior to his winner, while Adam added far more to Liverpool's midfield going forward without the feared decline in overall defending. Bellamy replacing the gassed Gerrard was more of a surprise, but removing a midfielder for a striker, shifting to 4-4-2, didn't expose Liverpool in the slightest.
Still, a winner didn't look on the cards. Kuyt had a couple of half-chances – a shot from the top of the box blocked, a downward header from Downing's cross tamely wide – while Welbeck spectacularly spurned a couple of very speculative opportunities. Then, Kuyt popped up with a classic Route 1 goal with two minutes left. Reina punted the goal kick down-field following a wild Welbeck shot, Carroll easily beat Evans to the header, cushioning it perfectly for Kuyt to run onto with Evra caught ball-watching. Bursting into the box, De Gea was unable to save the Dutchman's powerful low shot, and the Kop absolutely erupted. Liverpool should have increased the final margin a minute later, again via Carroll and Kuyt, but the striker's back post point-black header hit the crossbar and the substitute could only toe-poke the rebound wide. Otherwise, the two, along with Henderson, trapped the ball at the corner flag for almost all of the three added minutes, with United wholly out of ideas.
Today was an excellent day for Liverpool's usual scapegoats. Carroll was probably man of the match, heavily involved in both goals. Kuyt scored the winner, with a second game-changing performance after a a few months of disappointment, another big game performance which hopefully marked another second-half-of-the-season resurgence. Adam's entrance vastly improved the side, Downing did well whether on the left or right. Outside of Enrique's mistake, Liverpool's defense rarely, if ever, looked like conceding; Skrtel, again impeccable, deserves special mention, as does Martin Kelly. But, like against City, it was a team-wide win, the proper response to last weekend's utter failure.
It wouldn't be Liverpool v United lately without a focus on off-field concerns. Evra was booed on every touch, which seemed to decrease as the match went on, coupled with reports of repeated Hillsborough chants from the away end (obviously, I wasn't there). More concerning
Despite the lamentable need to condemn idiots, all idiots, I really hope the actual football makes more headlines. It deserves to. Liverpool have truly responded to poor performances against Bolton and Stoke, deservingly beating City over two legs followed by yet another Anfield FA Cup win over United. Neither alleviates the long-standing concerns about beating sides Liverpool are supposed to beat, especially at home, but both results are incredibly welcome, far better than the alternative, and a sturdy platform for second-half improvement. Roll on, roll on.