By Rasheed Abu Bakar
The last time I watched a Liverpool -Manchester United game, Diego Forlan wrote himself into the history books.
Since that fateful day in 2008, however, I have chosen not to watch whenever United travelled to Anfield for one simple reason: no matter what form we were in, we would end up losing, and even finishing the game with ten men on certain occasions. It is also the only time of the year my heart-rate goes into overdrive (yes, even if I am not watching the match)!
Last night, I sat at the most comfortable corner on the sofa and braved myself to get through 90 minutes of ‘Anfield-geddon’.
This season’s blockbuster had even more importance.
Everyone was waiting to see if Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra would shake hands, and just a few days ago, 96 families were finally served justice for the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
The bouquet of red roses Sir Bobby Charlton handed Ian Rush before kick-off had more colour and life than United’s attack throughout the game. The Red Devils looked jaded and ‘afraid’, for some reason.
I was not thoroughly surprised, as this had been the case for United at Anfield for the past few seasons. I am not too sure whether this was due to the intense rivalry or the intimidating stadium but once again, United played really poorly.
Sublime against Galatasaray in midweek, Nani recorded one of his worst performances in recent memory last night. Nothing came off for the Portuguese as his passes went astray, and he strolled back nonchalantly when required to defend.
The winger was rightfully hauled off at half time for who else but the player who ‘makes everything tick’ – Paul Scholes.
With Scholes in the middle of the park, United started to hold the ball longer and interestingly, Michael Carrick looked better and more confident. He had the freedom to roam further down the pitch, and this in turn helped Shinji Kagawa to move the ball forward.
Kagawa’s start did surprise me, to be honest. No doubt, the Japanese has been in good form since he made his debut at Everton, but United vs Liverpool is not just a Premier League game. Their rivalry alone is Hollywood-worthy, and I thought Tom Cleverley would have fared better in midfield. The England international had a brilliant summer at the Olympics, but has yet to start a game this season.
The most common pass in Kagawa’s play last night was the return pass to the player who gave him the ball and I must admit I am getting a tad impatient. Where are all those through-balls he used to string to Robert Lewandowski last season at former club Borussia Dortmund?
I am willing to give him time to acclimatize to the play in England and to be fair, he did chest the ball down skillfully for Rafael’s brilliant equalizer, but he has got to start showing the supporters why the manager picks him as a starter– and he should do it in games like these.
If Steven Gerrard had scored later in the match, say after the 75th minute, I don’t think United would have won the game. The goal from the Liverpool captain, who dedicated it to his late cousin – one of the 96 who perished – seemed to finally force United to move up a gear.
They finally started to show some hunger and purpose; a purpose put an end to their abysmal record against their arch-rivals.
Lady luck was certainly in United’s dugout. In fact, I thought she had her arm around Alex Ferguson as she stared at his jaws while he gave the old chewing gum a real workout.
I must admit the penalty was harsh on Liverpool but hey, it’s football: you win some, you lose some. It was not as if Liverpool didn’t create any chances; Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling exposed United’s backline time and again, and it took last ditch tackles to foil them.
In particular, the latter looked dangerous moving forward and kept Patrice Evra on his toes the whole time. He reminds me of Steve McManaman, except without the wavy blonde hair (plus the fact that he already has three kids). I’m surprised King Kenny didn’t give him more games last term.
With so much at stake this season, United need that one performance that can snowball into a long undefeated run of games. Liverpool played most of the game with ten men, but we still could not capitalize on the advantage.
It is worrying that we are not playing to our full potential, and I wonder what Ferguson said at half time– he smiled and went crimson when asked about it in his post-match interview – although I suspect it was the hairdryer.
On a more positive note, we have played better than last night in the past and yet still lose, so a win against Liverpool at Anfield after so long is welcomed regardless of the football we played.
We are sitting quietly in second place behind Chelsea by a point, and have yet to drop points since the opening day defeat at Everton as well, so I certainly hope we can only get better from here.