Offshore drilling, England: Manchester United 2, at Liverpool 1
Man of the Match: Quietly, Rio Ferdinand looked like his old self, something Manchester United desperately needed. The Red Devils spent most of the match without the ball, and with Liverpool attacker Luis Suárez allowed to drop back into the space in front of the defense and receive the ball, Ferdinand needed to summon much of his old speed an athleticism he’s reported to keep up with the Reds’ main threat. Despite seemingly picking up an injury in the 22nd minute, Ferdinand was up to the task. Suárez’s only moments of danger came away from his area, leaving Liverpool with very few chances on United’s goal.
Packaged for takeaway:
- Anfield’s first match since the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report made for an emotional occasion. The traditional pre-match rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was accompanied by one half of the venue spelling out “Justice” in red-on-white placards, the other displaying “The Truth” in white-on-red.
- In the context of this derby, it was an incredible moment: 22 players, evenly divided on either side of England’s defining rivalry, standing in respect at their starting positions while the crowd honored those tragically lost, the HIP finally providing the vindication for which supporters had tirelessly fought.
- Liverpool controlled the first third of the match, holding 65 percent of the possession through the first 35 minutes. Unfortunately for Reds, that didn’t translate into scoring chances. Luis Suárez created a scary moment for Anders Lindegaard in the seventh minute and placed a hard but non-threatening direct kick on goal in the 41st, but aside from that, the greatest benefit of Liverpool’s possession was making Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa non-factors.
- In the 39th minute the match, Jonjo Shelvey and referee Mark Halsey changed the match. Shelvey went through the back of Ryan Giggs in midfield, dispossessing the United midfielder. As Jonny Evans slid into the loose ball, Shelvey left his feet and dove in feet-first, drawing the red card.
- On the replay, the tackle looked relatively harmless. Of course, that’s not the point. You can’t judge these things by the outcome. Shelvey’s choice to launch himself into the tackle was reckless, putting him at risk of being dismissed. There was argument for a yellow - Shelvey keeping his legs open, not directly putting his feet into Evans, though his right foot made contact. That Halsey was still within reason to show Shelvey red speaks to the inanity of the challenge.
- Despite being down a man, Liverpool remained in control through halftime, coming out of intermission and immediately creating a goal. Paul Scholes, brought on for Nani at the break, played a crucial role in allowing the score, beaten by Suso on the flank before redirecting an errant ball back into the penalty area, where Steven Gerrard collected and half-volleyed past Lindegaard.
- With the extent to which Liverpool had been dominating possession, the goal felt like it could be decisive, even if United was up a man. Perhaps that was the occasion speaking (or the power of a Steven Gerrard goal), because United almost immediately answered. Coming onto a ball chested down in the penalty area by Shinji Kagawa, Rafael curled a left-footed shot from 14 yards out to the right of goal just inside Pepe Reina’s far post, leveling the score at one after 51 minutes.
- While the match was played more evenly after the Rafael goal, Liverpool still didn’t seem like a team playing with 10. Their passing game was able to maintain a bulk of the possession, and with Suso brought on for Fabio Borini at half time, they had somebody who could carry the ball into attack and challenge United with the ball at his feet.
- Brendan Rodgers, however, didn’t seem willing to play with fire. In the 66th minute, Jordan Henderson was brought on for his first Premier League appearance of the season, replacing Raheem Sterling. That left Luis Suárez alone up top, Liverpool apparently setting up to see out the draw.
- In the 76th minute, it went bad for Liverpool. A Suso turnover in midfield was picked up by Antonio Valencia who carried the ball from the center line to the edge of Reina’s six. As Valencia went to the right of Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson appeared to run through the midfielder’s back, giving the penalty.
- It wasn’t the worst penalty to give, though Reina was booked for protesting Halsey’s call. Valencia was about to let go of a shot that seemed pretty sure to go in. Most penalties find their way in, too, but with Valencia only having to put the ball under Reina from four yards out, the spot kick probably gave Liverpool the better chance to salvage a point.
- Upping the drama, there was a four-minute gap between the kick being awarded and taken, with Daniel Agger hurt trying to prevent Valencia from retrieving Suso’s turnover. As Agger was carried off, Jamie Carragher came on, Brendan Rodgers having to use his final substitute on a defender while staring at a one-goal deficit.
- That assumed Manchester United would convert, not a given considering the Red Devils had missed penalties in their last three matches. Van Persie, however, hit a near-perfect kick into the right of Reina’s goal, and although the keeper got a great jump and guessed correctly, he couldn’t get enough on the ball to prevent the go-ahead goal.
- Liverpool spent the match’s last 17 minutes (10 relegation, seven stoppage time) firing wishful crosses into Lindegaard’s area, though it was clear the match was over.
- For Manchester United, it was a day of good fortune. Though you can say United creates their own luck (like Valencia drawing Johnson’s foul), they didn’t induce Shelvey’s challenge.
- Regardless, it’s three points at Anfield and four wins in a row, United now second in the league with 12 points (one behind Chelsea).
- For Liverpool, it was another performance that, in isolation, should encourage their fans, but now winless in five matches, Reds are probably tired to hearing about silver linings. Player-for-player, Liverpool was the better team with one huge exception: Their inexperienced midfielder who allowed himself to be dismissed.