SCORE: Liverpool 1 Machenster United 2
Let’s not talk about that. Or that. Or that. If Gus Fring has taught us nothing else, it is the importance of keeping your dignity so let us hope that everyone on both sides behaves and ensures the football is the focus after the match. After all, it’s Liverpool v Manchester United â€“ Liverpool v Manchester United!!! â€“ and we’re not here for tiresome debates about chants or handshakes, we’re here to talk about football. Correct me if I’m wrong but I do believe that’s why we’re all here in the first place. Good.
There are probably better sides to be facing when you’re still looking for your first league win than Manchester United but that’s the challenge facing Liverpool this afternoon. It has not been an easy start to life for Brendan Rodgers at Anfield, for while his side have passed the ball daintily, their approach has not been accompanied by the requisite punch up front, a familiar failing for Liverpool. They have only managed three goals in their first four games and two of those have come from set-pieces, the other from a Titus Bramble assist. Just as worrying are the defensive mistakes and the comedy stylings of Pepe the Clown in goal.
Yet Liverpool do come into this game on the back of a hot one-game winning streak, following their ripsnorting 5-3 win over Young Boys in the Europa League on Thursday, and they do tend to save their very best form for this fixture. United, who have not made a wholly convincing start to the season, do not like coming to Anfield. It spooks them. In recent years, they have been bullied here, largely because of their lack of a midfield, and they have not won at Liverpool since a Carlos Tevez goal gave them a 1-0 victory in December 2007. If Liverpool can add controlled aggression to their passing game, then United could be in for an uncomfortable afternoon. Having said that Liverpool have won just twice at home in the league this year and United have Robin van Persie up front, while Liverpool have:
Team news. Apart from the absence of the injured Lucas, Liverpool are at full strength in midfield, where Jonjo Shelvey is preferred to Nuri Sahin. For Manchester United, Nemanja Vidic is spared his inevitable Anfield red card by a mystery injury, so Jonny Evans partners Rio Ferdinand in central defence. David De Gea, who was excellent against Galatasaray in midweek, is surprisingly replaced by Anders Lindegaard in goal, while Ryan Giggs will be anonymous in the centre of midfield.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Allen, Gerrard, Shelvey; Borini, Suarez, Sterling. Subs: Jones, Enrique, Sahin, Assaidi, Henderson, Carragher, Suso.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Giggs; Valencia, Kagawa, Nani; Van Persie. Subs: De Gea, Anderson, Hernandez, Welbeck, Scholes, Cleverley, Buttner.
Referee: Mark Halsey.
Oh Giggsy! Photograph: Tom Jenkins
For those who think Ryan Giggs will be an irrelevance today, he did produce a fine assist in this fixture last season.
You can’t accuse them of not trying. Brendan Rodgers and Sir Alex Ferguson are doing their interviews with Geoff Shreeves together. What a double act! They could take this show on the road, though it’s not clear who’s the Morecambe and who’s the Wise.
Phil Podolsky sends in Jose delivering some home truths for Liverpool. “They’re not the best team in the Premiership. Not even close.”
“That United midfield is absurd,” blasts Samuel Scott-Moncrieff. “I’m beginning to think Ferguson’s aversion to combative midfielders who might give us an iota of presence at hostile away grounds is psychological. In exchange for one or two ball winners, tacklers, players who won’t crumble immediately under the outpouring of Anfield grief, I would gladly do without van Persie. Going to lose today. And yes i know vaguely applicable midfielders are unavailable, Fletcher being ill, Jones injured, Anderson pants etc.”
Word is that Nemanja Vidic is being rested. Which is strange. Anyway the teams are in the tunnel. They’re both wearing red tracksuit tops. United’s has “96” on the back. Out come the players to a strangely muted atmopshere.
HANDSHAKE LATEST: Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez shake hands without any fuss at all. And let that be the end of it. “That Jose Mourinho’s a pretty smart bloke; who’d have ever thought Liverpool wouldn’t win the league this season because their team isn’t good enough,” says Rob Moline. “No wonder Florentino Perez was so keen to snap him up. As in… he used to be good value being controversial or just a bit of an idiot, when did he become so bland?”
Sir Bobby Charlton walks on to the pitch to present flowers to Ian Rush in recognition of the Hillsborough disaster. Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard then release 96 balloons as the Kop bellows “Justice for the 96”. The fans in The Kop then hold up a mosaic. The message is simple: “THE TRUTH”.
And as You’ll Never Walk Alone ends, the game begins. United, in their white shirts and black shorts, kick off. They’re attacking the Kop in the first half, though I’m not sure if the Liverpool fans are paying too much attention yet. They’re still chanting “Justice for the 96”. It’s loud but there’s an eerie atmosphere around Anfield.
2 min: And now, finally, a roar. “Yup, you’re right about United’s “lack of a midfield” being the root cause of many of their recent problems at Anfield: see, eg, the game at Anfield in the league in Rafa’s otherwise abysmal last season in charge when Lucas simply harried the ball off the ancient Scholes, drove at the United goal and put Kuyt through only for the Dutchman to blast wide in classic Kuyt-style,” says SB Tang. “Not sure if Liverpool will be able to make United pay to the requisite degree for starting Giggs in central midfield today though. In the absence of Lucas, we don’t have a real terrier in midfield. And United will have the mobile, hardworking Kagawa dropping back to help out when they lose the ball …”
3 min: United are dominating possession in these early stages, albeit without really going anywhere. That’s often been the case at Anfield in recent years.
4 min: Young Sterling, the father of three children at the tender age of 17, gets his first chance to run at Patrice Evra. He might be experienced in some regards but he’s still a fresh-faced youth on the pitch and Evra quickly steps in to nick the ball off him.
5 min: Three children at 17 though.
6 min: Liverpool win the first corner of the match, Johnson’s cross deflected behind by Rafael. They take it short but Gerrard’s fine cross is headed away firmly by Rafael.
7 min: Liverpool win the first corner, United have the first shot. Kagawa finds Giggs on the edge of the area and he cuts across the ball with his left foot – rather like Xavi against Granada last night – and his shot fizzes just past the angle of post and bar. By way of response, Liverpool go right up the other end, Sterling playing a neat pass down the inside-right channel for Suarez. He turns a cross-shot into the area that Lindegaard parries out rather shakily, forcing Rafael to head away from Borini, doing superbly not to score an own goal. Gerrard tries to turn home the rebound but Evans is on hand to boot clear. More please!
9 min: Half of the ground thought this was in. The impressive Sterling won another corner on the right. Shelvey cut the ball back low to Gerrard, whose low drive fizzed past the right post and into the side-netting, creating the illusion that he had beaten Lindegaard. Sadly not. United were nearly caught out in similar fashion by Galatasaray on Wednesay. You’d think they’d be wise to that ruse by now.
12 min: “I think Ferguson has dug his heels in on the midfield issue,” says Mark Judd. “He knows what everyone else knows but is too stubborn to admit it. Buy Cheik Tiote in January.” They do look very lightweight at the moment. Liverpool are the more cohesive side.
13 min: The buccaneering Johnson tumbles under a challenge from Rafael on the left but Mark Halsey waves away his appeals for a free-kick. He accepts the decision with equanimity. Just as well, seeing as it wasn’t a foul.
14 min: Liverpool are making chances. Liverpool aren’t taking chances. What’s new? Suarez pierces the shambles masquerading as the United defence with a pass through to Borini. He’s clean through on goal and should score but his first touch is utterly dreadful, taking him away from goal. In the end, all he can do is try to turn it across goal but too many United defenders are back. The young Italian gets an earful from Suarez and Gerrard for his sloppiness. Andy Carroll definitely would have scored that. Maybe.
16 min: You know who would have scored that? Steven Fletcher. What a brilliantly instinctive finisher he is.
17 min: It’s all Liverpool. Joe Allen does this really neat thing. He passes the ball to a team-mate.
19 min: A quick look at the possession stats reveals that Liverpool have had 64% of it. But they’re yet to turn it into a goal which is, of course, supposedly the object of all this.
20 min: Liverpool have had three corners to United’s nice round zero. Gerrard curls it in from the left but Van Persie heads away at the near post. That might be the first time he’s touched it.
21 min: Liverpool continue to turn the screw though and from Van Persie’s clearance, Gerrard curls a delicious inswinging cross into the box from the left. Agger collapses with Evans keeping a close hold on him but Mark Halsey says no penalty despite loud appeals. There’s a stoppage in play, meanwhile, as Rio Ferdinand gets treatment for an injury. Worryingly United’s only defensive option on the bench is the inexperienced left-back Alex Buttner.
23 min: Ferdinand is back on the pitch but he’s still limping. That decision to rest Vidic is looking curiouser and curiouser.
24 min: “I don’t disagree with your assessment of Steven Fletcher, but it’s a pity he is either too stupid to too stubborn to admit when he’s made a mistake,” says Simon McMahon. “Maybe he should give Nick Clegg a call as well as Craig Levein.”
25 min: UNITED GET INTO LIVERPOOL’S HALF!!!!!!!!
26 min: Nani wallops a free-kick well over the bar from 35 yards out. Maybe he shouldn’t take the set pieces for a while.
27 min: Suarez tries a cute chip into the top-right corner from the edge of the area but his aim is awry.
28 min: Suarez is so frustrating at times. He got clear on the left side of the area and was faced by two United defenders. Suddenly memories of his mesmeric run against United in March 2011 came flooding back so instead of just crossing it, he tried to diddle his way past Ferdinand, who stands up and gets a foot in to howls of annoyance from the home fans.
32 min: The increasingly erratic Evra goes steaming through the back of Sterling as the young winger nicked the ball past the United full-back inches outside the area on the right. Dear me, that was woeful defending. Evra escapes with a final warning, though.
33 min: Gerrard whips the free-kick into the area from the right, but Suarez gets too much on his header when it needed to be a glance and the ball flies behind for a goal-kick.
34 min: Suarez threatens again. He scampers into the area from the left but his fierce shot is deflected behind by Ferdinand, who looks to be back in full working order again. The corner comes to nothing.
35 min: They say managers have to be brave and you have to admire Sir Alex Ferguson’s courage in not picking a midfield today.
37 min: Kelly bursts down the right, unimpeded by anything as novel as a tackle from a United player. His cross is cut out by Evans but then Nani helpfully picks out Sterling on the edge of the area. He jinks past one challenge but his left-footed shot is blocked by a United defender. United are awful.
39 min: LIVERPOOL PRESS THE SELF-DESTRUCT BUTTON! JONJO SHELVEY IS SENT OFF! All that dominance and now they’re down to 10 men. Shelvey had an inexplicable rush of blood to the head here as he got too excited after tackling Ryan Giggs. He then rushed to challenge Evans but his studs were up and he caught him with his right boot. The strange thing about this incident is the way Evans went into the 50-50 wasn’t exactly great either. A split-second later and he could have been the one sent off. Mark Halsey took his time to make his mind up but there was a certain inevitability to Shelvey going.
40 min: After getting treatment, Evans comes back on to loud boos from the Liverpool fans. For the crime of being kicked.
41 min: But despite only having 10 men, still Liverpool press. They win a free-kick after a push from Ferdinand 30 yards from goal. Suarez takes it and demands a good save from Lindegaard, the Dane diving to his right to push the effort away. Liverpool are very much in this, mainly because United have been so poor.
44 min: “How does the player with both feet off the ground stay on the pitch, and the one with one foot on the ground get a straight red!?” says Simon Brereton. This is what I mean about Evans’s part in this. You’re not going to see both players sent off in an incident like that though. That said, Evans got lucky.
45 min: As Shelvey walked off, he had a pop at Ferguson, pointing at him and effin’ and jeffin’. Ferguson, naturally, did not take it in good spirit meaning Shelvey has become the first non-United player to be on the end of the hairdryer treatment. You can bet the United players are going to be in for a rollicking at half time too. Their performance is still miserable. Borini gets clear down the left but his inviting cut-back is put behind by Evra. Where was Suarez? That cross was begging to be tapped in. To think that Michael Owen’s at Stoke.
Half time: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United. Boos greet the half time whistle following Jonjo Shelvey’s red card. Manchester United have been thrashed 0-0 but Liverpool are down to 10 men. Surely United can’t be so lethargic against the second half, especially with the one-man advantage. Liverpool should be ahead but once again they haven’t taken their chances and they could end up paying for it.
Half time emails.
“Fergie’s tactics appear to be to pick 10 idiots and assume that Van Persie will inevitably nick it when someone from Liverpool gets sent off,” says Alec Cochrane. “Rodgers tactics are to get it out wide and cross it in for Andy Carroll, with only one fatal flaw.”
“It was a badly judged lunge from Shelvey, but replays showed Evans had both feet leading into it as well,” says Matt Dony.
“On Halsey’s red against Shelvey: that was as bad a decision as his subsequently rescinded red against Huddlestone,” says SB Tang.
“Ferguson’s bizarre selections suggest a man who is bored of winning, & now wants to handicap himself to keep the challenge interesting,” says Simon Frank. “Remarkably few top, top, top, top, players for this massive, massive game.”
“I think that crime being booed is that Evans was also studs up (see the replay, he catches Shelvey just as badly) and then rolled around like a chubby fella in a oil wrestling match,” says Josh Collis. “Still Shelvey ingratiated himself to all LFC fans by shouting a lot at Ferguson on the way off. A future star.”
“Liverpool are awfully fired up for this game, Shelvey being sent off as a consequence of their high pressing, aggressive approach going too far,” says David Jerome. “Despite their team playing well however their fans have behaved disgracefully on a day that is supposed to be about reconciliation, booing Evra for being racially abused and Evans for being the victim of a challenge? Sort it out Liverpool.”
“What in name of Jehova is the ref doing?” says Rolf Mellander. “That’s a 50-50 challenge. Shelvey is doing exactly what Evans is doing. Both red or no red. Clown of a referee.”
The red card. Both players were out of control, Jonny Evans going in two-footed as well. On Sky, Gary Neville suggests that both players should have been sent off, so a booking for both might have sufficed.
At this juncture, let us remind ourselves of Xabi Alonso’s thoughts on tackling.
I don’t think tackling is a quality. It is a recurso, something you have to resort to, not a characteristic of your game. At Liverpool I used to read the matchday programme and you’d read an interview with a lad from the youth team. They’d ask: age, heroes, strong points, etc. He’d reply: ‘Shooting and tackling’. I can’t get into my head that football development would educate tackling as a quality, something to learn, to teach, a characteristic of your play. How can that be a way of seeing the game? I just don’t understand football in those terms. Tackling is a [last] resort, and you will need it, but it isn’t a quality to aspire to, a definition. It’s hard to change because it’s so rooted in the English football culture, but I don’t understand it.”
46 min: Off we go again. Both sides have made changes, Liverpool introducing the young Spanish midfielder Suso for Borini and United introducing the Not Young midfielder Paul Scholes for the miserably ineffective Nani. And…
GOAL! Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United (Gerrard, 46 min): Could it have been anyone else? Suso made an instant impact after his introduction off the bench, gloriously jinking past Scholes on the left before sending a cross that was headed away by Ferdinand. United were dawdling on the edge of the area though and Johnson charged on to the loose ball, before juggling it into the area. He couldn’t keep control of it but it came to Gerrard and he chested it down before waiting for it to drop and smashing a low volley into the bottom right corner as United stood and watched. The 10 men have the lead and don’t they deserve it.
48 min: Liverpool thoroughly merit this lead. There aren’t many better players than Steven Gerrard when it comes to the big occasions, although that hasn’t always been the case in recent years.
50 min: The inevitable pressure from United. Van Persie swings in a cross from the left and Johnson gets a bit lucky that his header back across his own area doesn’t fall to a United player. I fancy this is going to be a long 40 minutes for Liverpool.
GOAL! Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United (Rafael, 51 min): What a goal this is from Rafael. Liverpool’s goal has given United the kick up the backside they needed and they’re level straight away. They were just starting to turn the screw and were enjoying their first period of sustained pressure when Rafael struck. There didn’t look to be too much danger as Kagawa chested Valencia’s cross down to Rafael, but the right-back took a touch and then bent a stunning left-footed curler into the far corner off the inside of the post. Reina didn’t have a chance.
53 min: Valencia scampers down the right flank and wins a corner off Johnson. United are well on top at the moment. Van Persie sends the corner in and Valencia heads over and wide.
54 min: Liverpool aren’t going to sit back and just let United come at them. First a raking long pass finds Sterling in behind Evra on the right of the area. He takes too long to shoot though and his eventual cross is headed away. It comes out to Gerrard whose shot is straight at Lindegaard.
55 min: Carrick slides a pass through to Van Persie, who’s clear in the middle of the area. He’s off balance though and slips as he goes to shoot. No penalty, despite the appeals for one.
57 min: Now it’s Liverpool’s turn to cry for a penalty as Suarez leaps through the air â€“ 9.5 say the judges! â€“ after a challenge from Evans. He doesn’t really help himself at times, does he?
59 min: Try to contain your shock: Paul Scholes has been booked for a foul on Sterling.
59 min: A rapier United counterattack ends with Evra’s low cross from the left going behind Van Persie. It might not be too long before we see either Hernandez or Welbeck introduced to partner Van Persie. Kagawa hasn’t done very much.
61 min: Lindegaard makes an outstanding save to stop Suarez restoring Liverpool’s lead. He darted in from the right to make space for the shot and then curled a low effort towards the bottom left corner. Lindegaard got a strong hand to it. By the way, United have scored with their only shot on target.
63 min: Van Persie heads Carrick’s cross well over. He was under a lot of pressure though. He’s still feeding off scraps.
65 min: Despite having 10 men, Liverpool are still the superior side. Suarez breaches the United defence again and this time rolls the ball back to Suso, whose clipped effort from, 15 yards out is pushed over by Lindegaard. If they could finish, Liverpool would be a very good side.
66 min: Liverpool make their second change, Jordan Henderson replacing Raheem Sterling. Patrice Evra breathes a sigh of relief.
68 min: United are so listless. It’s as if they don’t want to win it. “The dive by Suarez had all the elements and his form was impeccable
but for sheer audacity I am still giving the dive of the week to Ivanovic against Stoke yesterday,” says JR in Illinois. For sheer audacity, nothing beats this.
69 min: Suso slips a pass through to Suarez but his cross-shot from a tight angle on the right flashes across goal and, er, out for a throw-in.
72 min: There is no coherence to the United attacks. Liverpool are comfortable in defence. The only reason they’re not winning is because of a wonder goal from United’s right-back.
76 min: PENALTY TO MANCHESTER UNITED! Out of nowhere Valencia beats Agger and Johnson to a loose ball on the halfway line and steams off upfield with Liverpool completely exposed. He tries to take it past Skrtel but just as he goes to shoot from six yards out, Johnson gets back and clips his heels. Reina is booked for his protests. Will Van Persie dink it?
77 min: There’s a delay before Van Persie can take the penalty as Agger gets treatment for the injury he suffered when Valencia stole possession. On second glance, Liverpool might feel the penalty was soft – the contact was so light â€“ although the fact that Johnson didn’t appeal was telling, I suppose.
79 min: Agger is going to have to go off on a stretcher. He looks to have hurt his foot. It was a poor pass from Suso, the impressive youngster, who put Liverpool into trouble. He’ll learn.
80 min: Agger, clutching his left leg, is taken off on a stretcher and on comes Carragher. Van Persie has had four minutes to think about this penalty. He’s going to chip it, isn’t he?
GOAL! Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United (Van Persie pen, 81 min): United had missed their last three penalties. They almost missed this one too, Reina getting a hand to Van Persie’s penalty but it was hit too firmly into the top-right corner. United have not come from behind to win at Anfield since 1952. This is a complete mugging.
82 min: Javier Hernandez replaces the disappointing Shinji Kagawa.
83 min: What a chance. Johnson looks to make amends with a cross from the left and Kelly beats both Evra and Evans to the ball but heads it wide of the right post from six yards out. What a chance.
84 min: The Liverpool supporters are up in arms after a studs-up challenge from Van Persie on Suso. He’s booked. It wasn’t too different from the challenge Shelvey was sent off. “Everyone saying pen because Johnson didn’t complain,” says Niall Mullen. “Everyone should scream at the ref then?” You’d complain if you knew you hadn’t touched him.
86 min: “Mind explaining why Johnson not appealing is telling – do you think Halsey would have changed his mind?” says Steve Bowden. “Reina was booked for protesting – does that make it definitely wrong?” Because Johnson was the one penalised so probably has a better idea than Reina. For what it’s worth, I want to see it again. The contact, if there was any, looked very soft.
88 min: There’s going to be a lot of stoppage time, of course. The delay before Van Persie took his penalty was four minutes and there will be more than that added on.
89 min: Danny Welbeck replaces the hobbling Rafael. Presumably Valencia will go to right-back. “Did nobody take into account that Johnson probably didn’t complain because he was lying on the ground in pain having taken a knee to the chest from Reina during the penalty incident?” says David Flynn. “Whether he agreed or didn’t he had other things on his mind, like trying to breathe.”
90 min: There will be five minutes of added time.
90 min+2: Mark Halsey is not endearing himself to the locals. United have a free-kick after a foul by Henderson on Evans. “Sorry to ruin the fun,” says Benedict Simmons. “His response was the mark of a man who knew he’d fudged it for his team. He just lay on the ground. He went to ground on the halfway line, then got into a position which would let the ref get conned by Valencia and there was nothing he could to about it.”
90 min+3: All is not going to plan for Liverpool. Now Martin Kelly is down injured. I can’t believe they’re not going to win this match. They probably should have signed a striker in the summer. I’m not yet sure that Borini counts.
90 min+5: Hernandez’s weak effort is snaffled by Reina. One last attack for Liverpool now. Reina will launch it long. Andy Carroll might have been useful in this situation.
90 min+7: Mark Halsey is not a popular man. Ferdinand goes through the back of Suarez on the edge of area. Play continues.
Full time: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United. After one of their worst performances in recent memory, Manchester United have their first victory at Anfield since 2007 and move up to second in the table. The victory papers over the cracks in this side though, because for long periods they were absolutely dire. Yet they got the rub of the green with the refereeing decisions, which means they leave with the points. Somehow Liverpool end a match they dominated from start to finish empty-handed. They’re 18th in the table after five matches. It will get better though. Thanks for reading. Bye.