Liverpool v Manchester United: It's Embarrassing That Scholes Is Still Our Best Midfielder
After such a dismal loss to Bolton Wanderers last week, a backlash from Liverpool seemed inevitable. The empire struck back so emphatically with two domestic cup triumphs that the Bolton loss should be viewed as a moral victory, a catalyst. Kenny Dalglish’s side will do exceptionally well to finish fourth this campaign, but it is as likely as Patrice Evra was to not get booed at Anfield yesterday.
Instead, the cup competitions emerge as the priority. That next month the Reds will end a near 16-year wait to return to Wembley stresses the importance of putting the club back on the map. Not since Steven Gerrard single-footedly spared them against West Ham United in 2006 have they lifted silverware. Although a League Cup win will mask deficiencies, an FA Cup win would cement them as a force again, irrespective of the knockout factor.
Difficult difficult lemon difficult it is to decide whether their win against United was undeserved or deserved. Dalglish’s s**t on a stick first-half mentality jeopardised their chances, but he atoned for his negativity with a few positive second-half substitutions in Charlie Adam and Dirk Kuyt, before Craig Bellamy entered the fray.
Sandwiched between the double change and the introduction of the latter, Sir Alex Ferguson handed the hosts the initiative by withdrawing Paul Scholes. Starting him actually induced anxiety amongst wary United supporters, because he was an abomination in three successive defeats at Anfield when he was overrun and pressured relentlessly.
However Lucas Leiva’s absence afforded him space to play the puppeteer. Steven Gerrard occasionally interrupted the visitors’ possession play, but with Jamie Carragher and Jordan Henderson his partners to offer backup, Scholes was always likely to revel.
His return to United remains embarrassing, damning on the club’s strength and stock that it is he who has arisen from the flames as the midfield bailout outlet to breed calm. Yet Ferguson substituted him only to invite Liverpool more acreage in their opponents’ half.
Javier Hernández’s arrival was a positive signal, but a misguided one. Danny Welbeck, whose wastefulness at the Emirates last week was masked by the match-winner, could not repeat the trick and was regularly a liability on the ball. It was he who should have been replaced.
And then Kuyt won it for a Dalglish-led Liverpool in a week when the use of the phrase ‘glory days’ becomes ubiquitous. The 80s may be back with a vengeance.
While Ferguson’s tactical snafu did not cause Patrice Evra to settle into a slumber before the final whistle or David de Gea to react slowly, it buoyed Liverpool. A Liverpool without Gerrard. And that is the most heartening aspect of this 4th round victory for Scousers – it was achieved with their two best players on the bench and in the stands.
United admittedly had Nani, Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Nemanja Vidic, Tom Cleverley and Rio Ferdinand absent, but the defeat was all the more galling thanks to their first-half display. The Red Devils had not played this well at Anfield for well over a decade, and it is arguable whether the current Liverpool side is a level above the shambolic shower Roy Hodgson cooked up. At least he had Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles to complement Gerrard.
For such a lively game, there was not one player who dominated proceedings, but the best player on the Anfield turf was arguably Rafael da Silva. Some have erroneously opted to cite right-back as a problem position for Ferguson, when the only problem has been the Brazilian’s fitness. If (and that is a big ‘if’) he can avoid the niggles and strains, he is – and always has been – a shoe-in for the defensive berth.
What is a problem is the goalkeeper. Throwing De Gea into the bear pit, in retrospect, was the wrong move by Ferguson, and the Spaniard’s animated discomfort with physicality marked him as easy pickings. United’s feet-of-clay defence were more culpable for Agger’s headed opener, but again De Gea was beaten by a shot almost aimed straight at him as Kuyt killed the game in the 88th minute.
Beyond the actual football, Liverpool’s supporters baffled the watching world. ‘We’re not racists, we only hate Mancs’ they chirped, before booing in unison a player who was racially abused and labelling him a liar. ‘Friendly banter,’ was how King KKKenny described it. One banner unfurled in the away end read ‘MUFC – Defending Champions, LFC – Defending Racists’.
It was tribal but not the Sicilian vendetta some expected. English football’s far too sanitised to create the nefarious environments of the 80s, despite chants such as ‘The Sun was right, your murderers’ being aired. While this is unpleasant, anyone who finds this ‘shocking’ and claims to be a football supporter are better advised to defect to another sport.
Tweeting morons fabricated a story that United supporters had spat on the Hillsborough memorial, which was mercifully denied by Merseyside Police. But what wasn’t fabricated was the image of a prehistoric degenerate making monkey gestures in the home end, making a mockery of this (hasty?) disclaimer.
Irrespective of the scoreline, whether ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’ ended with ‘Luis Suárez’ or ‘racist bastard’, Depeche Mode was winning. And then Kuyt won it for a Dalglish-led Liverpool in a week when the use of the phrase ‘glory days’ becomes ubiquitous. The 80s may be back with a vengeance.
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