Liverpool: The Title's In Touching Distance After Destroying Man United
Credit where credit’s due: The United fans kept singing. Kept singing all the way through. All the way to the bitter end. Something about the number twenty. Reminding us that they have overhauled us in League wins. Reminded us that we are playing catch up. Trying to forget the fact that we are now playing catch up in an increasingly vigorous manner. Trying to ignore the thought of their club vacating that perch that Fergie banged on about so long ago.
They kept supporting though. Supporting the concept of their team, the theory of everything that Manchester United stands for. The concept, not the reality, because the reality is laughable. The reality is that they are saddled with a manager - chosen and anointed, lest we forget - who is clearly further out of his depth than any man in history.
The reality is that they have an ageing, tired, substandard squad. The reality is that it will take at least £200 million to rebuild that team. The reality is that the board would be foolish to hand that money to a manager who bought Juan Mata for £40 million and has absolutely no idea what to do with him. The reality is that United’s era is ending, if not already ended.
The reality is that last May Liverpool ended the season with 28 points less than United in their (final?) title winning season, as of mid March they are 14 points ahead with more points gained than in the entirety of the last campaign and United’s season is over.
Does this sound like gloating? It should.
The reality is that Liverpool outplayed Manchester United today at Old Trafford. How much more reality do you want?
Three penalties. Two converted by Gerrard, the first after as blatant a handball by Rafael as you will ever see, the second following Jones bizarre decision to shove Allen in the back less than a minute into the second half. The third striking the woodwork may seem poetic justice as Vidic made no contact on Sturridge (I’m not using the term 'dive' but...)
In his final game against Liverpool, Vidic kept up his age old tradition of garnering red cards, which made up for the fact that Rafael should have walked after the handball. United were clearly going down to 10 men at some point, the only question was the identity of the player who would leave the field early.
And it could be argued that Flanagan was as fortunate as Rafael to survive the game. And it could be argued that United could/should have had a penalty of their own after Johnson handled. It could be argued. It could be. It could equally be argued that Liverpool could have had another three of their own, so let’s not pretend that penalties would have solved anything for the home side.
The simple truth is that United couldn’t live with Liverpool here. Couldn't live with the movement and energy and dynamism of Henderson and Allen, couldn’t live with the threat of Luis Suarez, couldn’t deal with the sharply threaded balls into their box for Daniel Sturridge to latch onto, couldn’t cope with the sheer magnificence of Steven Gerrard.
There was a short spell in the second half where Liverpool had to soak up pressure, a short spell where Wayne Rooney briefly threatened to flare into life. It was dealt with. It was absorbed. Rooney is one man and £300,000 a week doesn’t mean that he can do everything on his own. Van Persie is apparently willing to sign a new deal. Fine. Let him. He’s over. A succession of offsides and shots into side netting does not constitute a threat. Januzaj? Out of his depth. The team, the squad? Not good enough.
Two glorious moments:
Suarez nets the third, meaning that he and Daniel Sturridge are now a more prolific strike force than the Dalglish/Rush partnership of the early eighties and may yet overhaul the Hunt/St. John duo of 62/63, and then there's this:
On 87 minutes, with Liverpool 3-0 up at Old Trafford Brendan Rodgers decides to withdraw his captain from the field because he could, while David Moyes pulled Juan Mata in favour of Rio Ferdinand in the single most David Moyes substitution of all time.
I don’t want to pin this victory on United’s glaring deficiencies though. This victory was about the level that Liverpool are able to achieve. This was about a performance possibly more glorious than the 4-1 in 2009. This was about a team with balance and vision, a team with tactical understanding, a team with shape and leaders and creativity ensuring that every chink in their opponents’ armour was highlighted, exposed and exploited.
This was a team that is beginning to believe that it can win the title, a team that is willing to talk about it openly...
Follow Ian on Twitter, @fish2310