Manchester United left Anfield with three points on Sunday afternoon for the first time since 2007 with a 2–1 come-from-behind victory over 10-man Liverpool. The home side took the lead through Steven Gerrard at the beginning of the second half, but a stunner from Rafael quickly canceled out that goal.
Robin van Persie, who missed a penalty against Southampton three weeks ago, netted the winner from the penalty spot to spoil Liverpool’s day.
Truth and Justice
Prior to kickoff, tribute was paid to the 96 Liverpool supporters who died in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. A recent report, published a full two decades after the fact, finally revealed that the original official version of events, whereby local police effectively blamed the fans for causing the disaster, was little more than a crude cover-up to exonerate the local constabulary. In fact the report states that the Liverpool supporters were in no way to blame for what occurred.
In a pre-match ceremony Sir Bobby Charlton, on behalf of Manchester United Football Club, presented a wreath to Liverpool legend Ian Rush honoring the 96 Liverpool fans who perished in Sheffield.
Then 96 red balloons were released into the sky above Anfield. The Liverpool crowd spelled out “justice” and “truth” in giant red letters on a white background, while the strains of “You’ll never Walk Alone” echoed around the ground.
Unusually, the two managers were interviewed together prior to the game. Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers declared that it was “an opportunity to offer respect and pay tribute to the families of the survivors,” while Sir Alex Ferguson said that Liverpool and Manchester United have been “the two most successful clubs” in the country over the years and needed to “show unity” on this occasion despite their intense rivalry.
Indeed, all the traveling United supporters had received a personal letter from Ferguson asking them to be on their best behavior and show respect.
It was an emotional occasion that could not fail to touch the hearts of most football supporters, regardless of club loyalty, particularly those of us who are old enough to have stood on the Leppings Lane end terraces at Hillsborough back in the days before all-seater stadiums became the norm.
Emotions Run High
With emotions running at fever pitch and the noise level around the stadium absolutely deafening, it was no surprise that the game started off at a frantic pace. Liverpool dominated the first half hour but was unable to convert several half-chances.
All United could muster was a speculative attempt from Ryan Giggs that went wide, and a long range free kick by Nani that was always going over the bar.
But on 39 minutes, Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey challenged Jonny Evans for a 50-50 ball with feet off the ground and studs showing. Seen in real time, the tackle looked nasty, but successive video replays suggested that Evans had entered the challenge also with studs showing.
However, referee Mark Halsey had to make a decision on what he could see. He produced a red card from his back pocket and Liverpool was down to 10 men. The key factor in his decision was probably that Shelvey got straight back up while Evans stayed down.
Nobody is suggesting that Evans was faking injury, as he certainly appeared to have genuinely taken a knock, but it certainly made Shelvey look like the aggressor when in reality it was probably six of one half a dozen of the other.
Yet the Reds were so pumped up, they still looked by far the better side, even playing with a man short for the remaining six minutes of the first half. Moreover, they came out after the break and took up exactly where they’d left off 15 minutes earlier.
Following good work from “Suso” (Jesus Fernandez Saez), who had been introduced for the second half, Gerrard took the ball on his chest in the center of the United box before smashing it past Anders Lindegaard with the half only 50 seconds old.
The Liverpool skipper was understandably ecstatic and looked up at the sky as he celebrated. His 10-year-old cousin was the youngest of the 96 that perished at Hillsborough.
United Turn It Around
It was vital for Liverpool to hold their lead for at least 10 minutes and consolidate, but they were unable to do so. United, though still well below their best, were nonetheless looking more the part with Paul Scholes on for Nani and starting to pull the strings in the middle of the park.
Just five minutes later, Rafael produced a typical piece of Brazilian brilliance striking a wonderful curling shot with his left foot from the right-hand edge of the Liverpool area which struck the inside of Pepe Reina’s far post and went in.
United may have been back on level terms, but Liverpool’s 10 men were still more than holding their own and Lindegaard had to be alert to save smartly from both Luis Suarez and Suso.
The defining moment of the match came with a little less than a quarter of an hour remaining as Antonio Valencia broke down the right and powered through the area into the six-yard box where he appeared to be brought down by Glen Johnson. Rather like the sending off, it looked a penalty in real time though with the benefit of the video replay it was by no means so clear cut.
However, the referee’s decision had been made, and van Persie was not about to waste the opportunity as he had done against Southampton.
Tough Times for Liverpool
Rodgers could not have had a tougher start to his tenure as Liverpool boss. Despite having not played badly in most of their games, the club is still without a win and has made its worst start to a season in over a century.
It is also the worst start by a new Liverpool manager since George Patterson took the reins in 1928. Just as they should have had three points in a fine performance at home to Manchester City, the Reds were unfortunate not to get something from today’s match.
In addition, they now have injury worries in relation to Daniel Agger and Martin Kelly. The latter limped from the field near the end with all substitutes used, leaving his team to finish the match with only nine men.
Interviewed by Fox Sports after the game, United skipper Giggs freely admitted that his team had been below par and acknowledged that, on this special day, “Liverpool wanted to put on a performance and did that.”
However, he was also quick to point out the occasions when “we’ve come here and not got anything” despite having played well.
United’s win takes them to second in the Premier League table behind Chelsea. Liverpool find themselves in the relegation zone with only two points from five games.
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