Manchester United defeated Liverpool 2–1 in Sunday’s early kickoff in the English Premier League to win the North–West derby between England’s two most successful clubs in what is generally considered the fiercest rivalry in the land.
The win took them 10 points clear at the top of table pending Manchester City’s result at Arsenal later in the day.
United went into this one having won eight of their last nine league games, but Liverpool could also be confident having won five of their last seven.
Wayne Rooney was still not ready to return for Manchester United, but his troublesome knee should be right by next week. Experience is important in this type of fixture and the evergreen partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand was reinstated to the center of the United defense.
Vidic has the dubious distinction of having been sent of three times in this fixture—the Premier League record for red cards by one player in a single fixture.
Shinji Kagawa was given a start on the left side of midfield. United fans are still waiting to see the best of the Japanese international, who is yet to play with the authority he did at Borussia Dortmund. Danny Welbeck got the nod over Xavier Hernandez to support Robin van Persie up front.
Liverpool also had their most experienced central defensive pairing back together with both Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel fit to start. Joe Allen returned to replace Jordan Henderson in midfield, while Pepe Reina was back between the Liverpool posts in place of Brad Jones.
Fabio Borini was at last fit enough for a place on the bench. Jose Enrique’s hamstring will keep him out of the reckoning until February.
United Dominate First Half
Sir Alex Ferguson’s team dominated most of the first period with Michael Carrick pulling the strings in midfield, though goalmouth incidents were at a premium.
The deadlock was broken when a tasty spell of short inter-passing, with Kagawa heavily involved, created space for Patrice Evra down the left flank. The Frenchman’s low cross was accepted and dispatched with one sublime touch by van Persie with Reina a mere spectator.
The home side might have extended their lead but van Persie and Welbeck both shot over the top while a well struck volley from Tom Cleverley sailed just wide.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers introduced new signing Daniel Sturridge at the start of the second half and it was a move that certainly seemed to spark the Reds into life.
On 54 minutes, the lively Welbeck was hauled down by Skrtel as the last defender, who received a yellow card for his troubles. On another day, it could easily have been red.
Presumably, referee Howard Webb was of the opinion that the advancing Reina was more likely to have got to the ball before Welbeck and so it was not a clearcut goal scoring opportunity.
The resulting van Persie free kick was curled to the far post where Evra was arriving as he has done on a couple of occasions this season. His header glanced off Vidic, who looked to be marginally offside, before nestling in the back of the Liverpool net.
However, without the benefit of slow motion replays it is unlikely that the officials would have even seen the Vidic contact, and the goal stood.
Having scored the second goal, United committed the cardinal sin of relaxing and giving the visitors an opportunity to respond just three minutes later.
Steven Gerrard was allowed to shoot from the edge of the box. David De Gea did not have a single shot to deal with in the first half, but he produced a good save to foil the Liverpool captain. Unfortunately though, he was only able to palm the ball into the path of Sturridge who was following in and pulled one back for Liverpool.
The goal seemed to give the visitors more heart and they pressed United to the point where the league leaders lost their composure and were not able to string passes together the way they had done so impressively throughout the first half.
In fact the home side was rather hanging towards the end. Van Persie could have put the result beyond doubt in the 91st minute with an impudent back heel that would have been a glorious goal had not Reina made the save.
Manchester United have now won eight of the last nine league meetings between the sides at Old Trafford—the exception being Liverpool’s 4–1 win in March 2009 when Fernando Torres was playing at the peak of his powers. This was also United’s first Premier League double over Liverpool since 2007–08.
Welbeck was named man of the match for a thoroughly industrious performance in support of van Persie up front. The young England striker was quick to downplay his personal role and stress to Fox Sports that it was a “good team performance all round.”
However he did pay tribute to his strike partner van Persie who he said “produces moments in the game that others couldn’t do.”
These two clubs have won 37 English league titles between them with United eclipsing Liverpool’s record of 18 in 2011, yet they have both finished in the top two on only five occasions.
In fact the 2008–09 season has provided the sole example of England’s most successful clubs seriously competing for the Premier League title. Liverpool pulled off that impressive 4–1 win at Old Trafford, but was beaten to the title by a United team that won 19 of their last 22 games.
Liverpool finished that season just four points off the pace, but four years later, the gap has widened again. United currently sit a full 24 points above Brendan Rodgers’ side who remain some way from the standards that the Anfield faithful expect.
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