A goal in the fourth minute from Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool a landmark 1–0 win over defending English Premier League champion Manchester United on Sunday at Anfield. It was the first time since 1994 that the Reds have opened a Premier League season with three successive wins and the first time ever that they have done so while keeping three clean sheets.
David Moyes managed only 4 wins in 25 Merseyside derby games against Liverpool in his 11 years as manager of Everton, with none of those wins coming at Anfield. This defeat, his first as manager of United in a competitive match, did not improved that dismal record.
Just as Wayne Rooney seemed to be back in the fold with a solid performance against Chelsea last week, a nasty head injury requiring stitches sustained on the training ground meant that the England star did not travel with the squad.
Veteran Ryan Giggs was therefore restored to the starting lineup, while Ashley Young, a substitute against Chelsea, was preferred to Antonio Valencia. Rafael’s hamstring problem had not cleared up so Phil Jones continued at right back.
Shinji Kagawa, who showed great promise in the second half of last season, was surprisingly not even in the squad. He has yet to start a match under Moyes, and there is already speculation that the new manager does not rate the Japanese midfielder.
Liverpool centerback Martin Skrtel recovered from a knee problem and replaced Kolo Toure who picked up a knock in the midweek Capital One Cup win against Notts County. Aly Cissokho suffered an ankle injury in the same match that will keep him out for four to six weeks. Fortunately for Brendan Rodgers, he has a very able deputy in the shape of Jose Enrique.
Frantic Start by Liverpool
After an early foray into the Liverpool penalty area by the visitors, the home side set about their task with verve and vigor. Their passing was crisp and accurate and every player pressed their opponents allowing them no time and space.
Such pressure caused Young to give the ball away in his own half on the left flank and Liverpool subsequently won a corner. Skipper Steven Gerrard delivered the sort of quality ball we have come to expect from him; Daniel Agger was first to it with a brave diving header, which was deflected by the head of Sturridge past David De Gea.
Liverpool kept up their high-octane performance for much of the half, forcing United into errors with even the normally reliable Michael Carrick being guilty of giving the ball away. Neither he nor Tom Cleverly managed to establish any sort of authority in the middle of the park.
United did settle somewhat as half time approached but, although they threatened on a couple of occasions, there was little or nothing to trouble Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal.
Valencia came on for Jones, who appeared to have turned an ankle, and the Ecuador international contributed some much-needed spark down the right flank.
Tempers ran high at times, as is customary in this fixture, and referee Andre Marriner produced the yellow card from his pocket on no less than five occasions. In fact, Marriner had to give a stern lecture to Gerrard and Robin van Persie.
United Move Up a Gear
The champions looked much more the part as the second period got underway and forced a few corners in the first 10 minutes. Their best chance came with a firmly struck drive from Young that was well blocked by Glen Johnson. Liverpool was unable to keep up the level of intensity they had shown in the first half, allowing the visitors to take control.
The United boss introduced Nani and Javier Hernandez for Young and Giggs in an effort to manufacture some fresh attacking options. After a couple of rather tentative initial touches, Nani found his feet and on 77 minutes unleashed a thunderbolt from the edge of the penalty area that brought the very best out of Mignolet.
Ten minutes later Hernandez had his moment with a nice ball on the right to create a half chance for van Persie. However, it was on the Dutchman’s weaker right foot and, with little room in which to maneuver, he sliced his shot wide.
Van Persie’s miss turned out to be United’s last chance and they were unable to carve out another despite more than five minutes stoppage time.
The traveling support would have been remembering the many occasions when Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams had not only drawn level right at the death, but seemingly more often than not found a winner. Today it was not to be and Liverpool had their three points.
Last season Liverpool failed to beat any of the top four sides in eight attempts. This time around they have a major scalp with the campaign only three games old.
They looked particularly vulnerable in defense last year and could not hold onto leads, so the three clean sheets to start the season will be especially sweet for everyone at the club.
Even when Liverpool ran out of steam in the second half against United and were forced to defend from deeper positions, they were dogged and determined and kept their shape.
Compared to last year’s extremely poor start of no wins out of five, these are heady times once more at Anfield. Of course it is early days and whether this encouraging start can be sustained over the long haul remains to be seen.
Tribute to Shankly
Nonetheless, the great Bill Shankly would have approved of the resolve the team has showed so far. The man who brought the club out of the depths of the old second division in the early ‘60s, made them a power not only in England but also Europe, founded a dynasty, and would have been 100 years old on Sept. 2.
The club paid tribute to their most celebrated manager with a mosaic on the Kop and a minute’s applause. They will certainly want to do him proud in his centenary year.
The great man was once asked in an interview if he thought football was a matter of life and death. “No,” replied Shanks in his thick Scottish accent, “It’s much more important than that.”