Attendance – 44,263
Referee – Mark Halsey
Liverpool 1 – 2 Manchester United
[Gerrard – 46][Rafael - 51, Persie - 81 (P)]
Some things are more important that a football match. Today everything and everyone took a back seat to the people who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. The fans paid their tributes. The players did not make any fuss at the start with the customary handshake and everything going according to the script. Robin van Persie settled matters in the 81st minute with a controversial penalty decision. Liverpool dominated the match and yet due to their inability to finish off brilliant moves was the reason they ended with no points. The home side may have dominated proceeding but it was Mark Halsey who grabbed all the headlines. A controversial sending off of Jonjo Shelvey for a challenge on Jonny Evans which could have gone either way and even more controversial penalty when Johnson seemed to have made minimal contact with Antonio Valencia. Liverpool to their credit took the lead despite being down to 10 men. Gerrard slotted home a low cross to give Liverpool a deserved lead. Rafael leveled scores with a exquisite curled shot inside the box. Van Persie then finished the job and put the ball past a diving Reina to give his team all 3 points. Undeserved given their performance but United bagged all 3 points on a day when “Justice for Hillsborough” was the only thing that really mattered.
Liverpool: Reina, Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson, Gerrard, Allen, Shelvey, Borini, Suarez, Sterling. Subs: Jones, Jose Enrique, Sahin, Assaidi, Henderson, Carragher, Fernandez Saez.
Man Utd: Lindegaard, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Carrick, Giggs, Valencia, Kagawa, Nani, van Persie. Subs: De Gea, Anderson, Hernandez, Welbeck, Scholes, Cleverley, Buttner.
Manchester United – The Manchester United starting lineup, these days always have a surprise in it. Today was no different. Nemanja Vidic, the club captain and a regular in the side since returning from injury was left out. The official reason given was that this game doesn’t fit in his fitness schedule. It sure sounded weird to say the least. Evans was the obvious replacement partnered Ferdinand in the centre of defense. Lindegaard started in goal ahead of the Spaniard which is part of the rotation policy being followed by Ferguson. Rafael and Evra filled the full back slots. Upfront it was a similar formation with Robin van Persie and Kagawa with Carrick and Giggs in the middle of the park which was also a surprise. Nani, who has been having a torrid time since contract negotiations broke down started on the left wing while Valencia started on the right.
Liverpool – Unlike United, there were no surprises in Brendan Rodgers’s side. Reina started in goal while Skrtel and Agger shielding the Spaniard. Kelly, who has performed brilliantly since being promoted to the first team started at right back while Glen Johnson continued in his unfamiliar role at left back. Rodgers continued with a 4-3-3 formation with Gerrard, Allen and the two goal hero against Young Boys, Jonjo Shelvey starting in midfield. Sterling,Borini and Suarez started as the front three albeit with a slight change. Sterling usually plays on the left side of the three but as Evra has been struggling Rodgers shifted him to the right to pit him against Evra.
Given the occasion this match was going to be much more than the football. The atmosphere was fantastic. Both set of fans were rapturous mood. Pre-match handshake ritual went about without any fuss unlike last time. The players, coaches and the fans paid their tributes to the people losing their lives in 1989. After all this ended the players went on their business and the game started with United kicking off. The first few minutes fizzed by like a flash. Both teams played at a super tempo matching the occasion. The home side, soon took control of the match and were passing at will. Gerrard and Shelvey were dominant in midfield and their counterparts Giggs and Carrick had no answers. Carrick usually is at his best when playing with Scholes which is a bit of concern. Liverpool dominated the half completely and only some inept finishing denied them taking the lead. Midway in the half Evra was nearly made to pay for his misplaced pass when Suarez played Borini through on goal only for the Italian to take a heavy touch which took him away from goal. Liverpool did everything perfectly except putting the ball in the back of the net. United were absolutely poor. They just could not hold the ball even their lives depended on them. Nani, Carrick, Evra were not up to scratch and Persie, Kagawa hardly got hold of the ball. Amid all the Liverpool domination came a controversial moment. Shelvey went in with both studs and lunged at Evans. Mark Halsey took his time and gave Shelvey the marching orders much to the dismay of the Anfield crowd. Liverpool to their credit did not look the red card affect them and were still attacking till the end of the half.
The United manager had enough of the woeful performance of Nani. He was subbed at half-time and on came Paul Scholes. Giggs shifted to the left wing and Scholes took his place in the middle. Liverpool, despite being down to 10 men started where they left off the in the first half and deservedly took the lead through their talisman and captain Steven Gerrard in the 46th min. Johnson, brilliant at left back made a late run but could not meet the low cross meant for him. Gerrard, though took control of the ball and drilled a low finish past Lindegaard. Anfield was ecstatic. The celebrations were in full flow. However, the lead did not last even 5 minutes. Rafael, the United full back known for his attacking skills curled in an excellent shot with his left foot past Reina. The Liverpool keeper had absolutely no chance and just like that United were level. United were level and had a man advantage and slowly took advantage of that. Scholes more often than not is the force that makes United tick and the same story repeated here. United were passing crisply and the frontmen got the sight of the ball much more as compared to the first half. Still United could not press home the advantage and Liverpool had their chances at the other end. Another moment of controversy came about when Halsey pointed to the spot when Johnson seemed to have brought down Valencia in the box. Replays showed the contact was minimal and the penalty was a bit harsh. Persie took responsibility for the spot kick. United had missed their last three penalties with Persie being the culprit in one of them. The result was different this time though and Persie scored despite Pepe Reina getting a hand and nearly diverting the penalty out of goal. That settled matters on a emotional day at Anfield. United were poor but still claimed all three points. Gerrard seemed crestfallen and Rodgers couldn’t believe his luck. Dominated them match and yet ended up on the losing side.
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