Liverpool players could not have presented Kenny Dalglish with a better Birthday gift, when they drubbed a lackluster Manchester United and registered a 3-1 victory at Anfield. A treble from Dirk Kuyt and a scintillating display of skill and control from Suarez, saw the home team through to an easy victory against their arch rivals, who never really arrived in the match. The result has put the title race wide open; with United 3 points clear of Arsenal, who has a game in hand.
Kenny Got It Spot On
Dalglish put his team in a slightly different 4-2-3-1 formation with Kuyt at the top and Suarez playing off the Dutchman. Raul Meireles was given the freedom to roam, although drifted a bit towards the right while Gerrard and Lucas sat deep, nullifying the Man United midfield. Ferguson on the other hand put up a 4-4-2, lineup that strangely missed Darren Fletcher at the centre, only to see Scholes and Carrick form an uninspiring partnership at the middle of the park. Make shift defenders, Smalling and Brown, turned up at the centre half positions in the absence of Vidic and Ferdinand. The forward line that consisted of Rooney , Berbatov, Nani and Giggs looked at most ordinary through the 90 minutes.
The Ninety Minutes: What Actually Happened
The opening exchanges saw Liverpool take control of the proceedings, with Merieles creating a couple of chances, setting up Suarez and Kuyt at two different occasions. While Dimitear Berbatov on the other end sliced a volley, curling the ball around Pepe Reina and brushing the outside of the Liverpool goal post – the striker’s only meaningful contribution throughout the ninety minutes.
Although Smalling and Brown carried their defensive duties for most part of the game without any hiccups, the make shift defense collapsed when Luis Suarez, went past Rafael and Carrick with a sharp turn and out muscled Wes Brown, rolling the ball past Edwin van der Sar and Patrice Evra towards Dirk Kuyt, who tapped in the opening goal for Liverpool.
The Dutchman struck again within a few minutes, scoring of a mistimed header from Nani, who instead of clearing a loose ball, gifted Kuyt his second goal of the afternoon. Just before the half came to its end, Carragher made a scorching challenge on Nani, that saw the Portuguese international being carried out of the ground. Moments later Rafael flew into Lucas with studs –up; Carragher and Rafael were fortunate to stay on the pitch.
The second half started with Man United taking control of the game. They kept possession and pressed Liverpool down in their third. Merieles made a brilliant goal line clearance as Berbatov headed from a close range.
Hernandez replaced Nani, sending Rooney to the left. But United thereafter lacked pace and sharpness in their attacks; the 4th away game in the last 10 days took toll on the players. As the half progressed, Giggs and Scholes faded and Ferguson was left with few options to turn things around.
If two goals were not enough, Kuyt compounded Manchester United’s misery by scoring the third goal and the only hat-trick of his Liverpool career. A free-kick from Luis Suarez, that dipped into the far corner of Van Der Sar’s goal, ended up at Kuyt’s feet, who was the only player waiting for the rebound.
Any chance for a come-back had been diminished and United would find it more difficult to break into a resolute Liverpool defense. Hernandez, scored a consolation goal in the extra-time; perhaps a bright spot in an abject performance from the League Leaders.
Moments Of Controversy
The big moment of controversy came when Jamie Carragher made a lunging tackle on Nani on the right flank that forced the Portuguese to be stretchered off. Phil Dowd – the man in charge – chose to let Carragher off the hook by only showing a yellow card.
With temperatures reaching boiling point, Rafael was caught with high studs from Maxi Rodriguez before the Brazilian dished out his own studs-up challenge at Lucas moments later. In the aftermath of the Rafael challenge, Suarez had a mop at Rafael which also went unnoticed by the referee as he decided to keep the red card in his pocket. On any other day, all four incidents could have easily fetched marching orders for the concerned players.
A Tired Manchester United
United were certainly not helped by the fact that this game was their fourth away fixture in the matter of ten days. With injuries to Valencia, Anderson and Park, Sir Alex has not been able to use the depth of the squad and was forced to play Scholes for the third straight game. The fatigue of the players was clearly visible as they were not able to compete against a fresh and buoyant Liverpool side.
What Lies Ahead For Both The Teams
Manchester United have been exposed in the run in to the title. They have problems at the center of the park, with Carrick looking way off the mark and Scholes playing looking fatigued. The absence of Nani might take the pace off their attack as well. With Park and Valencia on the verge of returning to the manifold, fans would have their fingers crossed, because one mistake from this point might slip the title away from them.
Liverpool, who look solid after the return of Andy Carroll and the emergence of Luis Suarez as a new Kop hero, might just finish 5th and secure the Europa League spot.