Oh how it hurts to lose to one of the teams that we absolutely hate losing to; Liverpool. How the faces got gloomy and sullen after a defeat like that. The emotions felt at this point of time would be one of heartbreak and disappointment after a late winner by Liverpool in a game that was in most parts dominated by Manchester United. The Scousers would feel that justice had been done as Patrice Evra let Dirk Kuyt in to volley home the winner but we dominated large parts of the match which is scant consolation at the end of it all because we have been knocked out of another cup competition this season and that to at the hands of our rival.
The luck of the draw wasn’t kind on us in the first place having placed us against Manchester City away in the 3rd round and then Liverpool away in the fourth round. We might have won the FA Cup more than any other club in the country but we have not won it yet since 2004 and we have not won it at its traditional home, Wembley Stadium since the 2-0 defeat of Newcastle United in 1999. Having lost it in the final in 2005 and 2007 and the semi-finals of 2009 and 2011, the romantics and the traditionalists among United fans had hoped that we could win it again this season but we got to wait now for one more season at least.
With regards to the game that unfolded at Anfield, it was a treat to watch if you were a neutral with the end to end attacking of both sides but United dominated the game for large parts of it and were very impressive in the way we fought back from going one goal down, regained composure and played Liverpool off the park to get the equalising goal. The performance we saw was way better than any of the recent United performances we have seen at Anfield. When the line-ups were revealed, there was a lot of apprehension on how we would fare in a cauldron of an atmosphere that greeted United at kick-off. There would also be some fear among the United faithful but we kept our faith as we believed in the players Sir Alex had chosen and for large parts, they did very well. I had hoped that we could repeat what we did in 2002 when an injury-depleted United side beat Liverpool to end a long winless run against them.
One of those that did exceptionally well was Paul Scholes who gave a masterclass in keeping possession and it was no coincidence that the control of the game was loosen when he was brought off. I wouldn’t blame Sir Alex on replacing Scholes because surely at his age and having just returned to competitive football, that was all the veteran had in his legs. If he had played longer, he might just get over-run by the fresher legs Liverpool had introduced. Besides Scholes, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Rafael Da Silva had commendable performances. Michael Carrick kept the ball very well for most part but without the benefit of an extra pair of midfield legs with him to keep possession, he couldn’t exert more control onto the midfield. Antonio Valencia was certainly marked out as a threat and as such was double marked at times but he still did his best to cause Liverpool problems but at times didn’t receive enough support on the flank from Rafael or others. Park Ji Sung was always a threat when playing off Danny Welbeck in somewhat of a roaming free role and rose to the occasion once again in a big game to get us our equaliser.
Ryan Giggs was decent enough with his passing but didn’t do much when he was left to do the running and pulling of the strings in the middle of the park. He could hardly get the better of the younger Martin Kelly on the left wing and I can only remember once did he manage to deliver a good delivery from the left wing. Patrice Evra wasn’t his usual self too on the overlap and posed very little threat as an overlapping left back. Maybe it was part of the instructions from the manager to limit his overlapping runs. Defensively too he has been a little suspect this season and was caught out by the long ball that led to Kuyt’s goal. Personally, I feel he is a leader and a great personality to have in the squad but I don’t think he is good enough as the captain of the team in the absence of Nemanja Vidic. Welbeck faced a defence that dropped deep and as such he hardly had much space to run into behind defences but certainly something it is something the young Englishman got to work on now; dealing with deep defences. Finally, David De Gea who would surely get a lot of flak again from the press and some United fans for another shaky performance. For large parts he had little to do but was at fault in conceding the opening goal. He nearly gave the ball away to Stewart Downing and nearly made a hash out of collecting a cross under pressure from Andy Carroll. The best thing he did was saving Steven Gerrard’s free kick. It doesn’t do his chances much good of claiming a first team spot with a performance as shaky as that. Granted that he is young and still learning but at a big club like Manchester United, there is not much scope for errors or to be patient for too long. (Just look to Ben Foster’s Man United career!).
For large parts, United replicated its performance from last week against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium but the injuries inflicted on us that day took its toll as Phil Jones, Wayne Rooney and Nani failed to recover in time. We have had a lot of injuries this season and the situation has shown no signs of abating and it is unfortunate but the fact is the squad isn’t as strong as it is expected to be. We are out of the Champions League in the group stage, got knocked out at home embarrassingly against Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup and now we are out of the FA Cup too. All we got to play for are the Europa League and the Premier League and with our seemingly never-ending injury situation, it is perhaps better to play lesser matches for the remainder of the season which would also paper over our lack of squad strength in depth. But do we really want our inadequacies to be papered over?
Who do we have to come back into the squad? In defence we had Rio Ferdinand on the bench which obviously meant that he wasn’t fully fit and realistically, he is not expected to play every game considering his fitness problems. Jones is expected back and he brings versatility into the team but his form has gone off the boil recently. In midfield, we are waiting for the dynamic and energetic duo of Anderson and Tom Cleverley, who served us so well in the early part of the season to return. Ashley Young, whose form has also gone off the boil before his injury, is also expected back on the wings as is the very much in-form Nani and in attack we got Rooney and Michael Owen to come back in. On the surface of it, it looks like we have good strength to come back in and bolster the squad but how long do we have to wait for them to return? How long more do we have to rely on the old heads like Giggs and Scholes to turn back the clock and perform for us? At the moment, I am afraid of our chances to overhaul Manchester City and win the Premier League and/or win our first ever Europa League. It doesn’t look promising until our injury situation clears up at least.
Can United forget this defeat and bounce back?