The final whistle was blown at Anfield and I was left red-faced and fuming after watching another relatively below-par performance by my beloved Red Devils. I was hoping to see a performance of complete control from Manchester United in the cauldron and legendary home of our hated, HATED rivals from the red half of Merseyside, Liverpool and maybe the rivalry is felt stronger in Asia, because Manchester United and Liverpool are the two best represented English clubs in terms of supporters and the bragging rights are constantly traded and exchanged between both sets of fans with the passing and changing fortunes of every week therefore a win in this game and the bragging rights would remain with the fans of the winning side for at least one week.
United started the game with an unorthodox line-up. The presence of Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans and Jones left me scratching my head as I was wondering how they were lining up but it slipped my mind that Jones actually had his best performances for Blackburn against Manchester United playing in centre midfield. I expected the presence of Giggs in the line-up due to his experience and the freshness he would bring in and that of Park who was also fresh, having retired from international duty, and from being a known big game player although I was surprised that Nani was dropped considering the form that he has been in.
We now know that Sir Alex had planned to stifle Liverpool and then hit them with a Plan B with our big hitters in the last 20 minutes of the second half. I was getting frustrated as the first half progressed. We hardly kept the ball as the passes kept getting misplaced and the passes were short and not sharp enough. Our build up was too slow and although we kept better possession as the half wore on and we defended well, I knew in my heart that this is not the best of Manchester United that we are seeing. We were below-par and playing in first or second gear but we did a very good containing job though.
The second half was livelier as both sides went for it. Gerrard opened the scoring as Giggs, our oldest and most experienced member of the team, move out of the wall to allow Gerrard’s free-kick to creep in and strike a sickening blow to all United hearts. In its lead up, United gave away a soft free-kick with Charlie Adam going down under minimal contact from Ferdinand. What I got to ask was how could Adam give United the run around like he was Lionel Messi and not get stopped in his tracks before he reached Ferdinand and decided to go down after feeling a touch of Ferdinand’s boot on his ankle. Our big-hitters then entered trying to salvage a point instead of trying to win us the game. Chicarito got us the equaliser with an instinctive header and we were saved by De Gea as he made 2 saves; one, almost instantly after our equaliser, from Kuyt and the other perhaps a better one as he clawed a lob by Henderson out of the air. Henderson then had a chance as he rose unopposed to head but his header went above.
As the referee blew the final whistle, I felt relief that United ended the game with something which was better than nothing but furious that we put in another below-par performance, not showing our best to our arch-rivals. Having scored an equaliser with 9 minutes remaining, it should have given United the impetus and boost to take the game by the scruff of the neck and take it to Liverpool to force a winner but instead, we were left hanging on for a draw. In my pre-match preview, I had mentioned about my wish to see a comfortable performance from United emphasising its superiority over Liverpool. We didn’t see that but I would have settled for a good old last minute win like 2007 but even that, we didn’t get.
In terms of individual performances, David De Gea was one of the standout performers saving United from a defeat on more than one occasion, Smalling kept Downing in his pocket for most of the game, Ferdinand made a slight mistake in “fouling” Adam, Evans surprisingly had a good, steady performance, Jones did well but was guilty of misplacing his passes as was Fletcher and Giggs, the latter pair together with Park weren’t at their best or at least at the level we expect of them. I feel Fletcher, Giggs and Park might be lacking in match fitness, sharpness and form. I was surprised at the substitution of Ashley Young as he was our best attacking player.
We have an important Champions League game against Otelul Galati in Romania before meeting our noisy neighbours who are making more noise after trashing Aston Villa and leading the Barclays Premier League table outright. It is another crunch match, big match and surely a must-win but if we continue our performances at this level, we could be in for an upset even before we face Manchester City. We have got 2 draws from 2 games in the Champions League and a win becomes very important for United to get back on track in the Champions League. By the way readers, even though we face our neighbors in our home, the fortress Old Trafford where we can expect a rousing and fiery atmosphere awaiting our blue neighbors, do not discount the fact that we could be the ones left feeling blue at the end of the game if our performances don’t buck up. Come on you Reds!