Manchester United 3 Liverpool 0
This is still the biggest match of the season for both teams and especially the fans. Yes, local derbies against City, the matches against Arsenal and more recently Chelsea are big, but there is no doubt about the coming together of United and Liverpool, it is huge. The atmosphere inside Old Trafford reflected that, as both sets of fans were voicing their allegiances from when the teams entered the arena to well after they had left.
Millions of words have been written about the rivalry between the two clubs, a rivalry that really began in the 60’s between the teams of Busby and Shankly, continued during the 70’s with Docherty and Paisley, onto the early eighties with Atkinson and Fagan, then through all the Fergie years against a host of Liverpool managers. Now we have the Louis van Gaal era, pitting his wits against Brendan Rodgers, and it was the home manager that came out on top in his first attempt.
United’s starting line up had a few changes including the return of Phil Jones to play alongside Jonny Evans in a defence missing Marcos Rojo, who had picked up a last minute injury during training. Youngster James Wilson was again chosen to partner van Persie up front, which again meant no start for Falcao. The rest of the team was De Gea, Valencia, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney, and Van Persie. Interestingly, there was no player starting that has been bought under van Gaal’s time as manager.
Liverpool enjoyed the majority of early possession and Sterling kept De Gea on his toes with a couple of efforts. United struggled to gel in the opening minutes with their formation, a formation with Rooney in midfield and Mata sitting behind the two strikers, and once again the defenders looking unsure at times.
The United players took their time getting into the match until they managed to find a way through on 12 minutes. Valencia producing great work down the right by cutting in between two defenders and crossing to the edge of the box, where a very grateful Rooney was waiting to hit a sweet right footer into the corner. That was definitely the Valencia of a few years ago.
Throughout the first half Rooney led by example from his midfield position. Constantly looking for the ball and trying to kick start moves and generally proving his worth as a captain. While at the back the defenders were at times living a little dangerously, a good job Sterling isn’t renowned for his role as an out and out striker.
Then on 39 minutes Ashley Young crossed from the left, the ball sailed over everyone in the penalty area, but there was Juan Mata ghosting in at the far post to stoop and head United into a 2-0 nil lead. Mata ghosted in so well that the assistant referee didn’t notice he was in a slightly offside position when the ball was delivered.
Not great from United but at half time they led by 2-0. The downside of the half was four yellow cards for Felliani, Jones, Rooney and Evans. So all those players had to tread carefully in the second half as this fixture is strewn with sending’s off. Thankfully no more United players were booked, but huge cheers rang out from the home fans when both Gerrard and Balotelli went into the ref’s book.
The uncertainty in United’s defence raised its head once more when Jonny Evans, not for the first time this season, played a suicidal back pass calling on De Gea to produce more heroics again. I would have loved to hear exactly what the keeper shouted to Evans. At this point in the match Liverpool were pressing forward but in all honesty never looked like producing a goal.
On the hour mark van Persie came close, but fired just wide, shortly after that De Gea produced the save of the match by turning a fierce shot by Balotelli brilliantly onto the crossbar. Four minutes later van Gaal made a change by taking off Wilson, who had not stopped running all day, and replaced him with Ander Herrera. Straight away the home side were leading 3-0. A slick passing move involving Fellaini, Rooney, Mata and a Liverpool defensive error, eventually came to in form van Persie who converted a relatively easy chance.
With United in a comfortable lead Rooney was replaced by Falcao on 77 minutes. The Colombian forward still couldn’t find his second goal for the club, in fact it was Robin van Persie who came the closet by having a shot well saved by Bradley Jones in the Liverpool goal. There was time for one more change as Paddy McNair came on for Phil Jones. I thought Fellaini performed well in the second half by sitting in front of the defence, and breaking up the Liverpool attacks time after time.
I have lost count how many times have I sung the praises of David de Gea this season? He really does deserve better defenders in front of him, roll on January. Whatever his pre match meal is the whole team should have the same. He saved three point blank shots from Balotelli alone in the second half, after denying Sterling in the first half. Without his saves United would not have been looking at the same scoreline, and might have even ended up level or worse. Another man of the match performance from a keeper so high in confidence.
Now United have only three more matches to play in 2014. Starting with Aston Villa away on the 20th, followed by Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, and ending with a trip to Spurs on the 28th, all these games are winnable and hopefully will see United finish 2014 on a high.
Thanks again for taking the time to read.