Yet another poor United performance, particularly in the first half, has been covered by the fact that on the appearance of the scoreline, United won easily. Truth is, United only got going after Scott Laird had given Preston North End the lead early in the second half when his shot deflected off Antonio Valencia’s left foot through David de Gea’s hands.
The happy chaos which greeted Marouane Fellaini’s goal in the 72nd minute
Losing at Anfield under normal circumstances is forgivable, never nice but forgivable. No matter how shit Liverpool are, they always make a visit to Anfield a hard game for United. They raise their game, play out of their skins and all other cliches that can and will, be recited ad nauseum over the next couple of weeks whilst Liverpool celebrate winning their first title in twenty four years. Today, United had seven corners to Liverpools two. United who for the last few years have taken corners like an articulated lorry, never looked like threatening a stout home defence whilst Liverpool, scored from their first corner on three minutes after Tom Cleverley ducked out of the way of a goalbound Daniel Sturridge header. This was a bad goal to concede but there was plenty of time to regroup and put some sustained pressure on the Liverpool goal. For the next ninety two minutes (obviously including injury time), United ‘enjoyed’ 57% possession compared to Liverpool’s 43%. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson though, statistics like ‘patriotism, is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings’, but these statistics make things even worse. Despite Liverpool not playing brilliantly, despite United’s superior possession and corners, Liverpool deserved this win. Since the final whistle I’ve heard David Moyes say ‘I thought we played well, as well as anytime this season’. I’m only hoping Moyes is presenting a positive front for the media and not truly believing that himself. I can’t believe he would have said the same to the United players in the Anfield changing room post match. I remember Sir Alex saying after United lost at Maine Road in 2002 that ‘we should have let the fans in the changing room after that performance’. I could easily say the same about this disgrace of a showing. The United players who turned out for this game should be locked in a darkened room and shown a video of United/Liverpool matches from the 80’s and 90’s.
Walking down Wharfside Way* tonight towards Old Trafford, the lights on the East Stand seemed to shine a little brighter than usual. I’m sure it was just an optical illusion but there was a real air of excitement and nervous anticipation tonight for the game and the senses were heightened. Besuited and grizzled old school reds, one or two smoking a stogie were hanging around on the forecourt and the tickets on the black market were coming to figures that could pay for some peoples season tickets. It’s been a while since a match involving United had such a magnitude of excitement in the build up. Even with the corny mosaic and plastic flags left in United Road and the officially sanctioned Manchester United banner without the legend ”football club” being in the crest, the atmosphere in the ground was the best I’ve witnessed since the semi final against Barcelona in 2008. Old Trafford is made for nights and matches like the one we had tonight.
Atmospherically, United against Liverpool is never going to be the Woodstock festival but passing by the Liverpool fans today on the forecourt, about quarter of an hour before kick off, both sets of fans were baiting each other, divided by police lines. It may have been a lot of hot air, the ‘hold me back’ bollocks that occurs when traditonal enemies see each other and want to put a bit of a show on. I didn’t recognise one person in amongst the crowd who were ‘firm’. The last time I saw Old Trafford this moody was in January 2002 when Danny Murphy scored a late winner for Liverpool in the Stretford End. That was post match but today, it was all pre-game. The corresponding match last season was played in the wake of the furore of the Suarez/Evra affair and a pretty sickening FA Cup defeat at Anfield two weeks prior. The atmosphere that day outside the ground was nowhere near as lively then as it was today going in. By United/Liverpool standards, the atmosphere in the today during the game was quiet subdued. Maybe it was the kick off time or maybe it was the freezing weather but after the pre match bravado outside, once inside people seemed more concerned with keeping warm than creating the raucous atmosphere we normally get at this fixture. A couple of minutes into the game, Liverpool fans made a statement of intent when a smoke bomb went off in the middle of their stand. Apart from the Scousers displaying their legendary self celebrated wit with songs about Bryan Robson having VD and implying Gary Neville’s relationship with his mother had not progressed past the oedipus complex, this was the sole contribution they made to first half atmosphere.