There are few positives Manchester United can take from Sunday’s defeat at Anfield. The Red Devils were in a perfect position to deal a significant blow to Liverpool’s top four ambitions but failed to deliver any sort of performance. Liverpool is now only four points behind United, with the Red Devils themselves two points behind table-toppers Chelsea.
This in itself does not make for pleasant reading, considering the position United were in after the previous weekend’s round of games, but what is most disappointing for everyone involved at Manchester United was the performance. United’s defensive frailty’s were evident for all to see, especially in the first half. Rio Ferdinand looks consistently off the pace which is extremely worrying for all United fans. It is clear that he is still not fully fit with his lingering injury problems persisting. Ferdinand struggling with injury has been a theme throughout the season meaning he cannot start each game and when he does, he seems to struggle – it could possibly be time for Sir Alex Ferguson to consider using Jonny Evans much more regularly to allow Ferdinand the proper time for recuperation. It wasn’t just Ferdinand who was poor, Patrice Evra had one of his worst games this season and Nemanja Vidic again struggled against Fernando Torres. Having been so quiet in his first few outings against the Red Devils, Torres has proved fantastic in his last two performances against last season’s toughest defence. In truth, United were extremely lucky to make it as long as they did before conceding – if the chances had fallen to the Spaniard rather than Dirk Kuyt, United would have been behind long before the 65th minute.
United fans will also have been extremely disappointed with the performance of the front two. Both Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov struggled to make the ball stick up top, especially in the first half. When away somewhere like Anfield where the attacking impetus lies firmly with the home side, it is essential that your forward players hold onto the ball to alleviate some of the pressure on the back four. All too often it was lost. In Rooney’s defence he has just come back from injury and may not have been fully fit but for Berbatov there was no defence. He has been fantastic in recent weeks and for a player who’s close control and shielding of the ball is second to none, this was disappointing.
Sir Alex has since some out and offered some criticism of his players stating the following:“It was a bad performance by us. We didn’t handle the atmosphere of the game, I thought. We didn’t handle the decisions against us well. We should have been better than that, we have got enough experience to do it.” This United side is full of experience, having won the last three Premier League titles together, and were all fully aware of Liverpool’s recent run of results. They will have known the atmosphere within Anfield would be electric and that Liverpool would throw everything they had at them – it was very poor for United to have not coped with this.
The decisions that supposedly went against United were the penalty appeal from the challenge of Jaime Carragher in the first half and also the failure to send Carragher off following his second half hauling down of Michael Owen. These decisions could have gone the other way on another day, it was touch and go whether the Liverpool skipper got any of the ball from the challenge on Carrick and also up for debate concerning the covering player with the challenge on Owen. Vidic seemed to tell Carragher after the challenge that he was sent off at Old Trafford for something very similar last season against Liverpool, as there was a covering player that day also. Sometimes these decisions go against you as it is all for the discretion of the referee.
Sir Alex did not only criticise his players, he criticised referee Andre Marriner stating that he felt he was too young – at 38 – to referee a game of this magnitude. He may have made some poor decisions that went against United but the FA will certainly not take kindly to the Scot again airing his views. Ferguson has yet to receive his punishment concerning his comments made regarding the age of another referee Alan Wiley with this incident likely to further stoke the flames. It is clear that the United manager’s real grievance lies with his team but he is doing little to help himself with the FA.
Life in the Premier League does not stop to give you time to lick your wounds and although Evra claims United may need a few days to get over this defeat, they need to pick themselves up and ready themselves for the visit of Blackburn next weekend. Many of the first team will sit out the midweek Carling Cup match away to Barnsley but they will certainly need to be on their mettle against another side with something to prove come Saturday.