If only Liverpool had kept their heads at Old Trafford as much as their manager kept his dignity. Roy Hodgson didn’t want to get involved in a post match war of words with old friend Sir Alex Ferguson after the Reds’ 3-2 defeat, and so Ferguson’s claims that his side ‘could have scored 10’ and that Fernando Torres ‘cheated’ when he was fouled by both Jonny Evans and John O’Shea will receive the kind of treatment that they deserve here – complete ignorance, and merely sympathy for Hodgson for having to put up with a friend like that.
The comments came after another defeat for Liverpool, and one that came at a venue that ensures it will hurt more than most, but losing to Manchester United at Old Trafford isn’t exactly a new experience for supporters – Sunday’s was the sixth in the last seven seasons – and so while frustrations will still be on the surface today, lessons have to be learned from the loss. No, Liverpool didn’t play well for the first hour or so, but the tenacity and power that they showed in battling back from two goals down should augur well for the future, and perhaps hinted at a return to the old days of the Reds’ remarkable powers of recovery – sadly though, another more unwelcome aspect of Liverpool’s game was about to rear its ugly head.
Dimitar Berbatov scored the goal of the season to put his side 2-0 up, but after Steven Gerrard had threatened to beat him to the hat-trick ball, the strike that secured his treble was so remarkably, maddeningly simple. John O’Shea – still on the pitch despite evidence to suggest that he shouldn’t have been – was given far too much time and space to knock a ball onto the Bulgarian’s head, and after getting the run on Jamie Carragher the forward had the easiest of tasks to nod home. If the goal was familiar to you then that’s because Park Ji-Sung scored a remarkably similar one at the Stretford End in this fixture six months ago. That was the winner too. New season, new manager, new players, same old problems.
As mentioned above, Berbatov’s second was the kind of goal that players can only dream about scoring in a fixture of this magnitude, but the goals that it sandwiched were so easily avoidable, and should be stamped out once Hodgson makes his presence felt on the training field. Some of Ferguson’s ridiculous post match comments could have been rooted in the realisation that his team are nowhere near the current standard set by the trailblazing Chelsea, but so long as his opponents keep gifting his side goals like this then they should be able to cling onto the Blues’ coat-tails for a few more months at least. As for Liverpool, well they will obviously be some way off that this season, but they can take solace in the fact that their next five league fixtures won’t be as tough as their first five were. Hodgson recently spoke of his belief that the league table should only be properly scrutinised after 10 games – an idea that Liverpool supporters should perhaps adopt given that their team currently languish in 16th place – but while that may be a fanciful notion from a new manager of a transitional club, the fact that the Reds have got trips to both Manchester clubs, a fortress St. Andrew’s and a home game with Arsenal out of the way in the first five matches of the season should bode well for the rest of the campaign. The next five league fixtures don’t look anywhere near as difficult, a derby clash at Goodison Park – home to a struggling Everton – apart.
Before that comes the Carling Cup, and a rare home draw for the Reds as Northampton Town visit Anfield on Wednesday. The only League Two club left in the competition, the Cobblers earned their place after beating Reading in the last round – no, it’s true – and will be up for the challenge that playing on a grander stage will surely bring them. This competition represents a real chance for Liverpool to win some silverware this season, but expect wholesale changes to the side once more – even though the idea of Hodgson’s first choice team gaining match practice against lesser opponents must surely appeal to the veteran boss. Nonetheless, the likes of Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey, Nathan Eccleston, Martin Kelly, Danny Wilson, David Amoo and Dani Pacheco will all see action tomorrow night. If they can stamp out the basic errors that are made all too frequently by their more illustrious colleagues then they’ll make for refreshing changes.