Gerrard 68 – Hernandez 80
Apart from the hype trying to build up this North West derby between Liverpool and Manchester United as the biggest game of the season, all the talk was about Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selection. The Red Devils boss took the brave or perhaps foolish decision to leave Wayne Rooney on the bench along with several other star players who have been in good form this season, namely Luis Nani and Javier Hernandez.
There was logic to the omissions also as the players had all been on international duty in midweek and it will no doubt also have been in Ferguson’s mind that United had lost their previous three Premier League games away at Anfield and, significantly, all those games have been early Saturday kick-offs played after European games or international breaks. The manager also hinted that he had left Rooney out because of the disappointment the player was feeling due to his Euro 2012 ban.
The team selection plus the tactics of playing a back four and two holding midfielders – Phil Jones and Darren Fletcher – suggested that United’s aim was to soak up pressure and keep their hosts at arms length, thus stopping them from getting an early goal and building up unassailable momentum.
And that’s exactly what happened for the first 68 minutes of the game. Apart from a 10 or 15-minute spell at the end of the first-half when Liverpool created a few half-chances (one of which saw Luis Suarez shoot straight at David De Gea when clean through on goal) there was no real action of note.
So far, so good, but then came the goal. Charlie Adam was challenged by Rio Ferdinand just outside the area and despite there being minimal contact, the Liverpool man went tumbling. At first glance it looked like a harsh free-kick, although replays showed there was minimal contact.
Ferdinand had already been booked so arguably was lucky to stay on the pitch, although a red card for such a soft challenge would have been unlucky. Ryan Giggs then gifted Steven Gerrard a goal in his first start since March by breaking away from the wall and allowing the soft free-kick to beat De Gea.
Rooney took to the pitch to less than complimentary chants of “Who’s the Scouser in the wig?” but played a deep-lying midfield role. It was Hernandez who joined Danny Welbeck up front and the pair combined for a goal nine minutes from time.
Jordan Henderson and Dirk Kuyt both had chances to seal the win for Liverpool in the dying minutes but the oft-criticised De Gea, who is starting to show that he is the player United paid for, was more than a match to them.
So, United end their losing streak in the league at Anfield and Liverpool extend their unbeaten run this season. A draw was probably a fair result although either team could have won, and Liverpool perhaps should have.
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Skrtel, Jose Enrique; Kuyt, Lucas (Henderson 57), Adam, Downing, Gerrard; Suarez.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Jones (Hernandez 77), Fletcher; Young (Nani 69), Park (Rooney 69), Giggs; Welbeck
Did you know…Sir Alex Ferguson has not won a League game against a Liverpool team managed by Kenny Dalglish at Anfield since 1986.