I kind of figured Liverpool would be up for this game, but the United team were pretty poor. The first half was pretty back and forth with Liverpool having the better of play and were able to produce dangerous free kicks as Fernando Torres was a handful all game. Lucas seemed particularly up for the game as he was active all game. Nonetheless the game was 0-0 at halftime.
In the second half, Liverpool began to get more and more of the ball. They were not creating a particularly large number of chances but United were barely doing more than getting the ball across the halfway line. In the 65th minute, Liverpool scored when Benayoun set up Fernando Torres whose run split Vidic and Ferdinand. Torres outrun the latter and beat Van Der Sar high to the near post.
United tried to respond but did not do much. Michael Owen’s replacement of Berbatov began to at least occupy the center backs of Liverpool. United and Liverpool both had ejections as Vidic and Mascherano saw second yellow cards with the latter being particularly stupid. United did create one chance when Valencia hit the cross bar. However, United were eventually caught on the break late into injury time where David Ngog scored on a breakaway. Here are some of my thoughts on the game.
- Sir Alex’s choice of Scholes and Carrick were a bad match against Lucas and Mascherano. Some of this was hampered by the injury to Darren Fletcher but Ferguson selected the least active midfield pairing where both could be outmuscled but more rugged midfielders like Mascherano and Lucas. Anderson for Scholes would have made more sense with Scholes coming on late when the energy of Lucas and Mascherano had flagged.
- Andre Marriner was clearly afraid of making the big calls. It was pretty clear Marriner was heavily influenced by the crowd but mostly he did not make any big calls that clearly changed the outcome for the game as United were clearly the second best team on the day and did not deserve even a tie. There was one rough challenge by Carragher that could have been a penalty but I feel that was a stretch as Carragher got a lot of the ball.
However, there were two big calls he missed. One was not giving Carragher a red card for taking down Michael Owen. Only the most delusional Liverpool fans could say it was not a red card. The ejection could have given United the impetus to push for a late equalizer. The other “call” he missed was Lucas’ lack of a yellow card who committed 9 fouls without being punished (over 2/3 of the fouls committed by United as a team who received 4 yellows). Given his aggressive tackling was the key to his effectiveness a yellow after 4 or 5 fouls would have forced him to restrain his bite.
- Fernando Torres was the reason Liverpool won the game. As much as Liverpool dominated midfield, they did not create that many good chances. Most chances were created by Torres’ ability to drag and occupy defenders with his pace. It is his pace that I think gives United trouble as that seems to be United’s achilles heel in defense. With Ferdinand’s back troubles and general aging, the defense has lost some pace which has been exploited by face central strikers like Torres. As a whole, the center backs for United have struggled since last year’s loss to Liverpool and is probably the biggest concern right now for United although they were decent today except for the goal.
- United need to address some issues in the transfer window. I know it is a ways off but I think United do need to do some work in January. They still need a creative winger more consistent than Nani and Valencia (and who can play more regularly than Giggs). I would like to see Tosic get a chance on the left but I think there is a reason he has struggled for minutes. My pick is still David Silva who would not be cup tied in the Champions League. In other positions, I would like to see Wes Brown at right back replacing O’Shea as I think he is more dynamic and a better defender. In a perfect world, I would love to see Maicon join United but that is more of a luxury as I think the ensemble cast at right back is good enough. If Hargreaves comes back fully healthy, the central midfield maybe a bit less worrisome but if not I would love to see United go after Keita from Barcelona and maybe even Wilson Palacios from Tottenham. From seeing more of Palacios, I think he is a bit limited going forward and not sure he would work in United’s more fluid attack. I would like Yaya Toure the most but he just extended a contract with Barcelona so he unlikely to move.