For the second time in less than a week, Liverpool are the direct beneficiaries of another team having their worst effort since football was invented. Because the other team wasn't playing for the pride of their badge. Liverpool's goals were only a result of the other team all but placing the ball in their own nets. Eight gifts in two matches. Liverpool caught United at the right time, just as they did with Madrid. Right place, right time. United are still 4 points ahead with a game in hand, and Liverpool are too inconsistent. On another day, Liverpool lose 3-0. If United played like they cared, it would have been a different story. But yeah, good job on that deserved victory.
Or, for the second time in less than a week, Liverpool are the direct beneficiaries of taking the game to a top tier opponent. Their goals were a result of skill and creativity regardless of the antecedents. They caught Madrid amidst 10 straight wins in league and United on the heels of 16 league games without a loss. And today's fixture wasn't even in a European competition.
United controlled the game from the outset and tested Liverpool left, right, and center. They finally broke through in the 23rd when Pepe Reina dragged down Park Ji Sung and Cristiano Ronaldo beat Reina from the spot to make it 1-0. Familiar story at Old Trafford for the Reds, down a goal early and playing defensive football.
A funny thing happened in the 28th minute, though. Martin Skrtel's long clearance flew Nemanja Vidic, and Fernando Torres outmuscled the Serbian, controlled well, and slotted past Edwin Van der Sar. 1-1. But only because of luck. Soon after Torres left Vidic blushing again, this time via nutmeg. Liverpool controlled the run of play, thanks to United letting them, not really due to skill. Torres was outstanding through this stretch and was directly involved in what proved to be the match winner. He played a fantastic ball for Gerrard, who outpaced Evra into the penalty box, and Evra's tackle caught all shin. Steven Gerrard has been deadly from the spot this year, and made no mistake this time. 2-1 Liverpool heading into the half.
After the half, things changed dramatically. It looked to be only a matter of time before United would level. Liverpool sat back and defended as they have so often against top sides, content to knock the ball out of their own half only to do it all over again 30 seconds later. Around the 70th minute Liverpool started to press a little more, but still didn't look threatening. United decided to stop all the foolishness and brought on Berbatov, Giggs, and Scholes to equalize and win. In the 74th, however, a floating ball across the middle was expertly flicked on by Dirk Kuyt, and it was Gerrard again pouncing. This time Vidic hauled him down outside the box, but with nobody else to separate Gerrard from goal it was always going to be red. Up stepped Fabio Aurelio for the free kick, and from 20 yards out he curled one over the wall and past a flat-footed Van der Sar. A brilliant strike and the crushing blow. 3-1, game over.
Just for good measure Andrea Dossena lobbed Van der Sar from the edge of the box after a long ball from Reina. It was a fitting end to the match--the Stretford End would soon be emptied, it was Liverpool's black sheep that did it, and it could be written off as a mistake in judgment by John O'Shea. 4-1 and Manchester United's worst home defeat since 1992.
Gerrard and Torres were again the catalysts, so it's no surprise that most, if not all, of Liverpool's threats came through the middle. Riera and Kuyt both had solid, if not industrious, games on the wings. Masch had another positive performance and managed to exchange words with an official that didn't directly result in a booking. Lucas was anonymous--which is a good thing. He didn't force anything, made only one foolish challenge, and was involved in some fruitful forward action. I thought Carra had a great game at full back--he's openly stated he dislikes that role, but he stuck with a team that can absolutely punish back lines from side to side. The rest of the defense played their parts well, with Hyypia continuing to roll back the clock and turn in great performances. Besides the mistake somewhat early on, Reina, who admittedly had little to do, had another solid showing.
The takeaway from this match is not revitalizing the title race--any good United apologist will be quick to remind you of the game in hand and the 4 point gap--and I don't think it should be. For me the takeaway is the 2nd straight match in which Liverpool play one of Europe's best off the pitch. Both teams are going to make mistakes during a match, certainly Liverpool makes their fair share on a regular basis. Blaming a loss on such mistakes is easy to do, and I know I do it more than I'd like. I'm not exactly thanking my lucky stars, though, for the mistakes United made today or the ones that "gifted" Liverpool the win against Real Madrid last Tuesday. I'm more impressed by the way Liverpool handled themselves in two of the biggest matches in a season of big matches.
Some quotes from Rafa and Steven Gerrard to wrap up a great week for Liverpool Football Club.
"I am really happy for my team, the club and the supporters.
"It's always very difficult when you play United, whether it be at home or away, so to score four goals here I have to be really pleased.
"I'd also like to say thanks to my staff who have been working very hard. While I was answering questions at the press conference, all my staff were preparing the players for this game.
"The most important thing was to see my team get three points and see how well the players played.
"Manchester United have a fantastic team and a fantastic squad, and you saw their bench with the three players (Dimitar Berbatov, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs) they brought on, but our gameplan was clear. We tried to stop them playing and we closed the spaces and made it very difficult for them to create chances.
"This week we have beaten two of the top sides in Europe in Real Madrid and Manchester United, and scored four goals in both games, so that is fantastic and again, we have to be really pleased."
"We have more belief, more confidence and we have to get three points now in every game and then see what happens.
"We always approach every game to win and we can beat anyone as we have shown this week. You can always win every game when you have good players, good supporters behind you and a very good staff.
"We need to be consistent, focused and concentrate on each game and don't make mistakes."
"From front to back it was a magnificent team performance today.
"We went a goal down but showed great character to come back. In the end it was comfortable, especially when they had a man sent off, but even when it was 11 against 11 we were men today.
"We controlled the game and in the end it was a very comfortable win. The important thing is the gap is smaller now but we still have a lot of hard work to do.
"I hope this result gives other teams belief that they can beat United.
"I've been lucky enough to win here before but it was a magnificent feeling to score a goal, especially after all the stick I've had here over the last ten years or so."