ALEX FERGUSON LOOKED dejected. “I don’t know how we lost that,” he lamented in the aftermath of Liverpool’s late 2-1 win over Manchester United.
And, to a certain extent, he was right. Ferguson’s side were in control for the majority of the game. Between the 20th and 70th minutes, United pretty much bossed the game and looked the likelier winners.
Beyond that, though, the reasons for United’s defeat seemed pretty clear. At one end, they lacked penetration without Wayne Rooney – Park Ji-Sung’s sweeping strike was an aberration. At the other, basic individual errors allowed Liverpool to take full advantage of United’s profligacy.
With Ferguson missing a host of first-team players, David de Gea was caught at a corner for Dan Agger’s opener before almost all of United’s defence proved culpable for Dirk Kuyt’s winner. Johnny Evans failed to challenge Andy Carroll, who flicked on. Chris Smalling played Dirk Kuyt onside and Patrice Evra was caught out of position. Finally, De Gea could have done better with the finish.
Of course, as much as United could blame themselves for the defeat, Liverpool do deserve credit for exploiting the errors. And, in that, there were a number of positives for Kenny Dalglish beyond the actual result. Carroll had his best performance in recent weeks, Jordan Henderson put in a creditable display and Dirk Kuyt got back among the goals.
Above all, Liverpool’s encouraging cup form continues. And, now that both Manchester clubs are out of the FA Cup, Dalglish can have genuine aspirations of winning both domestic trophies. The team clearly still has a few issues – as indicated by the general pattern of the game today – but such results will only fuel momentum.
For United’s part, one worrying trend has emerged. This has surely been one of the worst seasons for late goals in Alex Ferguson’s time. United have been caught out by them a few times and barely scored any of note this year.
At the least, though, Ferguson can take solace from the fact this was very far from his first-choice team and the general collective performance was decent.
It would be remiss of us, of course, not to mention the controversy around the game. Because, as much as Kenny Dalglish spoke about “friendly banter” and fans doing themselves proud, Evra was booed from the start, a minority of United fans sang about Hillsborough and one Liverpool fan was even caught mimicking a monkey.
This may be one of the best fixtures in world football but it does bring out the worst in some fans.