Liverpool’s indifferent start to the season took a turn for the worse after they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat to arch rivals Manchester United, owing to a performance that is sure to produce scathing reactions from the Anfield faithful. Paul Scholes scored a goal in his 500th appearance for the hosts. Rio Ferdinand, who scored the decider in the same fixture last year produced a goal to grace any striker to make it 2-0.
It was not a case of morning showing the day. Liverpool settled quickly into the game and seemed to have the better of the early exchanges. Rafa Benitez opted for a lone striker up front in the form of Dirk Kuyt. Mark Gonzalez was handed a start down the left hand side. After picking up a late injury, Craig Bellamy failed to make the trip. The 4-5-1 seemed to hold good only for the first 15 minutes, imposing itself on the Man you midfield, but that was about as good as it got for Liverpool’s new formation today. Their defense looked suspect every time a ball was crossed into the box, and Pepe Reina nearly made a mess of clearing a ball from a charging Darren Fletcher outside the box (10′). From there on, the match got completely one sided. Dirk Kuyt shot a close ranged header straight onto Van Der Saar from a Mark Gonzalez cross, he should really have done better there, that being Liverpool’s best chance of the day. Manchester United stepped on the gas, as one would expect of a home team brimming with confidence, and Liverpool seemingly wilted under pressure. United starting pouring down the flanks, a substantial chink in Liverpool’s all-conquering defense from last season, that more and more teams are exploiting this season. It was Ryan Giggs’ low cross across the goalmouth that Scholes, left completely unmarked by the Liverpool Defense, latched onto gratefully (39′). This goal only adds to the questions about Liverpool’s defending this season, the blame goes to Sami Hyypia, who was caught ball watching and was unaware of the lurking Paul Scholes. Minutes later Pepe Reina was forced into making a brilliant save by Louis Saha. Steven Gerrard screamed forward on a couple of occasions, to find no one backing up his efforts. But on the whole, Liverpool’s captain extraordinary had another poor game by his standards
The traveling supporters expected their team to rally around and force their way back into the game and they were bitterly disappointed. After the break Liverpool could not string two passes together, giving the ball away needlessly, cluelessly’”giving their archrivals all the encouragement they ever needed. Midway through second half, Rio Ferdinand scored minutes after Jamie Carragher picked up a knock on his left leg. Unfortunately for Jamie, soon after he was back on his feet he was forced to make a clearance from a corner by his left foot. The shot was weak and Ferdinand sealed the fate with a spectacular finish.
Peter Crouch was introduced after Liverpool had gone 2-0 down, with the Reds disparately hoping for a moment of inspiration. All Crouch could come up with was a cringing tackle on Van Der Saar which earned him a yellow. At the end, United saw out the game with ease.
It was an afternoon when Luis Garcia’s party tricks wouldn’t come good, and it will be a mystery why he was not replaced. Mark Gonzalez showed burning pace and little else and Jermaine Pennant was well nigh invisible after coming on for Mark Gonzalez. After the defeat against Bolton, Rafa Benitez looked at the positives, acknowledging the lost chances, he pointed at the good game his players had. Today, even the staunchest of Liverpool’s mighty supporters will not disagree that Manchester United were a league apart from their team. While Liverpool looked like a group of individuals thrown in together, United played with passion, aggression and imagination. To defend the 4-5-1, it is not as defensive a formation as everybody thinks, to defend the rotations, it did see success when the Reds looked very fresh at the last few laps of last season, knocking of win after win. But all this is missing the point, the most significant aftershock of this match is that for the first time serious questions are being hurled at the elevated pedestal on which Rafa Benitez sits, perhaps a little uncomfortably now. Liverpool now face a series of easier opponents, scoring points from whom will be vital to their campaign this season. But they will be in for some nasty surprises if they don’t improve their show significantly.