Reds end Rafa’s United hoodoo

Ryan Babel came off the bench to score the winning goal as Liverpool came from behind to beat Manchester United.

Babel converted Dirk Kuyt’s cut back on the 77th minute to add to Wes Brown’s own goal, as Rafael Benitez finally recorded a league victory over his team’s great rivals.

The big question before the game was whether Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard would be risked after injury but the Rafa opted to start with his star duo on the bench with Kuyt and Robbie Keane up front. There was also a start for new boy Albert Riera who had an excellent start to his Anfield career and outshone opposing debutant Dimitar Berbatov.

It was United’s new Bulgarian, however, who started the better as he took on Jamie Carragher and laid the ball back to last season’s match winner Carlos Tevez who fired past Pepe Reina after just three minutes as the Kop were stunned into silence. There were many a worried face in the crowd and a collective feel of ‘˜oh no not again’ as the visitors attacking trio of Tevez, Berbatov and Wayne Rooney looked threatening every time they were on the ball.

Liverpool soon found their rhythm and Dirk Kuyt twice came close to an equaliser, first with a volley from outside the box that went just wide, then again from close range after Edwin Van Der Sar ‘“ who looked vulnerable all match- saved after initially flapping at Fabio Aurelio’s corner.

It wasn’t long before Van Der Sar cost his team, as he rushed off his line to try and collect a Xabi Alonso effort that wickedly deflected off Patrice Evra and as everyone appealed hopefully for a penalty, the Dutch ‘˜keeper pushed the ball against the helpless Brown’s shins as the ball trickled into the Anfield Road net. It was announced that Albert Riera was the scorer but although it was certainly Brown’s, the jubilant Kopites couldn’t care less. Their team was back in the game and all the signs were there that the seven-year wait for a home league win would end.

Liverpool soon took control and for the first twenty minutes of the second half, United were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession and camped in their own half.

Alonso and the once again magnificent Javier Mascherano were dictating play whilst the work rate of Kuyt and Keane made sure the defenders didn’t have time to think, never mid time to pass to a team mate.

Liverpool were on top and it was obvious Rafa wanted the win when Gerrard and Babel were brought on for Riera and Yossi Benayoun to lift the fans spirit, belief and noise even more. Pepe Reina had to be on his toes when United substitute Ryan Giggs unleashed a powerful dipping volley which saw the Spaniard produce an excellent fingertip save, but this was the only time when he was seriously tested.

Babel’s winner was a result of another mistake by a veteran. Mascherano’s right wing run was cut off by Giggs who tried to shepherd the ball out, but the little Argentine’s determination saw him snatch the ball back. It fell to Kuyt who had the vision to pick out his countryman who made no mistake from twelve yards.

Cue bitten finger nails as United inevitably pressed on but their frustration was compounded with the sending off of Nemanja Vidic for two yellow cards, first after chopping Keane down when clean through and then going elbow first into Alonso’s face when challenging a high ball.

The final whistle was greeted with joy and relief in equal measure as this deserved victory showed signs that Liverpool’s season has really started. Every single player could walk off with heads held high as the character, commitment and concentration that was on display will be needed every week if a challenge for number nineteen is on the cards.

Andy Haze