Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United
Sunday, 6th March 2011
It may have arrived a few days late. But Kenny Dalglish could not have wished for a better 60th birthday present than that gifted by the poachers instincts of Dirk Kuyt at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.
Better late than never. Kuyt’s hat-trick condemned north-west rivals Manchester United to a second defeat within a week. In the process putting a hugely significant dent in their aspirations of gaining a 19th league title. And, perhaps more importantly, proving that there is great reason for Liverpool fans to look to the future with a renewed sense of optimism.
Dalglish will hope that results such as this one will hold more significance in terms of the Reds personal pursuit of honours in seasons to come – it is surely now merely a matter of time before the Scot is offered a permanent contract. Ultimately the final scoreline was always going to prove more significant for Man United’s season.
But beating the bitter rivals from down the road is just as satisfying, no matter the circumstances. And this was by all means as comprehensive a victory as Liverpool have experienced over Alex Ferguson’s men at Anfield for many years.
It is not often that the performance of a hat-trick hero is virtually put into the shadows by that of a team-mate. But that is precisely what happened to Kuyt in this match. The Dutchman plundered an historic treble – all from inside the 6-yard box – to guarantee himself legendry status on the Kop for years to come. Yet the intervention of Luis Suarez in all three goals, as well as his all round appetite and ability mesmerised the home support.
Kuyt should receive the plaudits which he richly deserves. But the performance of the Uruguayan forward was classy, destructive and absorbing.
Suarez was the principle tormentor of an admittedly weakened Man United defence throughout the afternoon. One moment in particular summed up his performance and proved the catalyst for victory.
Suarez received possession just inside a penalty box crowded with opposition bodies. Before tantalisingly avoiding the attentions of both Chris Smalling and Rafael Da Silva. Nonchalantly shrugging off Michael Carrick and threading the ball through the legs of Edwin van der Saar and across the face of goal for Kuyt to tap home the opener.
In an instant this epitomised the very element which the Reds have too often been missing in recent years. A player with the deft touch, close control and confidence to take players on and unlock tight defences.
The visitors may have coped better had first choice defensive partnership, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, been available in place of Wes Brown and Smalling. However the Reds genuinely dominated in virtually every department; not just in their final third of the pitch.
Credit should also be reserved from some resolute defending – so much so, Wayne Rooney was virtually anonymous and Dimitar Berbatov had little more of an impact. This despite a defensive reshuffle enforced early on. Glen Johnson reverting to left-back and Jamie Carragher filling in at right full-back following the withdrawal of the ever injury-prone Fabio Aurelio due to a hamstring complaint.
Martin Skrtel – questionable of late – put in his best performance in sometime. And Skrtel and co provided a solid base from which the Reds were able to take the came to United.
Liverpool had more purpose about there play from the very first whistle. Only the final ball was letting Dalglish’s side down in the early stages after a few well-worked periods of play had stretched the visiting defence. Suarez was unable to control Kuyt’s cross sufficiently when well-placed with the goal at his mercy in just the second minute
Suarez – persistently a thorn in Ferguson’s side – took the game by the scruff of the neck on 34 minutes. The South American’s dazzling run and shot probably would have found its way into the back of van der Saar’s net of its own accord. Kuyt intervened to make sure and give Liverpool a lead that their early endeavour deserved.
If the home fans were ecstatic at that point, they could scarcely believe their luck a few minutes later. Defending which can only be described as bizarre from Nani gifted the ball into the path of Kuyt. The Dutchman gladly accepted his second. The easiest of headers from 5-yards out.
United had a couple of chances of there own. Most notable Berbatov’s effort before the opening goal, which had Pepe Renia concerned, and Meireles cleared Brown’s effort off the line following a corner. But Liverpool always looked the more likely to score.
Both sides could well have been a man down as tempers flared before the interval. If it was not for Nani’s reputation, Carragher may well have seen red for his reckless challenge on the winger moments before half-time. From my viewpoint in the stands, the challenge, admittedly, did not look as bad on first viewing. Whilst Nani’s theatrics did not help his cause. Replays proving that the tackle was high.
With emotions running high Rafael should also have seen red just a minute later. The Brazilian’s uncontrolled, two-footed lunge on Lucas could also have done damage had it connected with the midfielder. Instead Phil Dowd opted to stick to his policy of trying to keep 22 players on the field in both instances.
A dreamlike opening 45 minutes for Liverpool. The Reds somewhat took their foot off the pedal in the early stages of the second. Inviting pressure from the visitors, as Man United enjoyed there best spell of the match. The introduction of Javier Hernandez for the injured Nani adding a much-needed extra dimension to there attack.
The match was put to bed on 65 minutes, though. Dirk Kuyt celebrating a remarkable and richly deserved hat-trick – if only for his super-human efforts at times.
Meireles had earlier had an effort saved by van der Saar effort another example of sharp, incisive passing from the Reds got them in behind the lacklustre United defence again. But Kuyt did add the third before long. Suarez was again the instigator. His curling free-kick was too much for the ‘keeper to handle. Van der Saar spilling the ball into the path of the onrushing Kuyt for another simple tap-in.
The Kop were in the mood for celebration. Even affording a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday To You’ for birthday boy Dalglish. Although it was the travelling fans and players who predictably received the brunt of the vocal attention.
Andy Carroll was afforded perhaps the most ideal of Premier League debuts when introduced to a rapturous reception with the Reds already 3 goals to the good. The striker even came close to scoring with his first touch. Just another signal that the future is looking bright as far as Liverpool are concerned.
Even Hernandez’s injury-time consolation header could not spoil the mood. Disappointing as it was to ruin the clean sheet, the goal came to late to trigger any undeserved late nerves.
A rather petty and childish media black-out was Ferguson and United’s response to defeat. It was Liverpool who deserved the privilege of silence, though. Having done all of their talking on the pitch.
Man of the Match
A simply brilliant performance that just edges out hat-tick hero, Kuyt.