Whatever anyone says – yes, even the King – there was far more on the line than 3 points in today’s annual battle with the enemy of all enemies.
This was a game which could go a long, LONG way to deciding the ultimate destination of this year’s Premiership crown.
A United win, and a six point gap would have given them a huge advantage down the home stretch. A Liverpool win, and Arsenal’s fate is in their own hands. Does it matter? Yes, of course it does! Because I for one – and I’m sure I speak for millions of Reds – DO NOT want to see that shower claim number 19 before we do.
But, putting the emotions surrounding number 19 aside, what is much more important in the overall big picture is just how well Kenny’s new-look, newly-inspired and rejuvenated team would fare against the team who is (somehow) leading the pack right now. Well, the answer was there for all to see. We didn’t just ‘compete’ with them, we absolutely battered them!
While the United fans have already rolled out the old clichés….. “it’s their cup final” ya da ya da, the truth for them is a lot more daunting than that, and they know it. The truth is that in absolutely every area of the pitch, we were superior.
Luis Suarez was quite simply sublime and for me, easily the man of the match. It’s generally accepted that it takes foreign players a while to get the pace and cut & thrust of the English game. Well, not Suarez! He doesn’t look like he knows the meaning of nerves as he literally tore the United defence to shreds. The set up for Kuyt’s first goal (you bugger Dirk… had you left it, it would have been goal of the season!) was unmistakably, genuine world-class. The way he and Dirk pulled the United defence all over the park all afternoon was a joy to watch. The energy and commitment to the cause of Suarez was light years away from that player whose name almost rhymes with his who left a bit ago. To think, we got Suarez AND almost 30 million quid for that Spanish player.
Wes Orange and Chris Smalling were as bad as was anticipated. They had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look all game. They weren’t helped AT ALL by those in front of them, but still, they were awful. Either side of them, their full backs were trying to outdo the centre backs in a game of ‘who’s the most incompetent.’ And for good measure, Suarez and Kuyt kept switching positions to bamboozle them further. It was like pantomime…. “Look, he’s behind you.” Oh, it was fun to watch!
In midfield, I gleefully watched Old Man Scholes and the inexplicably useless Carrick give one of the worst central midfield performances I think I have ever seen from a ‘top’ club. I thought Raul Meireles had borrowed Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak the way he kept running off towards the United box, while Carrick and Ron Weasley’s dad looked gormlessly at one another wondering where he’d gone.
Lucas, Gerrard and Maxi were vastly superior to the other geriatric and that Portuguese fella who cheats a lot. The ‘Welsh Wizard’ ™ resembled Dumbledore more than the player he once was. So back to the former…Nani. Ah, yes. Nani.
Now, I am absolutely like any other decent fan when it comes to injuries… I don’t want to see anyone injured, especially from a poor challenge. But it’s difficult, isn’t it, to have any sympathy for this player? He has faked, dived and cheated his way through his career, so while I don’t wish him serious injury, my sympathy is, well, limited let’s say. The fact that he jumped back up after the challenge, legged it 6 yards, then fell over like Andy Pandy whose strings had been cut, gained little sympathy from anyone. Even the United players looked embarrassed at his antics!
As for the tackle itself, I’m already sick of hearing about it from the media determined to deflect the attention away from the Liverpool performance. Carra’s non-premeditated ONE FOOTED high tackle connected nastily with the opposing player. Rafael’s PREMEDITATED TWO-FEET OFF THE GROUND tackle missed its target only because Lucas vaulted it. So, journalists (and especially James Lawton in the Independent who wrote a quite astonishingly biased article) put a sock in it, please! They were both awful tackles. They both could and SHOULD have seen red – they didn’t. Now get over it.
Before I leave Nani though, I would like to sincerely thank him for the mistake of the season. ‘Threepenny bit head’ we used to call those ones, but I can’t remember a more wonderful example of a headed cock-up than that in the top division. (Let me know if you’ve seen one that beats it.) It was in keeping with the rest of his performance, but that piece of headed ingenuity really took the biscuit. He’s definitely earned his spot in the DVD hall of fame with that one!
Ok, I digress, so back to the main point! And that is, that Liverpool were simply superb. Fleet footed up front, dynamic, powerful and purposeful in midfield and resilient and committed in defence. Even one of our perennial sick notes going off before the 30 minute mark didn’t disrupt the flow of the team as our Mad Greek came in and did a typically stellar job.
But the most exciting thing about this win (once the adrenaline wears off and we all come back to earth) was the promise of what’s ahead. Yes, we are a work in progress, and yes, there will no doubt be more ‘West Ham’ days still to endure, simply because even Kenny can’t work miracles overnight. Yes, there is still some deadwood to remove, and yes there are still some gaps that need to be plugged with top quality players. But when you look at this Liverpool team’s movement, passing and invention versus 2 months ago, it almost defies belief. I was at Anfield in December when we lost 1-0 to Wolves with one of the worst ever displays by a Liverpool team at home….. compare it to this! Some of the interchange play today was a delight. Even the technical level and ability of some of the players seems to have improved, their vision and picking of a forward pass has improved, their running off the ball has improved, their creativity has improved. The result is that we absolutely schooled United today. They couldn’t live with us, and what it told me, when you look at their team, is that we are not that far away AT ALL from them player for player.
Yes, they were missing their 2 first choice central defenders, but other than that, they were basically at full strength. ‘Full strength’ includes players of 40, 37 and 36 being called upon for EVERY top game. Why? Because their back-ups simply aren’t good enough to replace them.
It got me thinking… how does our team today stack up to theirs….
Shrek and Berbaflop versus Suarez and Kuyt… hmmm… we win.
Nani, Weasley, Carrick, Dumbledore versus Gerrard, Meireles, Lucas, Maxi…. hmmm… we win
Rafael, Brown, Smalling, Evra versus Johnson, Carra, Skrtel, Aurelio… hmmm… we win yet again!
Van der Saar versus Reina….. yep, you guessed it!
Things are looking very, very bright. When you consider that we had our worst start to a league season for over 50 years, we had Hodgson as a manager and we had dumb and dumber owning the club, the turnaround Kenny has engineered is miraculous. Everything he has already achieved was on full view today. We’re only a handful of points from 4th place even given that appalling start. And it’s no exaggeration to say that today’s performance was up there with the best displays by ANY team in the Premier League this season.
With Kenny at the helm, Steve Clarke backing him up, the new Americans delivering on their promises, and the additions of Suarez and Carroll with more players to come, we have every right to think that the false dawns we’ve had to endure for so long now, might – just might – be coming to an end.