Liverpool 2-1 Manchester United
FA Cup Fourth Round, Saturday 28th January 2012
A highly charged afternoon at Anfield and one which ultimately ended with a Dirk Kuyt strike beating David De Gea to secure Liverpool a place in the 5th round of the FA Cup. A goal which emphatically rounded off a memorable week in the club’s season.
It has been a week which began in disappointment and despondency with defeat at the Reebok Stadium but one which has bared the fruits of two victories over Manchester’s best, a place in one domestic cup final and sound progress towards another.
Liverpool’s league form may be somewhat erratic at times but there can be on questioning their pedigree when it comes to a knock out competition
With pre-match attention predictably focused on the fall out of the Suarez/Evra racism row both Kenny Dalglish and his counterpart, Alex Ferguson, had attempted to calm the tensions and deflect attention towards matters on the field.
Though tensions remained highly-strung and – in a fixture which is emotionally charged at the best of times – it made for a terrific atmosphere throughout. Luis Suarez’s continued absence meant that he had to content himself with watching from the stands. But Patrice Evra was named in the visitor’s starting XI.
Evra was roundly jeered throughout. Although anyone who expected anything else, considering what has passed and Liverpool’s lingering feelings towards the decision, was being rather naïve.
Jamie Carragher was a surprise inclusion in Liverpool’s midfield. In the continued absence of both Lucas and Jay Spearing, Dalglish responded to the defensive debacle against Bolton the previous week and brought in Carragher as a makeshift holding midfielder.
It was a move which may, or may not, have been judged as a success – Carragher was eventually withdrawn midway through the second half. But the Reds needed some extra protection in midfield without compromising the influence of Steven Gerrard.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Andy Carroll returned, as Craig Bellamy’s knees meant that he returned to the bench, despite a dazzling display in midweek. Whilst Maxi Rodriguez was also drafted into the starting line-up in place of Kuyt.
Perhaps as a result of the changes, Liverpool were considerably less potent as an attacking force for the most part. In fact it was only when Liverpool replaced Carragher with Kuyt and United subsequently withdrew the influential, Paul Scholes, in favour of an additional forward, that the Reds began to gain an edge in midfield and looked capable of winning the game.
Dalglish’s team appeared content to surrender territory and possession of their rivals for much of the game, with Carroll too often lacking support at the top end of the pitch.
Yet, despite their dominance of possession, Man United rarely worried Pepe Reina. And it was the hosts who took the lead after 21 minutes.
Maxi had already tested De Gea early on, with a low drive which the visiting ‘keeper turned away. Whilst United responded when Antonio Valencia was afforded the time of cut in from the right and strike Reina’s right-hand post.
But Daniel Agger rose highest to head Steven Gerrard’s dangerous corner-kick beyond De Gea for the opening goal – the Dane’s first in quite some time.
However, Liverpool failed to make their advantage count and it was United who took the initiative thereafter. And the game was ultimately level before half-time.
Jose Enrique has rarely put a foot wrong in an impressive debut season at the club but he should have done more to prevent Rafael Da Silva’s cross from the right. The Brazilian found Park Ji-sung, who powerfully finished first time from inside the box.
Man United threatened to take the lead after the break, when Danny Welbeck out-paced the home defence and played the ball around Reina, only for Skrtel to come to the rescue with a goal-line clearance.
But the game was tepid and lacking in the required quality and for long periods the tie seemed destined for a replay. Though, the uncertainty of the much-maligned De Gea continued to offer Liverpool reason for optimism.
The Spaniard looked uncomfortable under-pressure with balls into the box and also gifted a clearance straight to the feet of Stewart Downing – of which the winger should have made more.
But it required the intervention of substitute, Kuyt, combined with some hesitant United defending, to win the game with only 2 minutes of normal time remaining. A long punt forward by Reina was flicked on by Carroll. Kuyt ghosted beyond Evra and, with the Kop goal-mouth at his mercy, he beat De Gea with a low shot to send Liverpool into the 5th round.
This has been arguably Kuyt’s most difficult season in a red shirt to date. Not helped by a lack of consecutive games. This was only the Dutchman’s second goal since May last year but he should have had another before full-time.
Carroll – who was a handful for the United defence in a far more encouraging display – sent a far post header against the frame of the goal. Whilst Kuyt contrived to stab the rebound wide.
But it made little difference. Liverpool had done enough and their double cup success was complete.
Man of the Match: DANIEL AGGER
The performances of Agger and Skrtel at the back were both to be admired in equal measure but the Dane’s opening goal means that he just takes it.
Liverpool: Reina, Enrique, Skrtel, Agger, Kelly, Downing, Carragher (Kuyt 63), Gerrard (Bellamy 72), Maxi (Adam 63), Henderson, Carroll