It was a much hyped and much awaited encounter between the two Red teams - Manchester United visiting the Anfield Fortress at Liverpool.
Living up to the expectations, the match turned out to be a thriller, and as I had expected a one-sided affair with only the final scoreline betraying the dominance! Manchester United won 1-0, thanks to a late late goal in the stoppage time by O'Shea. The familiar figure of Sir Alex Fergusson jumping up and down like a ten year old was the indication of what an away victory, that too against Liverpool (who did not concede a goal since October last year at home) meant to the manager. And of course to the fans!
Liverpool played a cautious and waiting game in the first half. They virtually controlled the game through a very high possession percentage and marked the ever dangerous C. Ronaldo well. Rooney and Larsson had a very few chances and there wasn't much to cheer about for the ManU fans as far as attacking football is concerned. Rio Ferdinand was busy throughout the game, so were Vidic and Gary Neville. Failing to clear a regulation ball, Vidic almost let the Reds to score. For the Reds, I thought Sissoko was a bit off colour as every now and then he mis-passed and left at least half a dozen crucial passing opportunities. Steven Gerrard seemed uncomfortable in right midfield position (he usually plays in centre mid-field) initially, but soon picked up his usual form. At the half-time, the scoreline was stuck at 0-0, but as a whole Liverpool had the better of ManU (the number of corners and shots at goal stat may justify this statement!)
The start of the second half saw consistent Liverpool attacks on the Red Devils' goal. A crucial off-side decision that went against Liverpool meant ManU still were able to hold them at 0-0. There was super build-up from both left and right as Liverpool launched attack after attack, yet could not break the dead lock. A rather ungentlemanly challenge by Carragher and Rooney was bleeding in his knee. Sir Alex Fergusson had no choice but to substitute him with John O'Shea. And what a substitution that would turn out to be! Only the (stoppage) time could tell.
Perhaps to conserve Bellamy's energy for next Tuesday's very important match against Barca, Liv'pool manager Rafa Benitez took striker Craig Bellamy out and replaced him with Pennant in the mid-field. That was one mistake. Then he replaced the midfielder Sissoko by Peter Crouch the striker. That was the second mistake. The defensive approach did not go well (although Peter Crouch almost scored from 6-8 yards - van der Sar came up with the most important save of the game for ManU!). ManU looked vulnerable, even more so, as Paul Scholes was sent off for a deliberate handball and unsporting tackle on Alonso. With the team reduced to 10-men, and Liv'pool forcing ever increasing pressure, it seemed like ManU were going to lose all of the three points after all.
With four minutes time added and scoreline still reading 0-0, with ten men, ManU would have wanted these four minutes to pass by ASAP. Of course, for ManU's premiership title hope, that would mean a lesser lead on Chelsea. With this backdrop, Liv'pool defense made a costly mistake. A free kick was awarded right on the edge of the penalty area and the penalty area was full of white shirts of Red Devils. Ryan Giggs (who was playing his 700th premiership game, an astounding feat really) went for the goal directly. 'Keeper Reina spilled the ball and it went straight to O'Shea who performed the last rites. With two minutes to go for the final whistle, ManU were 1-0 up at Anfield!
In the last-ditch effort, Kuyt earned Liv'pool a corner kick but ManU held on for what may be termed as a memorable victory.
Liv'pool dominated the game all through the 90-minutes (of course, but not for the four added minutes in the fag end). They had staggering 14+ shots on the ManU goal compared to paltry 4 by the ManU. Yet, they could not convert and finally that's what matters! ManU have shown yet again that they are the strongest contenders for the title - the championship. Truly, they played like champions and deserved a victory. For they took the chance they got.
Although the match will be remembered as a whole and there were so many positives for the Reds, what would go in the championship table is the defeat! But, that's the way of sport, I guess.
Bring on the other Champions - Defending European Champions (UEFA Champions League) Barcelona F.C. are visiting Anfield next Tuesday and they must be hungry to take revenge of their loss (2-1) at the hands of visiting Liv'pool.
And perhaps Liv'pool would be even more hungry for a victory in the Champions League to reach the quarter finals of the most coveted cup in Europe. Whatever. The fans are in for a fantastic treat next week, for sure...