Dimitiar Berbatov became the toast of Old Trafford as his sublime hat-trick took out arch-rivals Liverpool, on Sunday evening. His nonchalance has come in question many a time and fans are, more often than not, left exasperated towards his supposed lack of energy and enthusiasm. Sir Alex Ferguson, has persevered with him when likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez had left a huge vacuum at United, was vindicated last night.
Roy Hodgson, for his part, sent out an attacking line up with: Torres and Gerrard partnership up front with Joe Cole and the new signing Raul Meireles, getting his first start, in the midfield. But once the whistle went off, it was all United as Giggs, down the left side and Nani down the right troubled the back four of Liverpool. Nani, in particular was giving a harrowing time to Paul Konchesky and on 15 minutes got the first real chance of the game, when the ball from Rooney found him totally unchecked and free for the shot. Nani took time, by then Liverpool’s defense got back. He cut the ball back to Rooney – who took the shot, which got deflected and fell into Nani’s path. A first real chance of the match squandered by Nani, whose shot lacked venom and didn’t even question Reina.
Before the game, Hodgson said that Liverpool needs to have their share of the possession, as it’s hard to stop United – because they use the width of the pitch perfectly. Those words proved to be prophetic. It was such dominance by United that you would have been forgotten, for believing that there was only one team playing. Whenever Liverpool did have the possession, for short times, they lacked intricate passing and kept circling the ball in their own half. Gerrard and Cole did try to open the midfield of United, but it wasn’t ably supported by Johnson and Poulsen. Signs were looking ominous, for Liverpool and on 41 minutes Berbatov headed in United’s first goal. Torres’ guarding was feeble and the goal was around the corner. For all the dominance and one way traffic, Liverpool was lucky that the scoreline read just 1-0, at half time.
Second half and the script was very much the same. Nani’s thunderous kick rattled the cross-bar and Reina was completely beaten by the pace. The game looked all but over by the 59 minute superb overhead shot by Berbatov. It was his typical nonchalance that left even the faithfuls astounded and Liverpool was left aghast. Just 2 minutes after that United came close to the third, if not for the intervention by Carragher, a simple tap-in was denied to Rooney.
But in a Manu-Liv game, you can’t take the foot off the pedal, even for the slightest moment and that’s exactly what happened. From a potential 3-0, it went to 2-1. Just a minute after Rooney’s chance, Evans took down Torres, in the box and gave Liverpool a lifeline. Gerrard stepped up to take the penalty and converted it with ease. The game was opening up and just 6 minutes after the first one, another shock came for United. O’Shea, on the edge of the box, took down Torres. Liverpool fans shouted for the red card but Howard Webb was content with yellow. A free kick, just on the edge of the box and it was Gerrard’s zone, which comfortably landed in the back of the net, thanks to Fletcher’s breach in the wall. It was Craven Cottage and Goodison Park, all over again, as United gave away 2 goal cushion.
The score line should have read Berbatov 2- Gerrard 2. There was time to grab the winner and 6 minutes from the time Berbatov completed his hat-trick, with a towering header rising above Carragher and delivering a final blow. Hodgson took out Meireles and brought in Jovanovic, but it was all too late by then. Manchester United got all 3 points and the bragging rights. Liverpool, under the new manager, does look a team in transition, as echoed by Hodgson, but it’s hard to see a dominant European powerhouse languishing at the 16th spot. As for United – win ties them with Arsenal, but better goal difference of Arsenal pegs United to the third spot.
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