In the 3rd instalment of the United Liverpool saga this season, the reds welcomed their arch rivals to Old Trafford keen to erase the memories of the disappointing 2-1 defeat at Anfield in the FA Cup and temporarily go top of the table. Much of the hype surrounding the match inevitably and somewhat tediously centred around the dreaded pre match handshake between Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez, an event which subsequently created further animosity between the two sides given Suarez’s refusal to shake hands with Evra, incensing much of the United side. With the atmosphere at a supercharged level, a United side packed with the experience of Scholes, Carrick and Giggs in the midfield, the same trio which had revelled as a partnership at Anfield, were looking to make the headlines for the right reasons and grab United a vital 3 points.
Things nearly started disastrously for United, as ironically, the 3 main protagonists of the back story nearly contrived in handing Liverpool a comical early lead, as Patrice Evra’s challenge in Luis Suarez saw the Frenchman take out colleague Rio Ferdinand in the process, inviting Liverpool to almost score with barely a minute on the clock. United’s back four was visibly tense, and Glen Johnson perhaps should have given the visitors the lead as the England full back cut in from the right flank, sending his shot just inches wide of De Gea’s post, giving the reds a much needed wake up call. And wake up they did, under the guidance of the imperious Scholes, who created United’s best opening of the half, firstly lob wedging a delightful pass onto Giggs, before bursting into the box for the return only to direct his header straight at Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal. Patrice Evra nearly grabbed what would have been perhaps the sweetest goal of his career, the Frenchman attacking Antonio Valencia’s cross, only to see his header fly over the bar, and a half of very fleeting chances unsurprisingly finished deadlocked.
Reports of a half time altercation between the two sets of players did little to quell the hysteria surrounding the contest, but it was United who appeared to rise to the occasion in the second half, beginning with real tempo and vigour. It was therefore inevitable when just two minutes from the restart, Giggs’ corner found its way through to Rooney, who swivelled home a volley from 6 yards out and sent Old Trafford into pandemonium. With the visitors reeling, United seized the initiative, and after Jay Spearing had dithered on the ball inside his own half, Antonio Valencia picked his pocket before sliding in Rooney, who finished through the legs of Reina for his 2nd goal in as many minutes, and 4th in 2 games. A hat trick beckoned for Rooney, after a delightful interchange including a superb Paul Scholes dummy left him with the goal at his mercy, but he failed to finish off, skewing his shot wide. United continued to monopolise possession as Liverpool endeavoured, but could muster little in the way of attack and make inroads into United’s lead. With 10 minutes left on the clock however, a clumsy Michael Carrick challenge presented Liverpool with a free kick from 30 yards out, and Gerrard’s ball into the box was poorly defended, allowing the pantomime villain Luis Suarez to tap home and give Liverpool a lifeline. A nervy finale followed, but a Scholes masterclass in keeping the ball ensured there were no late scares for United, who secured a crucial three points in the title race.
DDG – 6 Kept goal well throughout.
Rafael – 7 Attacked with gusto, defended bravely.
Ferdinand – 7 Barely broke sweat.
Evans – 6 Marshalled Suarez well.
Evra – 6 Handled the occasion well given circumstances.
Valencia – 7 Excellent form continues.
Carrick – 7 Ran the midfield against Gerrard.
Scholes – 7 Shows he can still dictate important premier league games.
Giggs – 5 Often wasteful.
Rooney – 8 MOTM United attacking hub, looks to be bang in form again.
Welbeck – 7 Never gave Liverpool a minute to breathe, constant threat.