Having beaten Manchester City in the 3rd round of the FA cup, United now faced their other major rival, Liverpool, for a place in the hat for the 5th round of the competition. Tensions between the two clubs were high after the well publicised racist abuse of Patrice Evra by Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, and the subsequent fall out which has dragged on since the fixture in October. On the pitch, United faced an injury crisis which saw 10 first team players side-lined, including key men Rooney and Nani. In response, Fergie resorted to a midfield trio including Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, with a combined age of 75 to counter Liverpool’s industrious playing style.
A customarily hostile Anfield reception was well negated by United in the early exchanges, as Carrick, Giggs and Scholes monopolised the midfield, keeping possession tidily and preventing Liverpool from gathering any momentum. A fantastic drive by Antonio Valencia into the heart of the Liverpool defence saw the Ecuadorian’s 20 yard strike crash into the base of the post and rebound to safety, as United looked to prize open a stubborn Liverpool rear-guard. Despite dominating, United found themselves behind on 20 minutes, as Steven Gerrard’s corner was poorly dealt with by a combination of David De Gea and the United defence, allowing the ball to be headed home by a grateful Daniel Agger at the back post.
A quick response was essential, and the reds provided exactly that with the half time break approaching, Rafael the instigator, with a marauding run down the right matched by an inch perfect cut back to the largely ineffective Park, who slotted home United’s equaliser. United would have felt largely hard done by to have gone in only on level terms given the course of the match, but were still in a strong position to record their first win at Anfield since 2007. An early scare in the second half for Chris Smalling, who slipped over and appeared to handle the ball in the area set the trend for the remainder of a more subdued half from the reds. As Liverpool seemed to grow in confidence, United retreated as weariness began to get the better of the Giggs/Scholes axis which had dominated the first half. Clear cut opportunities were rarely forthcoming, Danny Welbeck the beneficiary of a delightful Michael Carrick through ball could not capitalise on one such chance, with Welbeck rounding Reina but allowing Martin Skrtel to make a last gasp intervention.
Liverpool’s introduction of Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy added further pressure upon a creaking United, and eventually the pressure told, as with only minutes left on the clock, an innocuous long ball was poorly dealt with by Evans, and Dirk Kuyt glided past the sleeping Evra to smash Liverpool into the lead and send United out of the cup. Ultimately, United were punished for failing to assert their dominance in the first half, and now have failed to win at Anfield for 4 consecutive years, a record which the reds will be keen to overcome in the coming seasons. An opportunity for revenge presents itself in a fortnight’s time, as the two sides meet again in the league at Old Trafford, with United looking to keep up their quest for the Premier League title in a season which seems to be falling apart at the seams.
DDG – 4 Unconvincing throughout, much work to do.
Rafael – 8 MOTM Tireless going forward and defended admirably.
Smalling – 7 Dealt with Carroll with ease.
Evans – 5 Lapse at the death cost United dear.
Evra – 6 Dealt with pressure well up until untimely loss of concentration at the end.
Valencia – 6 More subdued display.
Scholes – 7 Ran the midfield whilst he was on the pitch.
Carrick – 6 Kept United ticking well.
Giggs – 5 Failed to provide the creativity needed.
Park – 5 Goal aside, very poor display.
Welbeck – 5 Forced to feed off scraps.
Hernandez – 5 No impact made.
Berbatov – 5 Should have been brought on earlier.