Date:Friday October 23 2009
United visit Anfield on Sunday and with the focus firmly on Benitez's side we can afford to feel a little more relaxed than usual. (I do not feel that way but we could afford, that's the point). So, I ask you to take the journey in time back to a game which's been largely forgotten since.
With good reason, too: it wasn't an important or particularly good game. Liverpool had a horrible season, with horrible players while United were grinding out wins without ever really playing well. It was, if you haven't guessed yet from this admittedly vague description, in the autumn of 2003.
United visited Anfield with optimism as Houllier's reign was unravelling and the Liverpool team was a shambles. The game itself was dreadfully low on quality which is no surprise if you recall the line-ups, see below:
Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan, Biscan, Hyypia, Traore, Diouf (Le Tallec 70), Murphy, Gerrard, Smicer (Sinama Pongolle 63), Heskey, Kewell.
United: Howard, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea, Fortune (Fletcher 83), Phil Neville, Keane, Giggs, van Nistelrooy, Forlan.
Liverpool had more possession but no cutting edge while United laboured without ever really looking like scoring. But we did have a goalkeeper - in those days Tim Howard was still in fine form, looking the player he is now at Everton - unlike the dippers. Dudek, once again, simply froze against us, and it was great fun to see him watching the ball in befuddlement as Giggs' arched free-kick from the right eluded everyone and landed in the far corner.
A few minutes later the same man, United's best on the field by some margin, scored another, his shot squirming past Dudek despite the difficult angle. The goal could have been the one sealing Giggs' hat-trick but the Welshman's first attempt was saved by Dudek - who set him up for the chance by sending a clearance straight into his way!
We had to do some defending in the end, with Sinama-Pongolle and Heskey both going close but after Kewell's consolation goal but it was clear that Liverpool were no closer to a title challenge than they were in 1998 when Houllier arrived.
United had their own problems that season (the departures of Veron and Beckham left us with a dangerously thin squad) but still finished comfortably ahead of Liverpool. The dippers won at Old Trafford in the return fixture but it was not enough to save Houllier who was sacked at the end of the season. His successor is now in the same boots: he needs to produce some evidece of progress after some early promise and he has the opportunity to do that against a United side still getting used to life without our world-class number seven and the Argie who was supposed to be a big thing but never justified his big reputation.
This time it's Benitez, not Houllier, and the departed stars are called Ronaldo and Tevez not Beckham and Veron but otherwise the parallel is perfect - and Ryan Giggs, in all likelihood, will be on the pitch on Sunday. He'll face, again, a keeper who has a history of dodginess against United. It would be so wonderful if history were to repeat itself.
Date:Friday October 23 2009
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