United Beat The Title Favourites
It was Rob Kelly of the Telegraph who wrote that United simply do not look like the force Liverpool do and that they must be favourites to win the league. Based on selling Alonso and replacing him with 'the exciting Alberto Aquilani' and assuming that Benitez will buy a winger and a striker, too.
He did not and his team is now 18 points behind Manchester United, making the Guardian and Phil McNulty of the BBC look really stupid as both predicted Liverpool would win the league, for similarly half-arsed reasons.
Well, anyone who watched the game today would agree that Liverpool were nothing like title challengers - they looked like a solid mid-table side, trying to capitalise on their top quality opponent having an off day. Having an off day is my version of kind explanation for Patrice Evra wandering about aimlessly while Liverpool attacked down the right, the cross found Torres and he headed them into the lead.
United looked shocked for a little while but then Valencia stole the ball, burst clear of Mascherano who started tugging his arm. Valencia got inside the penalty box then tumbled, Howard Webb awarded a penalty but mysteriously failed to send Mascherano off, even though the Argentinian clearly denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity as Valencia was moving in on goal and he would have faced Reina only.
Fernando Torres tried to mess up the penalty spot, kicking it vehemently which surely falls under the category unsporting behaviour and it's forbidden to make marks on the pitch but he was not booked for it. Yet his ploy seemed to succeed as Reina beat away Rooney's pen but fortunately, the ball fell nicely for Rooney again who tucked in the rebound to equalise.
That should have kick-started some quality football but it was a crap game. Liverpool were negative as always but they are undeniably effective in choking opponents. For us, Carrick had one of his worst days and too often we were careless in possession, maybe because it came back so easily as Liverpool's attacking plan revolved around punting it up to Torres who was well managed by Ferdinand and Vidic and was reduced to pathetic and constant whining. He also performed an ugly, late tackle on, I think, Ferdinand, for which he was booked and considering his actions before the penalty, should have seen the red after his yellow.
Never mind that because Liverpool failed to improve for the second half but United got sharper after creating only one real chance after the equaliser, Park heading wide after a pinpoint Valencia cross. Fletcher totally dominated Liverpool's midfield both Valencia and Nani caused plenty of problems to their substandard full-backs. Our winner, fittingly enough, came from wide position: the increasingly influential Rooney knocked it out right to Fletcher, Insua was sidetracked by a clever run from Gary Neville and Park headed home Fletcher's excellent cross. Brilliant goal and well-deserved, too.
There was a bit of a scuffle between Kuyt and Fletcher after the Dutchman barged Fletch from behind but Webb settled them down with a little chat instead of handing out yellow cards but apart from that it wasn't a very intense game even after we took the lead. There was only one scary moment, right at the end when Torres scuffed a shot from the penalty spot he messed up earlier - oh, sweet justice. What's karma in Spanish?
But all in all, we held them at bay fairly comfortably. The 'exciting Aquilani' came in as a substitute and he managed to be just as ineffectual as Saint Steven - yes, the FA were actually kind to us, I have to admit, by not banning him. Torres who started menacingly spent the last 70 minutes in either Vidic's or if he got out of there, in Ferdinand's pocket, occasionally poking his head out to complain to the referee. He's a true Liverpool player now.
United were a bit careless sometimes and probably paid too much respect to Liverpool, that's why we could not seal the win earlier but even though they got five minutes (and it was actually extended to six, who knows why) of injury time, they had no chance at all. But I guess there will be no complaints about 'Rafa time'. Until they score, eh? You're not gonna hear about it, it's only an issue when United get these minutes.
A nice, satisfying win over the title favourites (yeah, I never get tired or bored of repeating this: people who are paid to watch and write about football actually thought Liverpool would win the league) and as Chelsea dropped two points at Blackburn we will stay top even if they win their game in hand at Portsmouth. Good days, almost perfect weekend.