The great Lancashire challenge continues with Liverpool, who have won more League/Premiership titles than any other club and are current reigning UEFA European Champions versus a hopefully resurgent Manchester United, presumably looking to do rather better than their solid but uninspired performance against Villarreal in mid-week.
Sir Alex has picked another initially odd-looking team with Edwin Van Der Sar in goal, a back four of O’Shea-Ferdinand-Silvestre-Richardson, and one of his it’s-not-quite 4-5-1 but-also-not 4-3-3 formations, let’s call it 4-3-2-1 or Christmas Tree (though it seems a little early for that), featuring Scholes-Keane-Smith in midfield and Rooney and Ronaldo wide and deep off frontman Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
Liverpool kick off this English Premiership lunchtime fixture and within thirty seconds both keepers have had the ball; it’s obviously going to be that kind of game!
A hard but fair struggle for control of midfield sets in as both sides renew the ancient battle to be the best in the North West. Liverpool, playing at home, are being a little more direct and placing some very threatening passes through United’s midfield and defence. The Red Devils are playing counter-attack at speed and really stretching the Liverpool defence, which concedes a lot of dead ball chances for the Reds (actually playing in blue today, of course) but little more.
Half an hour gone and the tension is visibly rising as both teams look for the first goal. Liverpool are mostly attacking down their right wing, where United’s emergency left back and England midfielder Kieron Richardson is doing a great job standing in for long-term injury victim Argentine international Gabriel Heinze. This could prove to be critical for the boys from Manchester, both for the rest of the season and right now, right here in this vital match.
Best moment of the first half for United was a sudden break forward in the 44th minute with Ruud Van Nistelrooy receiving the ball in the Liverpool area and lobbing advancing keeper Reina. The ball just wouldn’t come down fast enough and lands on the roof of the net. Liverpool’s best moments were probably any one of a number of free kicks outside the United box, all of which came to nothing and it’s 0-0 at half time.
Manchester United get the second half under way but it’s Liverpool that have picked up the pace and the United defence is under siege. Breaking down both left and right, Liverpool are passing much more crisply than their scrappy first half performance as they switch the play back and forth across the pitch in search of that final pass but United’s defence is resolute.
Not until over the hour mark do we see United’s first real attack. There’s no goal but it signals a change in momentum as the Red Devils start to exert themselves in search of that precious first goal. Both sides know that one goal could be enough to win a match as tight as this.
With eighty minutes gone now it’s all been sound and fury so far with neither team having anything to show for all their hard work. Liverpool have used two substitutions but United none, which is odd when players of the calibre of Ryan Giggs and Park sitting on the bench.
Suddenly, with 86 minutes gone it’s Giggs on for team captain Roy Keane! Followed immediately by Fletcher replacing Rooney!! It’s rarely boring watching Manchester United but is it too late? The changes don’t look like match-winning solutions more like settling for the draw.
In the 93rd minute Sir Alex replaces Ronaldo with the South Korean Park, presumably to run down the clock a little, and one minute later it’s all over.
Manchester United have had the better of these fixtures in recent seasons, so let’s hope the draw signals Liverpool progress rather than a sign of a United decline; either way, with Chelsea having won again, their 6th straight win this season, it’s more lost ground for both United and Liverpool in the increasingly important early season going. The late breaking news that United captain Roy Keane has a broken foot and will be out injured for about 2 months is the awful postscript to this somewhat dismal affair.