Another three points to Manchester United, thanks to poor – and many would say, biased – decision making from the match referee Mark Halsey. After this game, the flood of posts on social networking sites claiming how referees ‘play’ for Manchester United only seem fair. In a match where Manchester United never did enough to gain a foothold in the match, they never deserved anything other than a loss. But, some skewed judgement by the referee and Fergie’s team would be taking their first three points from Anfield in six meetings. But, the question remains why it had to come down to refereeing decisions. The symptoms seem too familiar to the ones we had seen with the team prior to the 1-6 drubbing United received at the hand of Manchester City on their own home turf. It seems that United haven’t learnt from the last season.
In the 2011-12 season, prior to the home embarrassment at the hands of Manchester City, United started the season in flying colours. With home wins against the Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal, United sure felt that the season was theirs to lose. But ever since the Chelsea game the wheels were come off the United midfield. And at Anfield last season they put up a real patchy show to get a draw. The midfield show was falling apart for United. In the Old Trafford edition of the Manchester Derby, they were poorly exposed! In defense and midfield United were exposed by City, who netted an amazing six goals. With Nemanja Vidic injured by the time, United’s defense somehow coped, but there midfield was so poor that Fergie had to call upon the services of the retired legend Paul Scholes. The Carrick and Scholes partnership saw United come within inches of the Premier League title.
Every great team requires a midfield engine, the one to pull the strings. Take Xavi for Barcelona, Xabi Alonso for Real Madrid, Bastian Schweinsteiger for Bayern Munich. United missed someone like them. United’s play always depended on the midfield engine called Paul Scholes and there was just no replacement for him. Michael Carrick, good in his limited role, can never become the engine himself. That is why some player like Wesley Sneijder would have been so important for United. But United lacked the money to acquire his services. In the end the retired legend took up his mantle again. Despite all his talents Tom Cleverley is not a Paul Scholes replacement. Anderson is an extra at United who is injured half the time. Thus United lacks a real power engine in absence of Scholes.
Coming back to Anfield, United started the game with Scholes on bench, and Giggs in central midfield. Though a winger, Giggs did feature in the past in the center of the park. But of late, his form has taken a downward plunge, as he continues to feature lesser in the team. United’s midfield again looked terrible, with failed passes losing possession. Nani, was at his usual wastefulness, giving away the ball on most occasions. Valencia had a quiet game, with Johnson doing enough to prevent him from getting any space to attack. The defensive positioning of the players was poor leaving gaping holes of space for Liverpool to attack. Evra seemed to be switching on and off. Most of United’s play was patchy and seemed absent in the first half. Even with Liverpool down to 10 men following a debatable red card from the referee and Scholes replacing Nani, United failed to impose themselves on the game. It even seemed that it was United who lacked in numbers, such was the imposing nature of Liverpool’s play.
Ryan Giggs was at fault with the back line for the Gerrard opener in the second half, as the scorer was left unmarked and with acres of space to target the goal. United’s defensive shape was really really poor throughout the game, giving Liverpool space to attack. United players also failed to win aerial battles. Failing to retain possession even with one man advantage reflects on the poor shape of the United midfield. With Valencia kept quiet, one major faucet of United’s attack was closed off by Liverpool. Rafael seem like the only United player with the intent to attack and create something. His efforts bore fruits when he superbly finished the United equalizer within five minutes of going a goal behind.
A defensive mess by Daniel Agger meant a soft penalty was conceded by Liverpool. United have missed three penalties already this season. But Robin van Persie broke the penalty jinx by scoring his 5th this season. Another debatable decision and a powerful penalty gave Manchester United a first victory at Anfiled since 2007. But the symptoms of their disease was all too clear in another horrible United display. Except for the Wigan game this symptom of crisis seemed ever-present in United’s play this season. All this is a culmination of an unstable backline, unsure number 1 goalkeeper, lack of a midfield boss, Carrick’s below-par form, Nani’s demise as a winger and Valencia’s sub-par crosses at times. This is accentuated by the absence of one Wayne Rooney. He is still the United talisman. They still need him to inspire them out of holes, something that Van Persie, for all is quality, is not capable of.
If United get mauled at the hands of more unforgiving opponents this season, it should not be a reason for surprise. An immediate return of Ashley Young with Rooney might help paper the problems, but United are no where near the quality that is expected of them. Fergie should realize that he still needs to sign an experienced central midfielder who can take over the reins from Paul Scholes.
While Gary Neville might still debate on Sky Sports that the occasion got to the United players, while saying how difficult playing at Anfield is, it cannot hide the fact that these problems are ever present this season. Manchester United’s success over the years have been due to their ability to introspect and raise their game and to correct the errors. The United manager needs to do some serious work with his squad to keep them in defensive and attacking shape. Poor performances and unconvincing wins will not last the entire season. They would rue the day they come up against a side who would exploit these lapses to the fullest. Manchester United needs to set their game in order if they are to escape embarrassment this season.