MANCHESTER: Before the game it was all about controversial Liverpool striker Luis Suarez; after the game it was all about Manchester United strikers Robin Van Persie and recalled Danny Welbeck.
United beat their old rivals 2-1, despite a late Liverpool flurry. Van Persie scored the first goal and made their second with a free kick before Daniel Sturridge pulled one back on his league debut for Liverpool.
Welbeck, who was voted man of the match for his hard work throughout the game, said: “We need to get three points in every single game. Robin is different class. He manages moment in a game which other players cannot do.”
Suarez could not. The Uruguayan has scored 15 goals season – inferior only to Van Persie’s 17 – and had been singled out before the game by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson for the manner in which he attracts controversy.
Whether that means biting an opponent in Holland, punching the ball off the goal-line in the World Cup, racist comments to United’s Patrice Evra or falling theatrically when fouled, Ferguson’s admiration and concern was clear.
On the day, however, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was mistaken in leaving Suarez to battle alone, and in vain, throughout the first half against the vastly experienced Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
United’s control of Suarez contributed significantly to their first-half control which was rewarded with a two-goal lead after 54 minutes.
The opening goal, after 19 minutes, was the product of the first significant opportunity of the game and followed a superbly clinical inter-passing move which confused the Liverpool defence. That was Van Persie’s 10th goals in 10 games in all competitions.
Rodgers changed personnel and tactics at half-time bringing on Sturridge to support Suarez.
Initially the change had no effect. Instead, United extended their lead when Van Persie’s curling free kick from the left was headed goalwards at the far post by Patrice Evra. The ball glanced off Nemanja Vidic on its way into the net.
In fact, TV replays proved that Vidic had been offside marginally but Liverpool had no complaint. They were to blame for poor defending.
That was after 54 minutes but Liverpool, two minutes later, had pulled one back. United lost possession in midfield, Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard drove in a low angled shot which diving keeper David De Gea pushed out only into the path of the onrushing Sturridge.
United might have regained their two-goal lead but Reina threw himself acrobatically to his left to turn a shot from Shinji Kagawa for a corner.
That moment gave Liverpool the belief to power forward in the closing stages but United, despite yet another injury to Vidic, held out.
Remarkably, there are now a massive 24 points between United and Liverpool; their rivalry may be traditional but it is irrelevant in terms of the title.
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