BABEL FIRES WINNER AS REDS GO TOP
Rafa Benitez has recorded his first league win over Manchester United after Ryan Babel added to a Wes Brown OG to give Liverpool a 2-1 victory at Anfield.
The Reds had to recover from a nightmare start after Carlos Tevez gave the visitors a third minute lead.
A calamitous error from Edwin van der Sar led to Brown's OG midway inside the first half before substitute Babel became the first Red to score a league goal against United in more than four years to win the game.
A 90th minute sending off for Nemanja Vidic added late drama to a fantastic match which will long be remembered round these parts.
The result is even more satisfying given the fact Benitez went into the encounter without talisman Steven Gerrard and top goalscorer Fernando Torres - albeit both made the seven-man bench. For their part, United had to cope with the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, though Alex Ferguson could call upon £30million deadline day signing Dimitar Berbatov.
It was the Bulgarian who played the orchestrator as the game got off to a frenetic start.
Even before the goal, Berbatov had a shot blocked by the arms of Martin Skrtel, though thankfully Howard Webb adjudged it to be accidental.
United will say that justice was done just moments later when the new boy's low cross rolled agonisingly past the Reds backline towards Tevez, who made no mistake in finding the back of Pepe Reina's net.
Three minutes gone and our chances of recording a first league win over United since April 2004 were already severely dented.
The Liverpool response was almost immediate as Dirk Kuyt volleyed narrowly wide from 15 yards.
Minutes later Kuyt was again denied, this time by the flailing arms of the hapless van der Sar, who recovered well from some sloppy handling.
This was followed by some neat trickery from debutant Albert Riera, who appeared to be fouled after evading two defenders in the box. Again referee Webb kept his whistle in his pocket, making it 1-1 in the questionable penalty decision stakes.
If tempers were always under control, there remained a palpable bite to proceedings, illustrated with a petulant challenge from Wayne Rooney on 22 minutes after a fierce but perfectly time tackle from Javier Mascherano.
If this wasn't quite madness, what followed four minutes later certainly was as Xabi Alonso's 25-yard cross-cum-shot deflected off one United defender before a horrible spill from van der Sar sent the ball into the net off Brown's shin.
In what can only be described as an act of footballing romanticism, Anfield announcer George Sefton gave the goal to the lurking Riera, but the Spanish international will have to wait a little longer to record his first Liverpool goal.
A relative period of quiet followed, though a couple of excellent interventions from stand-in captain Jamie Carragher were required to thwart the ever-dangerous Berbatov before half-time.
It was Liverpool who created the better openings when the second period got underway, notably when Yossi Benayoun was fed through only to lose control as van der Sar closed in.
Seconds later Mascherano's right boot smashed the ball into the six-yard box, where the lively Robbie Keane waited on legs not quite long enough to get the required flick.
Skrtel was next in the act, playing a one-two with Kuyt before testing the goalkeeper from 20 yards.
If this made the Kop smile, then the entrance of Gerrard on 67 minutes made them positively purr.
That said, the skipper's appearance was almost immediately overshadowed by a looping shot from another substitute, Ryan Giggs, which forced a fingertip save from Reina.
Next to make way was Riera, who can be satisfied with a decent 70-minute debut which left the Anfield faithful thirsty for more.
But while he enjoyed an early shower, his replacement, Ryan Babel, wasted no time making his mark by becoming the first Liverpool player to score a league goal against United in almost 14 hours of football.
The 77th minute strike was a product of fantastic persistence from Mascherano down the right, allowing Kuyt to gain possession and roll the ball across the face of goal, where his countryman waited to tuck home with ease.
There was more late drama as the final whistle loomed when Nemanja Vidic went in elbow first on Xabi Alonso to receive a second yellow.
Kuyt could have put the icing on the cake in injury time but he was denied from close range by van der Sar.
Liverpool: Reina, Aurelio, Carragher (c), Skrtel, Arbeloa, Riera, Alonso, Mascherano, Benayoun, Keane, Kuyt. Subs - Babel, Cavalieri, Dossena, Gerrard, Hyypia, Ngog, Torres
Manchester United: Van der Sar, Evra, Ferdinand (c), Vidic, Brown, Rooney, Carrick, Scholes, , Berbatov, Tevez. Subs - Evans, Fletcher, Giggs, Hargreaves, Kuszczak, O'Shea,
Referee: Howard Webb
Liverpoolfc.tv Man-of-the-Match: Javier Mascherano
11:48 GMT : Match Starts
1 min : man utd get the game under way
1 min : wayne rooney initiates a move for berbatov which fizzles out.
1 min : shouts for a skrtel handball are waved away by the referee
3 mins : GOAL! Carlos Tevez:
3 mins : Tevez scores from a well-worked move involving Berbatov. The former West Ham striker was left unmarked by The Reds' defence
8 mins : keane feeds in kuyt on te right in a phase of positive play for the Reds which ends up as a throw-in
111 mins : Liverpool corner to be taken by aurelio
11 mins : A great ball in by aurelio feeds kuyt who comes agonisingly close at the far post only to be denied by van der sar
14 mins : Carragher fells Berbatov to give away a very questionable free-kick
14 mins : The free-kick leads to a utd corner
15 mins : Liverpool break with Mascherano leading the charge fizzles out
16 mins : Aurelio cross looking for Keane goes out for a Utd goal kick
18 mins : Clash of heads between Evra and Mashcerano leaves both players on the ground
18 mins : Both players are back on their feet
20 mins : A great run from Riera plays in Keane, who narrowly misses out in the challenge
22 mins : United head clear
22 mins : First Booking: Carlos Tevez: A free-kick in a promising position for Liverpool
26 mins : Keane holds up the ball brilliantly and is eventually fouled
26 mins : Own Goal! Wes Brown: Liverpool are level after a telling pass from Alonso leads to a mix-up in the United area, with Riera forcing Wes Brown to make a mistake and put the ball into his own net.
32 mins : Robbie Keane almost finds Dirk Kuyt with a searching cross, but United deal with it and the ball goes out for a throw
36 mins : Aurelio breaks through the centre to find Benayoun, who attempts another ball into the United area.
36 mins : the resulting throw sees the Liverpool move finish with the ball flashing past the United goal and out for another throw-in
38 mins : Riera finds Arbeloa who feeds in Benayoun. Liverpool are realy
38 mins : Liverpool are really piling on the pressure now
42 mins : Riera does a clever one-two with Aurelio which leads to a United goal kick
43 mins : A hopeful attempt at a penalty appeal is waved away by the referee
44 mins : An excellent piece of play from Riera finds Dirk Kuyt, who is eventually dispossesed.
45 mins : Two minutes added time will be played at the end of the first half
12:35 GMT : Half Time Reached
12:51 GMT : Second Half Begins
46 mins : The Reds kick off the second half with everything to play for as they go in search of their first League win over Alex Ferguson's team in over four years
46 mins : Substitution: Ryan Giggs for Michael Carrick: Carrick was forced off through injury after picking up a knock in a 50/50 challenge at the end of the first period
47 mins : Kuyt nearly sneaks in at the far post but the United defence scramble the ball out for a corner.
48 mins : A great cross from Aurelio is headed out by Vidic for a corner
49 mins : Aurelio finds Riera who puts in a cross in search of Benayoun. The Israeli international narrowly misses the header
53 mins : Benayoun intercepts and Keane puts in another cross for United to hoof out of danger
53 mins : Keane is really causing problems for the United defence and is roaming from either flank
54 mins : Kuyt breaks through the centre to fire in what turns out to be a weak shot
55 mins : Benayoun found himself in a great position only to be ushed out to result in a corner
56 mins : Mascherano puts in a cross-cum shot which flashes across van der Sar's goal
57 mins : Today's attendance is: 44,192
59 mins : Carragher carries the ball up through defence to put in an incisive ball to Keane. But the Irish marksman is deemed offside
61 mins : Now it's Skrtel's turn to bring the ball forward. He does a clever one-two with Kuyt before putting in a powerful shot, which van der Sar saves comfortably
66 mins : Substitution: Owen Hargreaves for Paul Scholes:
67 mins : Rafa has beckoned Gerrard over, the Kop sing his name
68 mins : Substitution: Steven Gerrard for Yossi Benayoun: Benayoun leaves the pitch to a round of applause, it looks like Liverpool will go for the jugular in the closing 20 minutes
71 mins : Substitution: Ryan Babel for Albert Riera: A promising start form the Liverpool debutant
72 mins : Kuyt looks to find Keane with a curling cross but the ball turns out to be too high for the former Tottenham Hotspur striker
73 mins : Gerrard tries to play in Babel, who mis-controls the ball and puts it out for a throw
78 mins : Substitution: Nani for Anderson : United make their last substitution as both sides look for all three points
77 mins : GOAL! Ryan Babel: Liverpool now lead agains the champions after Ryan Babel finishes a great move
81 mins : The Kop is in raptures after seeing the Reds go into the lead
81 mins : First Booking: Nani :
82 mins : Liverpool corner, with Gerrard to take
83 mins : United scramble the ball away after Gerrard puts the corner into the six-yard box
83 mins : Manchester United's once-vocal support is now particularly subdued
85 mins : Substitution: David Ngog for Robbie Keane:
85 mins : Substitution: David Ngog for Robbie Keane:
89 mins : Liverpool continue to hold firm agains the champions
90 mins : Alonso breaks away down the left wing and finds Kuyt, who sensibly keeps it in the corner
90 mins : There will be four minutes added time
91 mins : A great chance from Dirk Kuyt is saved by van der Sar
92 mins : van der Sar charges forward to support a United corner
13:40 GMT : End of 1st half of extra time
13:40 GMT : 90mins over -> Extra Time Pending
13:40 GMT : Match Over