Liverpool 2 Manchester Utd 0: Fernando Torres and David Ngog get Reds back on track as Nemanja Vidic is sent off
By Matt Lawton Last updated at 12:36 PM on 26th October 2009
A victory that ended a crisis did not quite settle the debate. It crushed the idea that Rafa Benitez had lost this Liverpool dressing room because nothing, as a chastened Manchester United discovered to their cost, could be further from the truth.
Liverpool fought for their manager here at Anfield yesterday and secured the result they so richly deserved.
Doing what he does best: Torres was tremendous for the home side's opener
But if their midweek encounter with Lyon exposed an over-reliance on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, this did not exactly prove that the Merseysiders can compete with the very best in their absence.
Not until the team were on the bus en route to the stadium did Benitez decide to risk Torres for this match, and how relieved he must be that he made that call. No other striker in Liverpool's squad would have scored the 64th-minute goal that ignited this contest.
No other striker would have possessed the speed, strength, composure and skill first to hold off the challenge of Rio Ferdinand and then to unleash the shot that flew beyond the reach of Edwin van der Sar and into the roof of the United net.
It was a wonderful example of why Torres is among the finest forwards in the world, and all the more remarkable for the fact that the Spaniard was not even fit. Not only had he hardly trained but he needed a painkilling injection just to get on the field.
His goal amounted to an adrenaline shot for Liverpool; a goal that revitalised a team who appeared to be on their knees after four straight defeats, and a goal that shifted the focus away from Anfield and back to Old Trafford.
Sweet taste: Torres enjoyed scoring against United
It is no longer the durability of Jamie Carragher that is a concern but that of Ferdinand; no longer how Liverpool will respond to a morale-sapping defeat but how United will.
Sir Alex Ferguson was surprisingly magnanimous in defeat. He took a swipe at the referee, suggesting Andre Marriner cracked under the pressure of an Anfield crowd who, predictably, gave Michael Owen and Gary Neville a rather hostile reception.
LIVERPOOL.............. MANCHESTER UTD
5...............Shots on target............. 3
6...............Shots off target............. 2
5.............Blocked shots ..................3
5 ................. Corners ........................1
20 ..................Fouls ........................13
1...................Offsides ....................... 3
363 ..........Total passes ................484
70%......Passing success ...........75%
31 .................Tackles ..................... 25
71% ......Tackles success ........... 88%
43% .........Possession................ 57%
51% ............Territory .................49%
But United's manager recognised how inferior his side were to Liverpool on this occasion and he accepted how important it is that the champions now respond accordingly. Their actions in a frantic final few minutes highlighted how much a third consecutive defeat to Liverpool hurt United.
There was the sight of substitute Neville engaging in a heated exchange of views with home supporters and stewards, having already been ordered to return to his seat by assistant manager Mike Phelan after clashing with the fourth official.
And there was the sight of Van der Sar tearing into his team-mates after a soft second Liverpool goal, scored in the dying seconds by David Ngog. Van der Sar, it seemed, was rather upset with the way possession had been conceded, Nani losing out in a 50-50 challenge with the courageous Carragher. That two players were sent off in the final few minutes almost went unnoticed.
Plugging away: Berbatov kept trying to find a way past the Liverpool defence
Nemanja Vidic might want to ask himself why he has now seen red in his last three meetings with Liverpool and Javier Mascherano is unlikely to be too popular after such a senseless dismissal, but the incidents got lost amid the drama and chaos of a match on which, for one side anyway, so much was at stake.
It was because the stakes were that much higher for Liverpool that they won this game. Benitez spoke afterwards of their passion and character and it was evident in the form of the individuals, as well as the team.
Yossi Benayoun was immense for such a slightly built winger, not only providing the quite brilliant ball for the Torres goal but a threat on the right side that underlined the folly of hooking him against Lyon.
From others, too, came some impressively committed displays. Dirk Kuyt was terrific, so was Glen Johnson, and until Mascherano went flying in, studs up, on Van der Sar he had enjoyed one of his best games for Liverpool.
In United, however, there were no such examples, and if they still stand alongside Chelsea as one of the favourites for this season's title race this serves only to illustrate just how open a championship it could be this season.
Clincher: Ngog slots home Liverpool's second
Like Liverpool in the absence of Xabi Alonso and Arsenal in the absence of Emmanuel Adebayor, United just aren't the same team without Cristiano Ronaldo.
The football here was fast and furious but it lacked some of the finesse of previous meetings. Liverpool enjoyed the bulk of the possession but until Torres struck they were like the old Arsenal at their indecisive worst.
Kuyt could have scored but opted instead to deliver one pass too many, as did Torres. It was only when Torres knew it was all simply down to him that he did then score. It was a super ball from Benayoun, one that cut between Patrice Evra and Vidic, leaving Ferdinand as the last man between Torres and Van der Sar.
Not again: Vidic received his marching orders for bringing down Kuyt
Not for the first time this season, Ferdinand was seen to be lacking acceleration and power, enabling Liverpool's striker to score his 34th goal in 35 League appearances at Anfield.
A second goal did then follow from Ngog, but not befo r e Carragher was booked for a challenge on Owen that, if it was a foul, probably should have resulted in a red card for Liverpool's vicecaptain. Ferguson certainly thought so.
Ferguson's anger was compounded by the sight of Vidic then walking for an almost identical 'last man' challenge on Kuyt, albeit after receiving his second yellow card.
Even Ferguson, though, did not dare argue that the result would have been any different.
Yesterday it was Liverpool who again looked united, and from the dressing room to the boardroom judging by the sight of the club's American owners sitting together in the stand.
LIVERPOOL (4-1-3-2): Reina 7; Johnson 7, Carragher 8,Agger 7, Insua 6; Mascherano 6; Benayoun 9 (Skrtel 90min), Lucas 7, Aurelio 6; Kuyt 8, Torres 8 (Ngog 81). Booked:Mascherano, Carragher. Sent off: Mascherano.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): Van der Sar 6; O'Shea 6, Ferdinand 6, Vidic 6, Evra 6; Valencia 6, Scholes 6 (Nani 74, 5), Carrick 6, Giggs 6; Berbatov 5 (Owen 74, 6), Rooney 6. Booked: Evra, Berbatov, Vidic. Sent off: Vidic. Man of the match: Yossi Benayoun Referee: Andre Marriner
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