THE UNSTOPPABLY ABJECT FORCE VERSUS THE IMMOVEABLE SPANISH OBJECT
Good evening. Yes it is a good evening. Yes it is.
I love football sometimes. Six in a row and we’re flying. Liverpool may have been utterly ridiculous at times, and we were far from perfect, but this was such a sweet win. It had everything: bone-headed defending from Liverpool (OK, and us), awful refereeing, histrionic sideshows from Balotelli, unbelievable saves from De Gea and another goal from van Persie. LVG must have zipped up his filofax with some real volume after that one.
I say again that Liverpool were bad, but they are still technically A Big Team that’s under the wheels of our juggernaut and that’s huge for us. Old Trafford is now sounding like Old Trafford used to sound – loud, confident, arrogant – and you can tell the players are riding a wave of good feeling about themselves. Even Ashley Young and Valencia look like they’re enjoying it, though that probably doesn’t mean we’ll get to see what happens when the latter smiles.
On the atmosphere van Persie said after the game: “The fans were absolutely brilliant today from start to finish. Again they were the 12th man and we needed that at times. But I think overall again, a very good game with [an] outstanding David [de Gea]… again. He was absolutely brilliant, as he always is. My man.” *Cue manly shoulder grasp*.
And brilliant he was. De Gea appears now to be some kind of mutant with reactions faster than any of us can think. Liverpool may have generally been pretty shocking, but his reaction save against Balotelli came at an absolutely crucial time at 2-0 up with 25 minutes. Balotelli’s reaction was priceless, a despairing ‘what the f**k’, and five minutes later, the Liverpool defence were doing their Laurel and Hardy routine and we were three-nil up.
The second half was basically Balotelli vs De Gea which was, as Gary Neville said at the time, “a combination of poor finishing and great goalkeeping”. Compared to the hapless Brad Jones at the other end, who for two of our goals insisted on diving the wrong way before the shots were taken, De Gea was flawless.
I wouldn’t say we were especially poor, but this game was 50% Liverpool being awful, 30% De Gea being brilliant again and 20% us. Maximum. Everything about the defending for the first goal was comical. Valencia, who is so much better when he has the balls to take players on, beat three players with one nutmeg. Coutinho couldn’t be arsed to track Rooney, and Brad Jones, in one ridiculous dive, explained why Mignolet has been in goal for so long.
We didn’t create enormous amounts of chances here, but we were clinical. At half time Ed Chamberlin threw out the stat that in two games we’d had 5 shots and scored 4 goals. Otherwise, there were some serious Dog and Duck vs Red Lion moments, the most cringeworthy being the appalling arse-up that was Evans’s backpass to De Gea that Sterling half-heartedly toe-poked straight at him. Balotelli’s reaction was beyond a tantrum.
To be fair to Liverpool they started the game in a much brighter fashion than us. We kept pulling a Southampton and losing the ball under pressure, sometimes after making bonkers passes back to De Gea. Evans nearly played a killer through ball to Sterling at one point, and we were only saved by De Gea’s spidey senses which must be constantly tingling with those.
Rodgers had obviously watched the Southampton game and instructed Liverpool to press high and it worked for a while. But it really only took the goal for the pressure to ease off from Sterling, Lallana and Coutinho, so shot of confidence they all are. Their heads seemed to drop early on and it allowed us to settle.
It’s a good thing we did, because by 35 minutes Fellaini, Jones and Evans had all been booked and all three like a tackle to say the least. Shortly afterwards we were 2-0 up; Mata was easily 2-3 yards offside when he nodded it in, though evidently the linesman hadn’t noticed that van Persie had flicked on Ashley Young’s cross. There were only two half-hearted appeals from Skrtel and Jones, so I guess they barely noticed either. It was a strange one though, as the flick off the head looked fairly obvious to me, but I thought Martin Atkinson was on our case all game, so you won’t find me coming over all Danny Magnanimous over it.
Atkinson, by the way, was awful. To me he looks like a bored, aloof schoolteacher who’s been roped into reffing the boys’ football and just wants to get back inside where it’s nice and warm. I’m not sure any of our first half bookings weren’t deserved, but not to book Balotelli for pulling back van Persie was an absolute joke. Then he did book him later, for exactly the same offence. The clown.
As for our own shortcomings, even the first goal directly followed a phase of play where we nearly shot ourselves right in the foot. A free kick in their half was basically knocked straight back to our defence for no reason whatsoever, we gave it away and De Gea had to save us from Sterling. We scored straight after but van Gaal was not a happy bunny and someone’s going to get a hairdryer on Monday:
“I am very satisfied with the result but still I think we can improve,” the manager said afterwards. “We gave a lot of unnecessary balls away and because of that Liverpool also had chances to score a goal. We had a lot of space in the second half and we could have played the ball very easily but nevertheless we gave the ball away and that is not good. I shall ask the players tomorrow [Monday] why.”
It was straight after De Gea’s save, though, that we cut through Liverpool fo the first goal. Valencia’s nutmeg was embarrassing for Joe Allen and Brad Jones decided the best way to stake a claim for the Liverpool number 1 spot was to dive to the right before Rooney had even shot.
To be fair to Sterling he was threat in first half, constantly getting in behind Phil Jones who having been out for so long was obviously struggling a bit for pace. Rojo may have been injured but at this point it’s pretty much a toss up between who I trust more: a half fit Jones or a fully fit Rojo.
And that’s just about that. Any memories of the horror show that was this fixture under Moyes last season has gone. It’s a shame City didn’t get turned over by Leicester and we haven’t made a gain on them, but that would have been a lot to ask and for now, we’re into steamroller mode with the Aston Villa doormat laid out for us next week. Roll on!
Til next time, probably Tuesday morning. Sleep well, imagining yourself nestled under David De Gea’s bristly chin.