It was billed as an epic encounter; Rafa under pressure after Liverpool’s worst run for 22 years and in desperate need of a win. United on the back of a midweek victory and looking to maintain top spot by overcoming their bitterest rivals in their own backyard. What transpired was a lacklustre affair devoid of intensity and quality. Neither team played with the precision or confidence of a side who believe they will be sitting top of the table next May.
Not surprisingly the fitness of Gerrard and Torres dominated the pre-match hype, as everyone knows the merseysiders are a different beast when the deadly duo are in the side. In the end one was enough to turn the match. As the contest looked certain to end a stalemate Torres, as he so often does, popped up with a moment of genius, latching onto Benayoun’s wonderful through ball and beating Ferdinand for pace and strength before pulling off a cracking finish.
United had no option but to chase the match and still managed to create nothing. When Carragher somehow escaped a blatant red card having prevented a guilt-edged chance for Michael Owen it was clear that lady luck had deserted United in Anfield. Insult was duly added to injury when Ngog slotted Liverpool’s second goal in injury time after Vidic had been sent off.
Ferguson needs to learn from this embarrassing display as Liverpool exposed some obvious flaws in the United team. Playing Scholes and Carrick in the centre of midfield simply doesn’t work. Both are holding midfielders and have an inclination to drop deep even when United push forward. On Sunday United constantly knocked long balls up to Berbatov and Rooney. The Bulgarian had the beating of the centre backs for the most part but once in possession he was stranded with only Rooney for support. Time after time the duo were starved of any supporting thrust coming from midfield. Giggs and Valencia did their best to help out on the flanks but without anyone offering themselves in midfield the visitors were repeatedly outnumbered and dispossessed.
The only move really open to Ferguson was to move Nani onto the left and play Giggs behind the front two. This is by no means a title-winning midfield. Nani is far from the finished article and only shows flashes of potential. Giggs is most effective on the left. Scholes, while a master on a good day, doesn’t have the consistency of years past. Carrick….is there really anything good we can say about Carrick? He passes well sometimes, only sometimes. He lacks any kind of passion or desire, he repeatedly fades into the background when backs are against the wall. In many ways he’s the opposite to the previous number 16 at Old Trafford.
So look to the bench, who do see? Park, Anderson, Fletcher, Gibson. There’s no shortage of effort or work ethic but is there any genuine class? Anderson has yet to fulfil the potential he showed in his first season in the Premiership. Park does the defensive work well but is limited when on the ball. Fletcher has really upped his game this season, picking up a few man of the match awards. The Scot has added assisting and scoring to his arsenal proving his more than just a destructive nuisance to opponents. World class? Im afraid not. Fletcher is merely the best of a bad bunch.
It is now painfully clear that Fergie needs an attacking midfielder. A Scholes of old, a Zidane, an Iniesta, a Schneider, this is the type of performer United crave. Even the return of Owen Hargreaves won’t added the necessary attacking flare needed. Unfortunately for Sir Alex there isn’t such a simple solution for the defensive problems. United still boast the same quartet that proved so formidable last season. Why then do the reds look so vulnerable at the back this season? Confidence! Ferdinand and Vidic are woefully lacking in confidence, so much so that Rio is under pressure to keep a place in the national side. Evra and O’ Shea have been impressive for most of the season, but the centre-backs are the heartbeat of any defense and at the moment United’s is too weak to last a long season. Fergie has to hope for some consistently solid outings to boost confidence or his two big centre-backs will be exposed again as they were on Sunday.