If Sunday’s capitulation against Manchester City had been United’s lowest point for quite some time, more for the manner through which the defeat arrived than for the result itself, tonight was the perfect response as far as David Moyes was concerned.
Granted, United did not exactly play entertaining football and, at times, were pegged by Liverpool and perhaps a tad lucky to escape with a clean sheet but while Moyes’ could have rightly criticised his players’ performance on Sunday, the effort his players showed tonight can’t be faulted.
Nani and Shinji Kagawa replacing Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones were handed a starting berth in midfield – sic – Jonny Evans and Alexander Buttner were given their first start of the season, Rafael and Chris Smalling completed the back four, while Javier Hernandez was deployed alongside captain Wayne Rooney up-front.
You’ve read it right. Captain Wayne Rooney.
Having gone from villain to hero in the space of two months, Rooney was handed the ultimate honour of captaining the club and, truth be told, he looked in impressive form yet again, working his socks off for 90 minutes and creating United’s best chances.
After a bright start, United lost composure with neither Kagawa nor Nani doing anything to justify their selection, while Liverpool grew increasingly but lacked a cutting edge despite Luis Suarez’s presence up-front – no pun intended, seriously – and failed to create any clear cut chances themselves apart from a couple of set pieces.
Having capitulated either side of halftime against City, United were off to a flier in the second half as Hernandez got away from Liverpool’s back four to divert a corner past Mignolet less than a minute after the restart in what was, effectively, United’s first chance in 135 minutes of football.
The game suddenly bursted into life, with Jordan Henderson toe-punt skewing wide of David De Gea’s right post before United created a couple of chances of their own. Having swapped Nani and Kagawa, Moyes began to reap the benefits of his decision as the Japanese looked incredibly more dangerous when cutting in from the right or through the middle than when isolated on the left.
It’s impossible, when talking about United’s attacking threats, to underestimate the importance of Rafael’s work down the right flank. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are reliable replacements at right-back but neither offers the marauding forward runs the Brazilian enjoys so much and Smalling looked a lot better alongside the impressive Jonny Evans than he did on Sunday.
Halfway through the second half Kagawa motored past Henderson – arguably one of the worst player seen at Old Trafford this season – but his shot clipped the bar, before United were forced back as a Liverpool side at full strength threw the kitchen sink at them, as David De Gea saved superbly from a Victor Moses header, before Suarez’s free-kick clipped the top of the bar, thus denying the Uruguayan a dream return.
Michael Carrick and Adnan Januzaj replaced Hernandez and Nani, before Rooney tested Mignolet twice in sixty seconds and United survived Liverpool’s assaults as Old Trafford produced the best atmosphere of the season over the last 10 minutes, with chants of “David Moyes’ Red Army” loudly resounding around the ground.
On a night when the knives were out for David Moyes. His side didn’t impress but offered glimpses of progress and that, considering the circumstances and tonight’s opponent, is more than enough.
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Tags: Match Reports