Championship winning teams build their destinies onto world class players, teamwork ethic and the virtue of weather through a storm and come out unscathed, scarred and bruised perhaps but, ultimately, winning. Manchester United definitely possess all of these requirements and showed it once more today.
It would be a very premature exercise to compare Robin Van Persie to Eric Cantona, but the Dutchman’s second goal in as many games against Liverpool will only increase his aura that many compare to the one the talismanic Frenchman held in his playing days.
A marked man before kick-off, it took the Dutchman barely 20 minutes to mark his second game against the arch-enemies from down the East Lancs Road in fashion, converting Patrice Evra’s cross with a superb left-foot finish, having left Daniel Agger in no man’s land with some brilliant movement. It was the sort of goal young kids should watch over and over again, for it came after some excellent sharp passing between Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa.
The trio, together with Van Persie, Ashley Young and the outstanding Michael Carrick were charged with providing grit, guile and craft in the final two thirds of the pitch, while Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic started together for the first time since September, with Patrice Evra and Rafael patrolling the flanks ahead of David De Gea, the Spaniard making his 60th appearance for United in all competitions.
United started the game on the front foot, as Liverpool’s five men midfield meant Luis Suarez was left isolated up-front, allowing them to dictate the tempo with Carrick and Cleverley combining effectively and Kagawa and Welbeck floating off Van Persie as United tried to open Liverpool’s defence up.
Following his first goal, Van Persie could have doubled his tally six minutes later. Young spotted the Dutchman’s run and fed him with an excellent ball through, whose trajectory was upset at the very last moment by a wobbly bounce meaning that even Van Persie’s magic wand of a left foot could only sky the ball over the bar.
United came again close to double their advantage before halftime. With 40 minutes gone, Agger headed Young’s cross towards Tom Cleverley, whose sweet strike was inches away from Reina’s far post. Five minutes later, Carrick picked out Rafael with a superb lob bass and, having beaten Glen Johnson to the ball, the Brazilian full-back managed to toe poke the ball towards Van Persie, whose back heel flick was cleared off the line by Skrtel before Kagawa failed to apply the finishing touch.
For all Van Persie’s brilliance, it would be terribly short-sighted to describe United as a one-man team for in Carrick and Rafael they have arguably the best right-back and one the best defensive midfielders in the league. That they’re both underrated even by some United fans, goes some distance to tell the story of how much people know about football these days.
United reemerged after the break with Valencia replacing the injured Ashley Young, while Daniel Sturridge made his league debut for the club he considers to be the biggest in the country.
18 months on from the racism row that engulfed most of last season, Patrice Evra got the sweetest of revenges as he headed home Robin Van Persie’s free-kick in front of the Stretford End, albeit via a deflection off Nemanja Vidic. At 2-0 most would have considered the game to be dead and buried but, three minutes later, Daniel Sturridge immediately reduced the deficit after poking home from close range as Gerrard’s effort was parried by De Gea.
The former Chelsea striker, obviously keen to endorse himself to the Liverpool fans, celebrated with the five finger salute. Considering he hasn’t had anything to do in any of Liverpool’s five European Cups, his actions just proved how far the – once – mighty have fallen. From title challengers to the likes of Bolton and Stoke, teams that treat a trip to Old Trafford like a cup final.
The goal put a spring in the visitors’ step as they pushed on to for an equaliser, heaping pressure on United. Kagawa forced a great save from Reina midway through the second half, but that was as close as United would get to a third goal as they reverted to a more defensive approach with Jones and Smalling replacing Kagawa and Vidic.
Sturridge had Liverpool’s best chance with five minutes to go, but he skied his effort hopelessly and United held on to the secure their first league double against their arch enemies since the 2007-08 season.