LIVERPOOL 1, MANCHESTER UNITED 1
Manchester United lost top spot in the Barclays Premier League to their neighbours after being held to a draw at Liverpool in what Sir Alex Ferguson described as the biggest club game in the world.
It was a bold claim from the United manager as the pyscholgical mind games had clearly begun in the build up to next Sunday’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford.
In his post-match interview, Ferguson also noted how United have already played all the top teams – Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – making no reference to City.
They were extraordinary comments by Ferguson as was his team selection for Anfield as big guns Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Nani and Anderson were all left on the bench. It was a cautious line up, one many viewed as being set up not to lose.
United made six changes from the side which kicked off against Norwich in their previous league matches a fortnight earlier. Defender Phil Jones was employed in a five-man midfield while Danny Welbeck was the lone front man in a 4-1-4-1 system with Darren Fletcher playing the anchor man role in front of the back four.
Liverpool had Steven Gerrard back in their starting line up for the first time since March when his last appearance was against United.
For the first 68 minutes the quality of the football was anything but what you would expect from the so-called biggest club game in the world as each team cancelled out the other.
In the opening half, Jones headed into the side netting while for Liverpool Luis Suarez was denied by a decent block by keeper David De Gea.
The start to the second half was equally subdued with the only incident of note a Liverpool penalty appeal after Dirk Kuyt’s header struck the arm of Jonny Evans.
Liverpool made the breakthrough in the 68th minute with what Ferguson described as “bad defensive play” as Gerrard scored the club’s 1,200th Premier League goal which was also his 50th league goal at Anfield.
Charlie Adam was tripped by Rio Ferdinand who, having already been booked, was lucky in many eyes not to be dismissed by referee Andre Mariner.
Gerrard exacted retribution, however, curling a free kick through a gaping hole in the defensive wall caused by Ryan Giggs inexplicably stepping out of the firing line.
United needed a more positive approach as Rooney and Nani were immediately introduced while Hernandez soon followed.
And it was the little Mexican who came to the rescue with an equaliser nine minutes from time as he darted in to meet Nani’s corner to score with a header from six yards.
De Gea had earlier saved well from Kuyt while late on Jordan Henderson’s header landed on the roof of the net as Liverpool looked the likelier to snatch all three points.