SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Robin Van Persie of Manchester United celebrates victory during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchestrer United at St Mary's Stadium on September 2, 2012 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Manchester United emerged victorious from Anfield, thanks to some self-sabotage from Liverpool and some controversial refereeing decisions.
Manchester United emerged victorious from Anfield for the first time in almost five years as they scraped past a poor Liverpool side after they had been reduced to ten men. Steven Gerrard surprisingly put Liverpool ahead after Shelvey had been sent off, but were eventually defeated by a superb goal from Rafael and a contentious penalty from Robin van Persie.
The home side started the first half brilliantly, overrunning and dominating the Red Devils in a manner that will be frustratingly familiar to United fans visiting Anfield. Despite that, however, Liverpool were unable to break the deadlock after Suarez proved wasteful, repeatedly dribbling into United defenders and wasting good attacking positions. The Uruguayan spurned several good chances, but United barely had sight of Pepe Reina's goal, Ryan Giggs going the closest as he curled an early shot over the bar.
On 40 minutes, Liverpool suffered a blow to their hopes of victory, with Jonjo Shelvey seeing red after he lunged in two-footed on Jonny Evans. Although referee Mark Halsey appeared to make the correct decision, it was not without controversy, as Evans had also gone in two-footed, albeit slightly more controlled, for the same ball.
United then enjoyed a brief spell around the Liverpool area, with Shinji Kagawa almost teeing up Robin van Persie, but Liverpool soon resumed their dominance even with a disadvantage in numbers. The Japanese playmaker in particular had been shut out of the game in the first half, and United lacked both creativity and control as they contrived to hand possession back to Liverpool at every available opportunity.
Half-time saw the introduction of Suso for Liverpool and Paul Scholes for Manchester United. Scholes had been badly needed for United, as they struggled to gain control of the midfield in the face of Liverpool's pressing, but the veteran midfielder had barely touched the ball before United found themselves 1-0 down, Steven Gerrard being given the freedom of the United penalty area to control a cross and fire a low show past Anders Lindegaard.
Despite that, Scholes introduction immediately proved it's value as United looked a different team from the first half, putting the Liverpool defence under some sustained pressure. They did not have to wait long for the equaliser, after some sustained build-up resulted in Rafael drifting inside and curling a superb shot around Pepe Reina and into the far post from a difficult angle, no less than the Brazilian deserved after a fine and disciplined performance.
The game then took on a bitter edge as referee Halsey came close to losing control, with numerous fouls and dives being committed by both sides, before eventually settling down into a more patient exercise. Eventually, it was United who took the advantage. Antonio Valencia, having an uncharacteristically quiet game, surged into the Liverpool area and appeared to be brought down by a clumsy challenge from Johnson, although whether or not it was a penalty is highly debatable.
Ferguson had recently apologised for not sorting out his penalty-takers after Nani missed a spot-kick against Galatasaray in midweek, but also said he was not bothering to do so for the Liverpool game because 'we never get one at Anfield.' Ferguson was proved wrong on that point, although Daniel Agger's injury meant that Van Persie had plenty of time to overthink his penalty. In the end, however, he duly stepped up to smash a fine drive past Reina, who did well to get a hand to it but could not keep it out. No panenka penalties this time, and United were 2-1 up.
The rest of the game, despite five minutes of injury-time being signalled and play continuing until well into the 97th minute, proved to be a calm affair as United shut Liverpool out. An injury to Martin Kelly in added time also meant that Liverpool were playing with a two-man disadvantage, and could not find a way to break United's resistance.
United will be delighted to pick up the three points from a ground where they have enjoyed such little success, but they will also know that they were fortunate to do so. The red card and the penalty will be much-discussed, and Brendan Rodgers will feel hard done-by, but he will also know that Liverpool were not good enough. Steven Gerrard may have put Liverpool ahead, but despite Liverpool's midfield dominance, did not have the influence on the game that he might've. The wastefulness of Suarez and the anonymity of Fabio Borini had also resulted in Liverpool wasting their spell of control over the game. With Liverpool now sitting in the relegation zone, there is much to ponder for the Northern Irishman, and it will not be too long before he comes under real pressure.