Premier League – Four-goal Liverpool stun United
Liverpool capped a fantastic week by coming from behind to beat 10-man Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford to rekindle their Premier League title challenge.
Following a thrilling 4-0 midweek win over Real Madrid in the Champions League, Liverpool cut the gap on leaders United to four points thanks to goals by Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena.
United, who had Nemanja Vidic dismissed in the second half, took the lead through Cristiano Ronaldo only for Liverpool to fight back and give their title hopes receive a huge shot in the arm, even though United still have a game in hand on their rivals from Merseyside.
Ronaldo’s opener came from a well-taken spot kick on 22 minutes after Pepe Reina had brought down Park Ji-Sung with a reckless challenge in the Liverpool penalty area.
But United’s lead lasted just six minutes as the visitors launched a thrilling comeback, sparked by two uncharacteristic errors from a defensive unit that has been lauded for much of the season.
First, the usually unflappable Vidic opted to allow a long Martin Skrtel clearance to bounce, allowing the snappy Torres to apply pressure on him. The Serb duly cracked as he was outmuscled by the Liverpool striker, who ran in on goal and beat Edwin van der Sar with a typically cool finish.
And then just before half-time, Patrice Evra – much like Reina before him – made a terrible error of judgement with a trip on Gerrard as the Liverpool skipper burst into the United box.
As with the earlier penalty, referee Alan Wiley had no choice but to point to the spot, from where Gerrard kept his nerve to fire past Van der Sar and put Liverpool into a half-time lead.
United started the second half with real intent, but another awkward moment from Vidic in the 76th minute when the Serb failed to control the ball on his thigh allowed Gerrard to rob him and burst forward.
Vidic completed a miserable personal afternoon by hauling down Gerrard and promptly receiving a red card – his second against Liverpool this season, having already been dismissed at Anfield in September. To make matters worse for United, Aurelio stepped up to fire the resulting free-kick into the top right hand corner to put Liverpool 3-1 up.
Substitute Andrea Dossena completed the rout in stoppage time with a fine chip over Van der Sar after the United back line, Rio Ferdinand more specifically, once again failed to deal with a long ball forward.
The result was all the more impressive considering Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez had to cope with an enforced late change to his plans after Alvaro Arbeloa injured his calf in the pre-match warm-up.
The unexpected blow forced Jamie Carragher into occupying the right-back position, a post the centre-back is not entirely comfortable in, with Sami Hyypia starting in the middle.
But Liverpool had Carragher to thank after just three minutes, the defender finding himself in a more central position to make a crucial block on Park’s shot from that seemed destined to cause Reina problems.
Reina proved to be a central character during the opening period, and not just for his error of judgement for the penalty. The Spaniard looked shaky on crosses and his spill from Ronaldo’s 34th minute free-kick – with the score level at 1-1 – nearly led to a second for United – only his quick reaction prevented Carlos Tevez pouncing from close range.
Michael Carrick, off-form by his high standards this season, then fashioned a chance for United to re-take the lead on 42 minutes with a neat turn but his shot flew just over the bar.
United, roared on by a vocal crowd, started the second period strongly and of the two sides, it was the hosts who looked the more likely after the break to grab the next goal.
Ronaldo struck a post with a mis-hit cross soon after the restart before Wayne Rooney and then Tevez – preferred to Dimitar Berbatov in Alex Ferguson’s starting line-up – were given shooting opportunities.
Rooney brought Reina into action, but Tevez failed to work the Liverpool keeper, screwing his effort wide of the upright after having turned on the edge of the box.
But the dismissal of Vidic – and Aurelio’s stunning strike from the resulting free-kick – effectively put paid to United’s hopes of getting back into the game as Liverpool began to enjoy themselves with the final whistle approaching.
Even before Dossena swooped at the death, Liverpool would have grabbed another had Gerrard not blazed over from Ryan Babel’s cute back heel.
No matter; Liverpool did go on to get a fourth, sealing a famous win over their bitter rivals as Benitez recorded a 100th Premier League victory.