United 2 Liverpool 1: Mathieson's verdict
The nightmare is finally over for United and that record of 19 titles is within the grasp of a side who again have that hungry look about them. It has been 18 months of hurt and torment for the Reds who have suffered three Premier League defeats at the hands of their bitterest rivals. Of course, during that period United have soothed the pain considerably by inching level with Liverpool as England's top title winners with two crowns. Nevertheless, the losses against Rafa Benitez's side would have dramatically stood out in the record books when Reds fans scanned the last two title seasons. So this was still a major obstacle to overcome - even if the visitors were not the fearsome outfit who had inflicted that stunning 4-1 defeat on United 12 months ago. It all began predictably as the showdown between the matador and the bull - but ended with a little Korean, with a newly discovered taste for the big occasion, goring Liverpool. The matador, Fernando Torres, had the first say in the blood-letting with a thrust of the sword. The bull, Wayne Rooney, answered when he evaded the red rag and rammed a sword into the visitors' heart. But Ji-sung Park has finally discovered a goal touch that has largely eluded him in his Old Trafford career. He has scored at the Emirates against Arsenal, grabbed one against Milan at Old Trafford and has now added Liverpool's scalp to the impressive collection. Attentions It was an ominous start for the Reds with Liverpool making the demolition of Fergie's strongest defence look so simple. Gerrard powered at the heart of the rearguard and slipped the ball to Kuyt who'd peeled away to the right ahead of Evra. Meanwhile, Torres was lurking and easily seemed to slip the attentions of his nearest marker Gary Neville. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were worryingly nowhere near the Spaniard. It was no contest when Torres rose unchallenged and dispatched his header firmly well out of Edwin Van der Sar's reach. The Merseysiders were playing the ball around so assuredly at this early point that you wondered if they were preparing to dig in and frustrate United all afternoon. They may well have succeeded - had the response not been so swift. The power and directness of Antonio Valencia worried Mascherano so much that he got involved in an awkward attempt to halt the Ecuadorian and sent him sprawling eventually in the area. Carragher was so disgusted at his colleague's clumsy attempt when he felt he was moving across for a better rescue act that he pushed him away with contempt. You'd have lost your money if you'd backed Rooney to smack the spot-kick home but in his current form you don't give him a second bite of the cherry and he reacted superbly to Reina's excellent stop and rammed in the rebound. The episode sparked a furious touchline row between Ferguson and Benitez. The breakneck speed of the opening exchanges finally relented as the game flattened out into a war of attrition. Nothing Fergie or Benitez did at the interval managed to revive the fury at the start to the match and there was a desperate need for a goal to raise the temperature of an encounter that was heading towards being categorised as interesting rather than memorable. Thankfully, it was United who upped the tempo and they hit the front with a goal with the same simplicity as Liverpool's opener. Rooney spread the play out to Darren Fletcher and then powered on into the box. With Liverpool seemingly more frightened and alive to Rooney's dart into the danger area, Park was able to throw himself at Fletcher's cross and head past Reina. The simmering feuds going on all over the pitch that threatened constantly to blow up into a major spat. One of the minor ones that boiled over came when Fletcher and Dirk Kuyt got involved in a tangle. Anxious United had successfully got a hold on the game and Liverpool huffed and puffed in an attempt to force the Reds to relax that grip. All the champions had to do to end the torment of the last two seasons was keep their heads. Only once did it look like they were not going to survive. That anxious moment came just as the added minute board was hoisted aloft and Gerrard's first telling mark on the game since the goal saw him find Torres in United's area. The normally deadly hitman scooped a shot into the air and sub Benayoun weakly headed the ball into Van der Sar's arms. United fans had goaded their rivals with a `19 years and counting' banner in the East Stand. The arrival of Ryan Giggs as a sub rubbed the Scousers' noses in it even more. The Welshman will probably be an OAP before Liverpool match his personal Premier League title collection. As Liverpool's fans headed back along the M62 they must have had a deep concern that Giggs and United were on course for their 12th and their long and proud reign as the top title winners could soon be a thing of the past. They couldn't knock the champions out of their stride when inflicting that heavy loss last spring so imagine what this will have done for United in the run-in. What is your verdict? Have your say.
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