Well the title is misleading to begin with 🙂 However what unfolded on Saturday (15th October, 2011) was extremely surprising and unexpected (the final result belied the initial shock). Having cajoled my girl-friend to finish all her shopping by 4pm so that I could make it in time for the 5:15 pm start, I was shocked by my fellow Red Devil, Rajath‘s message that Rooney wasn’t starting! Rooney WASN’T starting and was on the substitute bench. My first reaction was, “Noooooooooooooooo. He was my captain for the week’s fantasy football team and I had made Suarez my vice-captain. Dammit! Now, I will definitely lose points and that moron leading the table will continue to lead”. Once the initial emotion subsided, other interesting revelations came to the fore. A quick scroll on BBC’s Saturday Football – Live showed that Sir Alex had decided to play what will now rank as the weakest United playing XI ever to have been inked on paper, I mean EVER! 5 defenders, 2 holding mid-fielders, 2 wingers and 1 young forward who even otherwise was sure to be crowded out or left to sulk in isolation. I am not questioning Sir Alex’s choices, I am just questioning the decision of playing Phil Jones in the mid-field. Phil Jones! Did Carrick, Anderson, Nani, Valencia act like Tevez and refuse to play ?? If one were to see Phil Jones’ performances thus far, the talent is undoubted. But to be up against Gerrard and Adam in the midfield is one thing and hounding them as a central defender (Jones’ preferred position) is another. Next up was the fact that along with Rooney, Nani, Chicharito and Valencia were also on the bench. Was this a joke? Was Sir Alex poking fun at Liverpool’s quality by playing what he wouldn’t play even against Hull City Reserves?
The match began lacking the initial gusto of a United-Liverpool tie, but Liverpool did keep a lot of possession without necessarily threatening the United bastion. United on the other hand were playing a passing game, one in which the mid-field would pass back to the defense as soon as they got the ball only to hear curses from their talented forward (Welbeck). The first half was a monotonous drone with very little happening in the final 3rd of the pitch. At the stroke of halftime however, Suarez had a great chance of opening Liverpool’s account, but he was slightly exhausted by all the “diving” that he had initially done and ended up scuffing his shot straight into the hands of De Gea, the one who was anointed as heir to Peter Schmeichel‘s legacy the moment he chose to be a goal-keeper.
The second half was much better. It seemed as if the United players had given the gaffer, the dreaded “hair-dryer” treatment and the result was there for everyone to see. Now the midfield wasn’t passing it back to the defense. Instead they were recklessly losing possession to the opposition which was a welcome change from the monotonous state of affairs from 1st half. Rio Ferdinand, United’s star defender for the day, meanwhile had decided to stick out a leg every time he saw a player run at him. One such tryst led to an unnecessary free-kick in a dangerous position when he fouled Adam. Sir Alex, visionary as he is, had already sensed the goal and had decided to bring on Rooney and Nani. Meanwhile after elaborate planning, Gerrard just decided to punt the ball at United’s well-formed wall without any conviction. Giggs probably had other ideas and wanted to make the match interesting. So he coolly broke away from the wall, allowing the ball to pass through into the open net. Gerrard celebrated in his customary style and Ferguson wasn’t very pleased. So he decided to punish Liverpool by bringing on Chicharito as well (Finally replacing Jones). Luis Enrique (half-brother of Enrique, the one with “Anna”) and the freshly brought-on Henderson meanwhile were causing United massive problems. Enrique with his trickery on the left side of the pitch and Henderson pumping forward from the central midfield at every occasion. However, United scored against the run of play when from one of the corners, Welbeck flicked it on for Chicharito to blast it into the net with his famed “head”, the scorer of many an important goals. This is where the game actually burst alive, with De Gea pulling off one stunning save after another. First from Kuyt, then from Henderson. The game suddenly became very open and with both teams having a go at each other the game was nicely poised for a frantic finish. Liverpool piled on the pressure creating 4 glorious chances, but United somehow held on for what was a satisfactory point for Sir Alex.
As a Man United faithful, a solitary point against the Scousers though good in the context of the league and the upcoming fixtures feels slightly more like a loss. Again, there is no point questioning Sir Alex’s tactics, but not playing Rooney as he was not in the “right frame of mind” after his devastating 3-match ban for the Euro group stages doesn’t really seem right. For a player, I think there is no better medium to come out and answer yourself and to your fans than on the playing field. But then, that is the reason Sir Alex attained knighthood although he is “just” a football coach and I can’t even manage to win as a virtual manager on FIFA Football Manager 2011 🙂