25/10/2009 14:21, Report by Nick Coppack
Liverpool 2 United 0
Sir Alex’s message prior to Sunday’s clash with Liverpool was simple: form counts for nothing in these matches. Unfortunately, he was right.
At Anfield, the team in the midst of their worst run of results in 22 years beat the side who hadn’t tasted defeat in 11 games. Goals from Fernando Torres and David Ngog – the second in the sixth minute of injury time as the Reds threw men forward in search of an equaliser – gave Liverpool all three points in a game United never looked like winning. To make matters worse, Nemanja Vidic was given his marching orders after picking up a second yellow card in the 89th minute. It’s the third time in a row he’s been sent off in this fixture.
In isolation, defeat isn’t disastrous: the Reds lose top spot but it’s only October and a trip to Stamford Bridge – an opportunity, in all probability, to wrestle back the lead – beckons in a fortnight. No, it’s more a matter of pride and a blow to the momentum Sir Alex’s men had built up over the last two months.
Heading into Sunday’s clash, the boss made four changes to the side that won in Moscow in midweek. John O’Shea and Patrice Evra slotted back into the defensive line and Ryan Giggs took up a position on the left wing. But the pre-match discussion on the terraces and in pubs up and down the country centred on Wayne Rooney’s return. Out of action since the international break with a calf injury, the boyhood Everton fan came through Saturday’s training session unscathed and took his place in Sir Alex’s starting XI.
Rooney looked sharp and had the ball in the net after just three minutes, but the England striker was flagged offside as he collected Berbatov’s pass. It was an early warning for the home side, though, who seemed to take heed: United’s next chance didn’t arrive until 21 minutes, when, after a flowing one-touch move, Rooney’s header drew only a routine save from Pepe Reina.
By then, Edwin van der