Dirk Kuyt Hat-Trick Dents Sir Alex Ferguson’s Title Hopes
|Liverpool's Maxi Rodriguez and Manchester United's Nani battle for the ball|
Liverpool delivered a huge blow to Manchester United’s title aspirations with a 3-1 victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s side at Anfield.
Dirk Kuyt scored a hat-trick to give Kenny
Dalglish's side a thoroughly deserved victory over their deadly rivals
who, in truth, never looked like threatening their hosts.
defeat leaves United three points clear of second placed Arsenal having
played a game more and Ferguson will certainly be disappointed that his
side were unable to capitalise on the Gunners' draw with Sunderland on
Saturday afternoon, as they delivered a performance hardly befitting of
their supposed superiority over their oldest foes.
half belonged to Dalglish's men and in particular Kuyt, securing a
brace within five minutes. In truth he was the beneficiary of the
sublime and the ridiculous. His first coming from a fantastic piece of
individual play from Luis Suarez, with the Uruguayan slaloming inside
the area to put the ball on the Dutchman's foot to break the deadlock.
The second was to come from a terrible defensive header from Nani, who
knocked the ball into the path of Kuyt to head home his second and put
Liverpool firmly in the driving seat.
The second half was equally disappointing
for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who were lacking in almost every
department. A few flickers of a comeback were soon extinguished as Kuyt
secured his hat-trick, latching on to a rebounded save from Van der Sar
who had looked to parry away a limp Luis Suarez free-kick. Javier
Hernandez provided late consolation for the visitors but it will have
offered cold comfort for United who have now suffered consecutive
Premier League defeats for the first time since March 2009.
match began amid a typically ferocious atmosphere and it was met with
an admirable vigour on the pitch, most notably from the hosts who had a
fine chance to secure a dream start in the opening two minutes, only
for Luis Suarez's touch to let him down as he entered the box latching
on to Raul Meireles' fine through ball. It was an early signal of
intent from the Uruguayan, who was matching up against an unfavoured
central defensive partnership of Wes Brown and Chris Smalling.
was an atmosphere intended to intimidate the league leaders and the
opening exchanges indeed suggested that Ferguson's side were rattled,
failing to sustain a period of possession in the opening ten minutes,
stunted by the pressure imposed upon them by the hosts' midfield.
opening dominance failed to yield a chance to trouble Edwin Van der Sar
but the hosts were comfortably the better side in the opening quarter
of an hour. However, Dimitar Berbatov delivered an effort befitting of
United's season and despite being second best, it was the visitors who
broke the deadlock. Collecting the ball just outside the Liverpool
area, the Bulgarian swiped a half volley with typical languidity only
to see it bounce off the outside of the post. Reina was certainly
beaten and it was a wake up call for the hosts.
The best effort
of the match was soon followed by the best chance as Raul Meireles
benefitted from a glorious cross-field ball from Suarez to knock into
an advancing Dirk Kuyt, only for the Dutchman to just miss out from
what was an admittedly heavy-footed ball from the former Porto man who
has impressed so often this season.
It had been a superb, if a
little ineffective opening quarter from Kenny Dalglish's side and the
clash was slowly showing a reversal in fortunes for both sides with
Fabio Aurelio forced off through injury to be replaced by Soritis
Kyrgiakos. For United, Dimitar Berbatov was proving the most prevalent
thorn in Liverpool's collective side. The Bulgarian, who has been
overlooked in favour of Javier Hernandez in recent weeks, was proving
himself a worthy outlet for Sir Alex Ferguson's team.
looking ever more likely that it would take a moment of true quality
for either side to break the deadlock and on the 33rd minute, it was
provided by Suarez. The Uruguayan, collecting the ball in the box,
somehow broke free from his markers, turning on a six pence and sliding
the ball through to a grateful Dirk Kuyt to give the
hosts a deserved lead from a yard out. It paid testament to Liverpool's
endeavour and Manchester United, who were vocal in their calls for
offside, had no cause for complaint.
A second for the hosts came
only five minutes later and it was a case of going from the sublime to
ridiculous. The move once again began with Luis Suarez, who, from the
right hand channel, delivered a harmless ball into the box only for
Nani, one of United's performers so far this season, to head the ball
back into the danger area and directly on to the head of Kuyt who
nodded home with consummate ease. The task was looking increasingly
perilous for Sir Alex Ferguson with half time approaching.
United didn't think that it could get any worse, injury was to be added
to insult on the stroke of half time as Nani, felled by an awful
challenge by Jamie Carragher, was taken off on a stretcher. The Reds
defender protested his innocence as he was shown a yellow card but in
truth, he was lucky not to have been dismissed.
As was Rafael
only a minute later as the Brazilian cut through his compatriot Lucas
with a rash lunge. He also received a yellow as the half ended amidst a
melee of nearly every player on the pitch. The scenes were indeed ugly
but they held the promise of an enthralling second period.
was clear that urgency was required for the visitors but the first
chance of the second half fell to Liverpool as Suarez, who had been
unplayable at times in the first , weaved his way through United's
defenders once again and nearly chipped Meireles in for a third. Sir
Alex Ferguson's side held on but they would be largely thankful for
some brave goalkeeping from Edwin Van der Sar.
Things certainly weren't clicking for the league leaders.
were certainly showing signs of improvement, most probably with the
hairdryer treatment of Ferguson still ringing in there ears as Rooney,
who has been a peripheral figure throughout, made space down the left
and lashed a superb ball into Ryan Giggs only for the Welshman to smash
the bouncing ball over the bar as the hour mark neared.
swagger of the hosts, so evident in the first 45 minutes, had retreated
somewhat and it was from this hesitancy that United so nearly clawed
one back, with Martin Skrtel nervously hoofing the ball out for a
corner. From that, the ball fell to Berbatov only a couple of yards out
but the Bulgarian was unable to breach the excellent Meireles who
chested the ball off the line from the striker's header.
For all of United's tentative improvements, a goal was not to come and it was Kuyt once
again to all but settle the tie, latching on to a Van der Sar save from
a poor Luis Suarez free-kick. It wasn't a hat-trick of great invention
but it's significance to the fans was evident as they piled down to the
front of the Kop to congratulate the Dutchman.
was nearing party territory at Anfield as the game entered its final 15
minutes and the noise became deafening on the introduction of record
£35 million signing Andy Carroll, as the former Newcastle man came on
to replace the superb Raul Meireles.
Ferguson made moves to find
a way back into the tie, with Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea entering
the fray but it was a case of too little too late and it was an
alarming indictment of the league leaders' resources that they failed
to offer any real threat from the bench.
It nearly got worse
still for United as Luis Suarez, whose performance certainly deserved a
goal, broke down the right-hand side at will but failed at the final
hurdle, slicing his effort high and wide into a jubilant Kop.
Consolation was to come for United as Hernandez,
who had been his usual energetic self since replacing Nani latched on
to a late header. There was no time for celebration however, the game,
was very much up for the visitors.
The voracity with which
You'll Never Walk Alone was belted out paid testament to a what was a
sublime Liverpool performance. United may still be top dogs in the
Premier League on paper but after two consecutive defeats, Sir Alex
Ferguson's charges are look ever more the wounded animal as the title
race reaches it's most pivotal point.
|Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt goes flying in front of Manchester United's Rafael Da Silva and Chris Smalling|
|Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt scores their first goal after Luis Suarez sets him up|
|Dirk Kuyt scores Liverpool's second goal|
|Javier Hernandez celebrates scoring|