Lack of ambition sealed Liverpool's and Rodgers's fate
Perhaps Brendan Rodgers should have been more audacious from the start. There’s no exact science, nobody could say for absolute certain the outcome would have been different, but then you think back to how timid Liverpool were in the first half and it’s tempting to wonder what might have happened if they had shown even a touch more ambition.
It’s true, as Rodgers said, they can be encouraged by those parts of the game when Manchester United suddenly looked a little vulnerable and the crowd was starting to get restless. But sporadic glimpses are not enough.
The gap between these two great old rivals can be described more accurately as a gulf, coming in at 24 points, and it was a dishevelled attempt from Liverpool for the most part to find out whether United’s defending might be as generous as everyone had been saying.
“We’re not 24 points behind in terms of quality,” Rodgers said. Yet Old Trafford gets a lot of managers passing through who talk enthusiastically about brief parts of matches and promise their team will learn from it, get stronger and that it will be different in the future. It rarely is.
The bottom line is the team from Anfield were two goals down before they got their act together to offer the semblance of a threat.
Luis Suarez wriggled and hassled but was isolated too often. Raheem Sterling and Stewart Downing should have been supporting him but rarely left the game’s edges. Daniel Sturridge’s introduction at half-time offered more impetus and, in hindsight, Rodgers might regret not putting him in from the beginning.
Sir Alex Ferguson said afterwards that United had played as well in the first hour as any other time he could remember this season. It helps that they have a player, Robin van Persie, who can score goals from any angle, or any distance. Daniel Welbeck was an elusive, coltish opponent, sometimes clumsy on the ball and erratic with his finishing but constantly on the move, and deceptively strong. Rafael Da Silva has morphed from an error-prone kid into a man. Patrice Evra had his best game of the season.
Liverpool were obliging opponents. They managed only one attempt at goal in the first half and it wasn’t even on target. Instead, the moment that really stood out came seven minutes before the break when Suarez had the ball at his feet and four United players around him. Not one other Liverpool player was in the penalty area or even particularly close. .
Rodgers has described Joe Allen as “the Welsh Xavi” and it’s clearly the case that he is an accomplished keeper of the ball. Not here, though. Allen picked a bad day to have, quite possibly, his least distinguished game for the club.
Michael Carrick, meanwhile, played with the kind of refinement that must have reminded the watching Roy Hodgson that surely he should have tried to get him back into the England team before, rather than after, Euro 2012.
Ferguson spent the final exchanges in classic pose: on the touchline, chomping on his gum, looking at his stopwatch. Liverpool’s flickers of recovery had left him craving the final whistle when, in reality, it should have been a lot more straightforward.
– Guardian Service