Sturridge gives Liverpool bragging rights at Anfield
Striker’s rich vein of form continues as champions United are beaten
Liverpool 1 Manchester United 0: Before kick-off, Anfield rose to acclaim Bill Shankly on the eve of what would have been his 100th birthday. Afterwards, Liverpool honoured his maxim of “If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing”, with a tense, feisty and absorbing victory over Manchester United. And first always feels better in these parts when it comes at the expense of United.
David Moyes’s search for an Anfield win continues. It is now 13 fruitless attempts for the United and former Everton manager and this time the excuse of working with fewer resources than Liverpool cuts no ice. The Premier League champions controlled large swathes of the game but were careless and unimaginative in the final third, with Robin van Persie enduring a trying afternoon.
For Liverpool, however, it is four wins from four in all competitions and maintaining a 100 per cent start to the campaign in these circumstances could reverberate for some time.
Brendan Rodgers’s team toiled against the leading lights of the Premier League last season but possessed the game’s outstanding, clinical forward in Daniel Sturridge and displayed a defensive resilience that many doubted was within them. With Thiago Ilori, Mamadou Sakho and Victor Moses all present ahead of their proposed moves from Sporting Lisbon, Paris Saint Germain and Chelsea respectively, momentum appears set to continue.
United were disrupted by injury, Liverpool’s relentless industry and their own lack of composure. Wayne Rooney was absent and will be out “for a few weeks” with a head injury suffered in a training ground collision with Phil Jones, according to Moyes, meaning England will be without the striker for the impending World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine. The observing Hodgson – who also saw Glen Johnson limp off – at least found solace in the stunning early-season form of Sturridge.
The game opened at a breathless pace and remained at a high intensity with challenges and temperatures to match. Patrice Evra and Ashley Young immediately took the game to Liverpool, and remained a potent outlet for United without receiving enough supply. But it was the home side who dealt the telling early blow with a goal that epitomised their work-rate and intelligence.
Jordan Henderson pressed Young into submission near the United penalty area. The ball broke for Sturridge and though Rio Ferdinand read the striker’s shot to deflect wide, he was not so alert at the resulting corner. Daniel Agger twisted and turned to steal a yard on Ferdinand and headed Steven Gerrard’s corner goalwards. Sturridge, showing supreme awareness, stepped forward off the goalline to back-flick a header between Evra and Tom Cleverley. Anfield erupted and the England international sprinted into an embrace with Rodgers in celebration of his fifth goal in four matches this season.
Van Persie almost equalised immediately with an overhead kick from Evra’s header but sent the effort skywards. It was to be the start of a frustrating afternoon for the Dutchman, who was unable to convert Young’s corner when it flashed across the face of the Liverpool goal shortly afterwards.
Danny Welbeck, frequently on the end of a verbal bashing from Ryan Giggs, also missed a fine chance when he stepped inside Martin Skrtel and took a split-second too long to let fly, allowing Johnson to block. The ball struck the right back’s arm from his own challenge but there were no appeals from United.
The visitors were patient in possession but with Philippe Coutinho, Iago Aspas and Henderson dropping back into a compact Liverpool midfield, they rarely sensed a route through. Giggs and Van Persie were the worst offenders with a loose final ball when opportunities did arrive, and discipline was also a problem following Jones’s exit with an ankle injury.
Cleverley scythed down Coutinho as Liverpool refused to stop play with Jones writhing in agony. That responsibility belongs only to the referee, and Andre Marriner deservedly showed the United midfielder the first yellow card of the day. He then booked Van Persie for a cynical foul on Agger.
In the same passage of play the United forward had dived over Lucas’s challenge in a vain search for a penalty. Not content with testing Mariner’s patience, Van Persie raised an arm to Skrtel in first-half stoppage time for an alleged elbow by the Slovakian. The truth was United’s focal point could have been dismissed by a stricter referee, a point no doubt raised by Gerrard and as he and Nemanja Vidic held a lengthy captains’ conference with Marriner at half-time.
Antonio Valencia’s introduction for Jones, and a shift from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1, injected much-needed urgency to the United attack and the visitors carried the greater threat in the second half, without forcing Simon Mignolet into one demanding save until the 78th minute.
Van Persie, Young and Giggs went close, Welbeck was rightly refused a penalty when he tumbled under an innocuous Aspas touch, and Valencia finally stretched the Liverpool goalkeeper with a powerful drive from the edge of the area. With three minutes remaining Javier Hernández played Van Persie into space behind the Liverpool defence but he typified the United display with a careless slice wide.