MAN UNITED 1
15 OCTOBER 2011 ANFIELD | ATTENDANCE: 45,065
Substitute Javier Hernandez came up trumps with a late equaliser at Liverpool to earn a precious point for the champions.
United were forced to come from behind and battle hard for a point after Steven Gerrard broke the deadlock with a free-kick and Chicharito’s predatory header after Danny Welbeck headed on a Nani corner meant a lot more than his consolation at Anfield in last season’s fixture.
The manager sprung a few surprises with his team selection with Wayne Rooney and Nani left on the bench, Phil Jones playing in midfield and Danny Welbeck starting in a lone attacker’s role. Skipper Nemanja Vidic missed out despite representing Serbia in midweek.
There were a lot of misplaced passes in a frenetic first half with neither side really able to stamp too much influence on the proceedings. United’s first glimpse of goal came after a quarter of an hour when Welbeck’s positive play eventually led to Patrice Evra crossing from the left and Phil Jones heading into the side-netting.
The Reds limited the chances at the other end but Gerrard’s dangerous cross evaded everybody in the middle before the clearest opening of the first period came on 35 minutes. Charlie Adam’s shot bounced kindly into the path of Luis Suarez, who turned Jonny Evans but could only shoot straight at David De Gea, who made a vital save. Darren Fletcher and Ji-sung Park were off target with speculative efforts as Sir Alex will have been pleased with his side’s contribution to a tight opening 45 minutes.
The second half instantly had a more open feel to it with Ashley Young coming into the game with dramatic effect, mustering three shots in the opening six minutes. Liverpool replied with a hopeful handball shot against Jonny Evans when Dirk Kuyt got his head to a corner and a Suarez effort that was comfortably saved by De Gea. Although Suarez remained a constant threat, the Reds looked in control until Rio Ferdinand was penalised for a trip on Adam, even though replays showed any contact was minimal.
Gerrard stepped up to find a gap in the wall and place a shot into the net past De Gea. Sir Alex had planned to introduce Rooney and Nani in any case and the duo immediately replaced Young and Park. Nani slashed a wild attempt well wide before Hernandez strengthened the attack even further by coming on for Jones.
Jose Enrique escaped a handball in the box when Nani kicked the ball at him but the pressure started to build and the substitutes made an impact. Nani’s corner was headed on by Welbeck for Hernandez to divert into the net and plunder the equaliser with nine minutes left. With the match bubbling into life in extraordinary fashion, De Gea had to pull off a marvellous save to deny Kuyt following a superb delivery by Downing from the left. There was another scare from Adam’s corner but Nani eventually cleared and both teams looked for the winner in the closing stages, with the hosts building up a head of steam.
Jordan Henderson tested De Gea’s reflexes with a late volley after Downing fizzed a drive well wide and a desperate scramble in injury time saw Martin Skrtel slash wide following a brilliant clearing header by Rooney to frustrate Suarez. The final opportunity fell to Henderson whose header just cleared the bar with United hearts in their mouths. But this was a job well done by the champions, who can be pleased with a share of the spoils from one of the most testing fixtures on the calendar.