Sunday, September 19, 2010

United-Liverpool: Player ratings and Recap




United hosted Liverpool in Sunday's early kickoff. If you hadn't heard, it was totally awesome.

The game started very slowly, though. United controlled everything; Liverpool didn't appear to mind. Most of the first half consisted of long periods of possession for the home side punctuated by the odd half-chance or two.

After 42 minutes of dominant but deliberate United build-up, Berbatov opened the scoring from a Giggs outswung corner. The Bulgarian didn't have to jump,  or even really try, as Torres pretended to apply defensive pressure. It was an awkward moment for the Spaniard, but who cared: United led 1-0 into the break.

This game would eventually get very hairy. Liverpool still didn't look like they felt like playing. United pressure with half-chances and whatnot until Berbatov braced up on 59 minutes with serious aplomb.

Nani crossed left-footed from out wide. Berbatov juggled the ball on his thigh and bicycle-kicked into the top corner from 10 yards. No luck about it. To call it "masterclass" would not be a misapplication of the vaunted term. His first touch was deliberate; his second was religious. United led 2-0.

As soon as the froth subsided, the match took a "Thelma and Louise"-type turn off a cliff. Johnny Evans clearly felled Torres in the box after 64 minutes of anti-football from the Mersey men. Gerrard stepped up and slotted in the penalty kick. Liverpool trailed 2-1.

Five more minutes, more bad juju. Gerrard curled in a free-kick from 21 yards out when Fletcher and O'Shea formed a window instead of a wall. Van der Sar was less stranded than he appeared, but it didn't matter. United gave up another lead in the top flight; the game was level at two.

As the violins played their despairing songs, Dimitar Berbatov stepped up and got his first United hat-trick to save the world from ending.

On 84 minutes he leaped highest and strongest, heading in O'Shea's cross after a square Scholes dish. I put down my samurai sword, stood up, and continued the live blog.

United saved at least blushes, at most their domestic season, by not utterly failing in the most Shakespearean way today. Berbatov deserves all the headlines he'll soon claim. The classiest player on the pitch proved his worth empirically today, and let me be the first to welcome so many finally onto his bandwagon.

Player Ratings

Manchester United

Van der Sar (5) Every shot on goal Liverpool had today scored.

O'Shea (6) Slowly traversed the right flank with characteristic neutrality. Subtracted from a few attacks before assisting Berbatov's final goal.

Vidic (8) Finally got the better of Liverpool today after being sent off in their last two matches. Vida is in very good form and it shows no sign of receding. Any errors his back line made today were not made by him.

Evans (5) This player looked so promising two years ago. Last season his form was forgettable. This year he is not even into third gear yet. Potential is great but only if it becomes kinetic.

Evra (7) Easy game for Patty because Liverpool had no width, intent, or desire. It's nice to see the Frenchman have an individually positive day at the office, for a change, after what's been a rough calender year.

Nani (6) Needs to stop diving so egregiously. It's pathetic and embarrassing.

Fletcher (7.5) Commanded possession. Played with real and obvious desire. Slowly, methodically getting into fine form for the season. Arguably his side's most most important player, and definitely one of three or four candidates.

Scholes (7.5) Fletcher and Scholes form a very yin-yang partnership which should have featured more last season. Unfortunately, Sir Alex was still playing Carrick then. Scholes has not played poorly yet this season. Today Liverpool didn't try to get in his face as much as they could have. One remarkable turnover led to an opposing chance. Assisted Berbatov's last goal by feeding O'shea out wide.

Giggs (6) Giggs had some moments. He also didn't have some moments. Fairly average day for him.

Berbatov (9) Played about as good as he always has for United in three years. The Bulgarian maintains a level of consistency throughout his play with only minor variance. It was only a matter of time until his positivity resulted in goals, just as it was only a matter of time for Rooney's own inflated numbers last season to self-correct.

Berbatov scored a masterclass goal today. He also scored two others. Furthermore, he importantly won headers throughout the match and contributed to build-up just as you'd expect.

United need him to play big up front more often and win more of those 50/50 headers than he did last year. Majestic day from Berbatov and a very fulfilling one for his greatest supporters. Leads the EPL in scoring with six.

Rooney (6) Had some decent passes, but otherwise appeared tentative to pull the trigger or assert his true self.


Reina (4) Off form, frazzled, bald. Didn't make many saves, let in three goals.

Skrtel (5) Assumed the same general sense of bewilderment as his teammates throughout.

Carragher (5) Pretty bad.

Konchesky (4) Meh.

Johnson (6.5) At least pretended convincingly to care about the result. Really good player; outshone the really bad performances elsewhere on his team without actually objectively playing that well himself.

Poulsen (4.5) Allowed Scholes and Fletcher to run proceedings according to their every whim. Is this really a player Hodgsen wants?

Gerrard (6.5) Converted a penalty. So. Also scored, somewhat luckily, direct from 22 yards. Otherwise he didn't really embody the gusto and hustle Liverpool unfairly require. Still almost stole a point by himself, though.

Meireles (5) Half chance here or there. Mostly ran around trying to contain Manchester's onslaught of patient, deliberate build-up. Might be a decent player, but will need time to gel with the rest of his asynchronous team.

Cole (5) Not so much. Tried to do some things on his own, but. Basically fell into the black hole of shitty football the rest of his team were spiraling down.

Rodriguez (3) This man was paid more this week than I'll make this year despite me having produced far more for the game today than him. When he was substituted, I remembered he was playing.

Torres (4) What's up with emo footballers? These guys get paid millions to play sport. Torres was very bad today. He got sent through and drew the penalty from Evans. Otherwise, from open play, he didn't appear to care. He literally let Berbatov score his first goal, standing behind him instead of defending the corner kick. It was a strange and awkward manifestation of his obvious listlessness.

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