Sir Alex Ferguson cold-shoulders the media so often these days, it should perhaps no longer be noteworthy. Though having not only boycotted his club’s own football channel, MUTV, but also sloped home furiously from Anfield on Sunday without speaking to the press (and also forbidding his players to), it would be fair to say that this week has put the Manchester United boss in a foul mood.
His side began it full of the joys of spring – clear leaders at the top of the Premier League table, seemingly strolling to glory, their hands tantalisingly close to a record 19th league trophy. But then on Tuesday, a visit to Stamford Bridge produced the first of two unnerving defeats for the would-be champions – a 2-1 loss against a vigorous Chelsea side, who imposed themselves on a bruising, heavyweight tie.
Vidic came back to haunt United
New boy David Luiz in particular caught the eye for Chelsea, not only equalising once the Blues had gone behind, but playing the ball silkily out of defence and relishing the match’s physical aspect. He was lucky though not to receive a second yellow card for a heavy challenge on Wayne Rooney and was substituted as a precaution. Nonetheless, a Chelsea side that has seemed mightily jaded this season found reserves of hunger and spirit to ride out winners from a compelling match.
A defeat that could have been costly for United would almost have been shrugged off by Saturday evening as Alex Ferguson’s men saw Arsenal fluff their lines again for precisely the zillionth time in six years by drawing 0-0 with Sunderland. But the sending off of Nemanja Vidic in the dying moments of Tuesday’s clash against Chelsea came back to haunt the Red Devils on Sunday. With Rio Ferdinand also out through injury (but tweeting furiously to make up for his absence), United could only name a makeshift central defence for what was touted during the week as Andy Carroll’s potential Liverpool debut.
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As it turned out, Carroll only played the last 20 minutes. But that mattered little when Wes Brown and Chris Smalling (who had been excellent when partnered by the mighty Vidic in West London) could not handle Luis Saurez’ electrifying movement and Dirk Kuyt’s implacable foraging. Both combined wonderfully to grant Liverpool a thrilling 3-1 win, and though it was Kuyt’s first hat-trick for the Reds, the glory was long overdue their hardest-working player. That he is only the third player (David Bentley and Egil Ostenstad being the others) to score a hat-trick against Manchester United in the Premier League says everything about how brilliantly Liverpool played – and how lacklustre their guests were. »If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all«, is sage advice given out in British homes. It is no wonder then that Fergie chose to stay mute on his side’s performance.
Congratulations via Twitter
While he fumed, Arsenal players queued up on Twitter to thank Kuyt for his hat-trick and left @rioferdy5 subdued. United’s title challenge meanwhile may have stalled fatally. Arsenal, perplexingly, are in second, only three points behind the leaders and with a game in hand. »Do the math!« I might say, if I were a character in testosterone-fuelled American drama series about football statistics and terrorists planning fiendishly to tinker with them.
As I am not, I will instead point out that Arsene Wenger’s perpetually about-to-realise-their-potential bunch of whipper-snappers will have to make up those virtual three points at Tottenham in what will be a vital North London derby on 20 April. Spurs, having only managed a point in a nail-biting 3-3 draw with Wolves on Sunday afternoon will need all three against Arsenal if they are to keep alive increasingly faint hopes of finishing fourth. It will be an electrifying night in London N17.
Worst streak in seven years
As to United, a bounce is quickly required. Opta pointed out that this is the first time they have lost three matches in five since 2004, the year the club signed Wayne Rooney. He in particular will have to raise his game if he is to salvage an abysmal season tarnished by unseemly off-field antics, lousy form, and the severing of his connection with the fans (only partly restored by that goal in the derby).
He was again disappointing at Anfield, the kind of match as an old Evertonian he should be uniquely geed up for. If the scrutiny he suffers at the media’s hands affects him, he should take a leaf out of Ryan Giggs’ book and keep a low profile. Though I discussed Giggs at length a few weeks ago, it is worth noting that at Anfield he broke Bobby Charlton’s record of league appearances for United by playing for the 607th time. It is also worth noting that Giggs being Giggs, the milestone will have meant almost nothing to him without three points for his trouble. That attitude is supposed to be woven into the club’s fabric, but has been frayed by a difficult week. Ferguson, though taciturn towards the media, is unlikely to have been as quiet in the Anfield away dressing room after the match.
The home dressing room will have been buzzing. Kenny Dalglish had spent the week regaling the media with tales of coming up in Glasgow football alongside Ferguson and he finished it wearing a broad smile of satisfaction: »The way the players went about their job, their attitude, their commitment, their desire to get a result, the pride they showed in playing for the football club and the pride they showed in their own performances«, he said. »That is the reason why they got the result. Without everyone giving everything they have got you don't beat Manchester United – and they did that.«
Though Dalglish’s Liverpool are in no state to challenge for the Premier League title this term, seizing the opportunity to sabotage United’s campaign has done the club’s self-esteem wonders. There is now a complicity between manager, fans and players that was sadly lacking earlier in the season. As the game on Sunday stood at 3-0, the Kop sang Happy Birthday to Dalglish who grinned like a school kid and allowed himself a wave to the fans who worship him. His side eviscerated the would-be champions in such style that any lingering memories of the Roy Hodgson ‘era’ were finally banished. Ex-players such as Alan Hansen and Graham Souness led the calls after the match for Dalglish to be appointed permanently. The club is healing at an extraordinary rate.
With a week of United wobbles, it is even tempting to wonder: If Ferguson’s side somehow throw away the title, and Liverpool recruit more players of Luiz Saurez’ calibre in the summer, whilst completing Dalglish’s rehabilitation, could they beat their erstwhile rivals to that magical 19th title themselves? That is the stuff Merseyside dreams are made of, and far from Dalglish’s immediate concern. But with Fergie sent home from Anfield in a sulk, there are few things Liverpool fans would like more than to steal his thunder and leave him, well…speechless.
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Folge 29: Wooden spoon
Der einzige Preis, der niemand in Sport gewinnen will. Das Kochlöffel ist das figuratives »Pokal«, das man gewinnt, wenn am ende der Saison, seine Mannschaft letzte in der Tabelle steht. Diese Saison, kämpften trotzdem eine Menge Mannschaften für das glanzvolles Holzlöffel. Nach Allem, für der Grossteil der Vereine in der Premier League, ist es das realistischstes Preis für ihre Budgets und würde sie sich für die Championship qualifizieren: allerdings eine interessantere Turnier als die Europa League. Der Gewinner des Kochlöffel wird auch mit £800,424 dotiert, kriegt £14.6 Million vom Sky Sports, und nach dem Abstieg wird auch £48 Million über vier Jahren bekommen als Fallschirmzahlungen. Wooden Spoon? Sondern ein goldenes Löffel!