DANIEL Sturridge provided a fitting tribute to the memory of Bill Shankly with a fourth-minute winner against Manchester United to maintain Liverpool’s 100 per cent start and take them out on their own at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
Scorer: Liverpool - Sturridge 4
Referee: A Marriner
Today would have been Shankly’s 100th birthday, and it will be celebrated with Liverpool back in their customary position as winners, with Sturridge having bagged the only goal in all three matches so far.
In contrast, Manchester United manager David Moyes endured a depressing day. He failed to claim a first win at Anfield following 12 unsuccessful visits with Everton. If that was not bad enough, Wayne Rooney faces a few weeks on the sidelines with the head injury sustained in training on Saturday, and with the transfer window closing at 11pm tonight, Moyes is still to make his first significant signing.
Not that United’s travails will bother Liverpool, who dominated the opening half, then had enough defensive muscle to resist the visitors’ late rally.
If United’s first half was bad, spare a thought for Roy Hodgson. The England manager now knows he will be without Rooney for the vital World Cup qualfiers with Moldova and Ukraine.
In addition, he saw Phil Jones limp off after the defender landed awkwardly jumping for a routine header. To top it off, he was forced to watch from a seat normally afforded to visiting scouts as a result of what he was told was a “clerical error”.
It seemed a pretty woeful oversight on a day when the presence of Victor Moses, Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori in the directors’ box showed Liverpool’s intent for the last day of the transfer window.
At least Hodgson had Sturridge’s form to console him on the drive down to St George’s Park. Liverpool’s match-winner against Stoke and Aston Villa on the Reds’ perfect opening to the season, Sturridge bagged another as the hosts made a lightning start. The former Chelsea and Manchester City striker knows he will have done his chances of starting for England no harm at all. “It was great to have the [England] manager here, it’s important for me to be out on the field,” Sturridge said. “I had a problem with my thigh before the game, it’s still hindering me now, but I went out and put on a good performance for the boys. Hopefully I’ll be okay for the (England) squad.”
Sturridge had already given warning of his threat when he seized on the loose ball after Jordan Henderson had harassed Ashley Young into a mistake. Rio Ferdinand turned away his shot on that occasion.
But when Daniel Agger leapt highest at the corner, Sturridge was afforded far too much room inside the six-yard area to turn the ball home.
It was the kind of start Moyes must have dreaded, raising the decibel level of an already pretty raucous occasion. Robin van Persie was not far away with an overhead kick after Patrice Evra had knocked down a Ryan Giggs free-kick, but largely it was an opening period of unremitting frustration for the visitors.
Van Persie was one of three United players cautioned and the half ended with an angry exchange of words between Steven Gerrard and Van Persie, whose focus appeared to have slipped somewhat after an earlier tangle with Agger.
It was not that Liverpool were creating lots of opportunities, David de Gea saved a decent curling free-kick from Gerrard after Glen Johnson’s powerful burst had been halted unfairly and the excellent Philippe Coutinho curled a free-kick over the crossbar, but Liverpool’s main advantage came through their control of the game, with Lucas outstanding alongside his captain in that crucial central midfield area.
United did return with a bit more purpose at least. Michael Carrick started to find his passing range, which allowed Young, and then his replacement Nani to threaten from wide positions.
Still, United’s increased attacking threat came at the exposure of their defence, and the risk of a killer second.
Nemanja Vidic almost gifted it to Liverpool with an underhit back-pass that had De Gea rushing to clear as Johnson closed in.
Nani forced Simon Mignolet into his best save of the match 15 minutes from time, just before Johnson became the latest member of Hodgson’s squad to depart, limping pretty badly after a crunching clash with Patrice Evra.
Van Persie could not make the most of a late opportunity provided by Javier Hernandez, and although five additional minutes of injury time brought a few nerves, in the end it was the hosts who came closest to scoring, De Gea brilliantly turning over Raheem Sterling’s powerful drive.
Liverpool’s defensive work has been noticeable and they barely gave United a chance inside the box. “Everybody is playing well, working hard and showing the right attitude,” said man of the match Martin Skrtel.
Despite their defeat, Moyes was pleased with how his Manchester United players performed, believing they were so good that the club will not be affected should they fail to land any new players before tonight’s transfer deadline.
The Scot has tried to sign Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini from old club Everton with little joy so far, while Athletic Bilbao said during this game that Ander Herrera was not available.
“I thought we played really well,” Moyes said. “Liverpool were resolute and made it hard for us to score. We maybe didn’t quite create the best with the crossing.
“We got two or three opportunities in the second half and were just a little bit unfortunate that we didn’t take them.”
With the transfer window closing tonight, Moyes added: “We will try and do it, but from what I saw of the players, I’m more than happy with the players I’ve got.
“I thought they played really well, probably the best we’ve played this season.”
On defender Phil Jones, who went off in the first half, Moyes said: “He went over on his ankle when he fell and we will assess how bad it is.”