Wayne Rooney described Manchester United’s 3-0 defeat at home to Liverpool yesterday as one of the darkest days of his career. Steven Gerrard scored two penalties and Luis Suarez was also on target as the Reds eased to their first victory at Old Trafford in five years.
Scorers: Liverpool - Gerrard (34 pen, 46 pen), Suarez (84)
The scoreline did not flatter Liverpool. It could have easily been five or six for Brendan Rodgers’ side, who are now 14 points ahead of their old foes in the Barclays Premier League.
For a Croxteth-born man who started his career at Everton, losing to the Reds in a such a calamitous manner was not easy for Rooney to take. “It’s one of the worst days I’ve ever had in football,” the United striker said. “It’s hard to take. You have to give Liverpool credit – they played well – but it’s difficult to take. Nobody wants to lose, especially in this way, in your own stadium. It’s not nice.”
The opener came when Rafael handled the ball in the United box in the first half and Gerrard converted. The Liverpool captain then scored his second from the spot when Phil Jones clattered into the back of Joe Allen. Gerrard could have had a hat-trick of spot-kicks when Nemanja Vidic was dismissed for a foul on Daniel Sturridge in the box, but he hit the post.
Still, there was time for Liverpool to find a third in the dying minutes as Suarez beat David de Gea from close range. And Rooney admitted United were always going to struggle once they had gifted Liverpool their first goal.
“To go behind by one penalty was hard to take,” Rooney said. “We had a game plan for the second half, which went out the window when they got the second penalty so early on. It made it an uphill battle to come back. I thought after that we had a couple of chances where I thought if we got one we could have gone for a second and maybe we could have done it. Obviously it didn’t happen, though. Then, to concede a third penalty, even though they missed, was a big blow to us. We were then chasing the game with ten men. That made it difficult for us and they kept the ball well to see the game out.”
Vidic was unlucky to receive a second yellow as replays showed Sturridge appeared to dive, but Rooney had no complaints about any of the decisions.
“I haven’t seen the penalties back again but from where I was standing on the pitch I don’t think we can argue with them,” the 28-year-old added.
David Moyes’ defence had no answer to the pace of Sturridge and Suarez while their own attack looked completely blunt. Liverpool’s fans rubbed Moyes’ nose in it towards the end of the defeat, unfurling a banner that proclaimed the United boss as a ‘football genius’. And for all his public claims that he is the right man to bring the glory days back to Old Trafford, the statistics show how much United have regressed under Moyes’ stewardship. This time last year United were 29 points ahead of Liverpool. They are now 14 behind their bitter rivals with nine matches of the season left.
The 11-point gap to fourth place looks insurmountable while Liverpool’s title challenge can no longer be questioned following this momentous result. With Vidic and Phil Jones at centre-back, United were always going to be vulnerable to the pace of Suarez and Sturridge. An early warning sign came just two minutes in when Sturridge sprinted past Vidic but shot wide. Suarez was the next to puncture the United defence. He latched onto Jon Flanagan’s cutting pass and sprinted into the United box but he inexplicably did not go down when Marouane Fellaini clearly pulled his shorts. Rodgers was up in arms on the touchline.
Liverpool found it easy to open United up with their pace, but the hosts had no such avenue up front. It was all hit and hope from Moyes’ men. Several crosses fell into the Liverpool box but they were all cleared. Sturridge again got the better of Vidic and Jones with a burst of pace, but he fluffed his shot, and De Gea made his first save from Joe Allen after Sturridge picked out Suarez in the box.
Flanagan went into the book for his third foul of the afternoon and Rafael soon joined him for a pointless sliding tackle by the corner flag. Moments later, Rafael handed the Reds the lead. The ball struck the Brazilian’s outstretched right hand in his own box as Suarez tried to guide the ball past him and Mark Clattenburg had no option but to award a penalty. Liverpool argued Rafael should receive a second booking, but Clattenburg did not agree. Still, the damage had been done and Gerrard made no mistake from the spot, tucking the ball inside De Gea’s left-hand post. United had a strong five-minute spell before the break which involved Wayne Rooney drawing a top save from Simon Mignolet.
United ended the half on the up but just 30 seconds after the restart they imploded. Guest Diego Maradona and the rest of those in the directors’ box were taking their seats when Jones clattered into the back of Allen and the referee pointed to the spot. Gerrard placed the ball to De Gea’s left again before sprinting over to the jubilant Liverpool fans.
United thought they should have had two penalties for a handball by Glen Johnson and a foul on Rooney by Martin Skrtel but Clattenburg disagreed.
Shouts of ‘ole’ rang out as Liverpool played keep ball while United tried to chase it down. Robin van Persie, the man who won United the title last year, glanced a free header feebly wide from six yards. Moyes finally made a change 15 minutes from time with Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck coming on for Adnan Januzaj and Fellaini.
But a nightmare afternoon plumbed new depths when Vidic was given a second yellow card for supposedly bringing down Sturridge in the box. Gerrard blew the chance of a hat-trick when he hit De Gea’s right-hand post. But Suarez did not miss with six minutes left as he latched on to Sturridge’s pass to complete a miserable afternoon for United.