Thursday, 26 September 2013

Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool: Red Devils dig deep to progress - and ease pressure on David Moyes

Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool: Red Devils dig deep to progress - and ease pressure on David Moyes

The hosts were still far from their best but did enough to scrape through to the fourth round of the Capital One Cup
Jump for joy: Javier Hernandez turns home the winner
Jump for joy: Javier Hernandez turns home the winner
He needed it. My word he needed it.
You could tell by the exultation when Javier Hernandez poked home the only goal of a difficult night.
You could see, just as clearly, by his pumped fists at the final whistle. Relief running through every bone in his body.
Sunday's Etihad embarrassment had not plunged David Moyes into crisis, although it was a crushing blow to his pride and threatens to have longer-term effects on United's aura.
The pain of that public dismantling will not be swept aside by one victory in the competition that matters least.
But at Old Trafford last night, against their bitterest foes, a Liverpool side galvanised by the return of Luis Suarez, Moyes could not afford another stumble.
What he required, desperately, was what he got.
Not a great performance. In truth, not even a good one. Brendan Rodgers went home knowing this was a game that got away.
Yet answering the questions that were raised by events at Manchester City. A side - much-changed but inspired by stand-in skipper Wayne Rooney - that fought for every ball this time.
Manchester United's Alexander Buttner looks dejected after Liverpool's Kolo Toure (not pictured) and Martin Skrtel challenge him in the box
Alexander Buttner rues a missed chance
Yes, for much of the first half, and long periods of the second, Liverpool were the more composed, perceptive, accomplished side.
Rodgers' switch to a back three, with Jordan Henderson and Jose Enrique as wing-backs, allowed Steven Gerrard and Lucas to boss the middle of the park.
After 10 matches - and 157 days - with only the training ground to work on, Suarez and Daniel Sturridge linked superbly.
But for all that clever football, Liverpool did not test David De Gea until they went behind - and never with enough conviction to believe they would get back into it.
Rodgers would have rued those first half misses - Sturridge toe-poking wide, Suarez' touch horribly heavy when he got in behind Jonny Evans - even more within 40 seconds of the restart.
Nani, among four United players making their first start under Moyes, had done nothing on the right but moved to the left and instantly win a corner.
Rooney, who had been a lone trojan in the opening 45 minutes, delivered beyond Gerrard and Enrique's shocking neglect of his duties left Hernadez all alone five yards out to stab home.
Moyes, walking along the touchline back to his dug-out, only caught the action out of the corner of his eye. He did not care. Rodgers, understandably, was the epitome of frustration.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez of Manchester United celebrates scoring their first goal
Javier Hernandez celebrates his goal
Now it opened up, proper chances at both ends as the gaps grew wider, Jones and Ryan Giggs taking a tighter grip, United showing more intensity.
Henderson held his head as he missed the target, badly, from 14 yards after Suarez and Sturridge had opened United up. Chris Smalling and Evans were not enjoying their evening.
United, though, could counter, frenzied appeals ignored by Mark Clattenburg, Shinji Kagawa driving forward to fizz in a left-footer that kissed the bar, Nani close, before Liverpool came again.
Victor Moses threw himself at Enrique's volleyed cross but powered his header straight at De Gea, before a Suarez free-kick took enough of a flick off Phil Jones to ensure it struck the top of the woodwork.
Back came United. Twice in the space of 30 seconds, from a free-kick and then the resulting corner, the flying Simon Mignolet denied Rooney the goal his work-rate and devotion to the cause deserved.
But when United repelled the late storm, De Gea pawing Henderson's cheeky chip away, the flag up against Sturridge even as he slid wide after Suarez found Kolo Toure, Old Trafford could celebrate.
The depth of the roar showed how important it was, for the Moyes, his players and the United fans.
Far from compelling. Far from convincing.
Sometimes, though, none of that really matters. For Moyes this was one of those nights. "How" mattered far less than "how many".

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