Almost every goal Steven Gerrard has scored this season came from the penalty spot, but there’s more to him, and to the Liverpool team Brendan Rodgers needed about a season and a bit to mold, than just making the most of set pieces, as the striking duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge create havoc even when they don’t score, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen do the work of three or four players in the middle of the pitch while the Raheem Sterling surprise might have hurt his individual performance, but worked out perfectly in the grand scheme of things.
Liverpool didn’t beat Manchester United quite comfortably 3-0 thanks to Mark Clattenburg and the penalties. The first two were the right decision. The third, which Gerrard missed, was a mistake. But minutes later Daniel Sturridge was clipped in the box without a reaction from the referee. Early in the match Marouane Fellaini fouled Luis Suarez in the box twice and the referee ignored it. Rafael should have been sent off. Manchester United had nothing to complain about at the end of the match, which didn’t stop their failing manager from doing so.
Maybe it didn’t really matter that Sterling started behind the strikers while Coutinho was left on the bench. Sterling, like Victor Moses who was used in the position earlier this season, isn’t very comfortable in the middle. Maybe he’ll learn, but Sterling on the wing is an exciting, dangerous player. In the middle? He was used to create the pinpoint of the diamond, while Henderson and Allen destroyed everything in sight behind him. Steven Gerrard provided that closing quality, along with some toughness and extra he brings to this match every time, which was mostly about annihilating Marouane Fellaini from the get go, not having problems making a bigger, younger player look like he doesn’t belong in this kind of contest.
Jon Flanagan, this time playing on the left side while Glen Johnson returned to his natural side on the right, was probably another secret MVP in the match. He was probably a bit over aggressive with some tackles, but he didn’t make mistakes against Adnan Januzaj, who is going through a rough patch in his development, and is clearly out of his depth when it comes to big, physical matches like this one, where it’s about more than just skill and dribbling.
Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez found it too easy to beat defenders and find themselves in deep positions time after time. They made wrong decisions too often or played things a tad too slow, but the panic they created each time they attacked Vidic or Phil Jones made it possible for Liverpool to have such an easy way of dominating the match. Not in terms of possession, but in dictating the pace, tone and direction of where this was going. There wasn’t a doubt at any stage who’ll end up with the win.
This isn’t as big as the 4-1 from five years ago: Manchester United were one of the best teams in Europe back then. This is just a shadow of that team, probably not even good enough to earn a European spot for next season. But it means the world to Liverpool, placing them back in the middle of the title race, and the opportunity to make history and not just a season everyone is pleased about.