A Game of Two Halves?

Throughout the aftermath of today’s lunchtime kick-off at Old Trafford between arch-rivals Manchester United and Liverpool, social media websites have been awash with outpourings of grief from Liverpool supporters.

Some felt their team had matched United and deserved a point, but in truth that is perhaps symptomatic of a rose-tinted perspective which unfortunately taints a minority of Liverpool supporter’s views.

In the first 54 minutes of a match which was undoubtedly controlled by United for expansive periods, goals from Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic had given the hosts a deserved 2-0 lead.

It was only after Daniel Sturridge’s simple tap-in from another David de Gea blunder that Liverpool managed to establish themselves in the game.

What followed was captivating, as The Reds poured forward in a mode of attack which had been inexplicably absent for the first hour of the match.

Liverpool tested United’s often wobbly defence throughout the final 30 minutes, and such was their threat United had to throw on Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as resistance, thanks in small part to what looked like a recurrence of Nemanja Vidic’s troublesome knee problems.

Sturridge was Liverpool’s game-changer, offering pace and a willingness to run directly at United’s defence as Brendan Rogers’ side searched for a once unlikely-looking point.

Yet, as some have suggested after his move from Chelsea, Sturridge lacked a clinical edge.

This was conveyed in the 86th minute when a loose ball presented him with a brilliant chance, only to sky his effort harmlessly over.

That sort of error would not have been made by the league’s in-form striker, van Persie.

The Dutchman’s first chance of the match was soon nestling in the back of the net following an incisive team move, and United went on to create several chances in the opening 45 minutes, notably when Tom Cleverley narrowly missed the target after connecting with a sweet volley that had Pepe Reina beaten.

Liverpool, though, were guilty of some poor defensive mistakes before Cleverley’s effort.

Both Reina and Joe Allen handed possession to United in the final third with careless passes but, on both occasions, the excellent partnership of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel helped the Merseysiders escape with well-timed tackles.

The calm figure of Michael Carrick was dictating play in midfield, twice picking out Danny Welbeck’s intelligent runs into the left channel with looping cross-field passes, but United could not add to their tally before half-time.

The totemic van Persie, the difference between these old foes – just as he had been at Anfield earlier in the season – supplied what proved to be United’s winner when the unmarked Patrice Evra and Vidic combined at the back post to extend their team’s lead to 2-0.

That, in the end, was the crucial division between the sides.

So, was it a game of two halves? Perhaps not.

At times, United passed the ball with a superiority which highlighted the seven point chasm between them and the chasing pack in the Premier League table.

That said, Liverpool controlled the final 30 minutes – but they failed to emulate United’s monopoly of the opening half.

Perhaps, had United not resumed their dominance of the match after half-time, the ‘game of two halves’ cliche would have applied.

Yet, in a match where one team only starts to play their football after an hour, the cliche in question can rarely apply, and to use it here would have been forgetful of the complete prepotency that United exhibited during the first 54 minutes.

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