The soccer world was expecting Sunday’s Premier League game between Manchester United and Liverpool to produce “blood, guts and thunder,” but we got an unexpectedly smooth ride down a one-way street instead.
Liverpool comprehensively defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford without playing the scintillating, attacking soccer for which it has become renowned in recent months.
Liverpool’s teeming confidence, combined with Manchester United’s tentative approach, heaped pressure on the hosts from kickoff. It was no surprise when the Red Devils buckled after 30 minutes and gave away a penalty kick, then another one and another one after that. Manchester United’s capitulation allowed its fierce rivals to coast to a 3-0 victory and show the soccer world that the power pendulum has shifted back to Liverpool.
The result moved Liverpool up to second place in the Premier League standings and confirms suspicions that the Reds are genuine title contenders. Liverpool trails league-leading Chelsea by four points with nine games remaining (it can reduce the gap to one by winning the game in hand), is level on points with Arsenal and two ahead of fourth-place Manchester City. The four-horse title race is wide open.
Liverpool hasn’t lost a league game in 2014, qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League qualification is within touching distance, and fans are dreaming of their first league title in 24 years. Liverpool hosts Manchester City and Chelsea next month (April 13 and April 27, respectively) in what will be the two biggest Premier League games Anfield has seen in several years.
The view from the other side of Sunday’s equation is much more grim.
For Manchester United, Sunday’s result was the latest lowest point in a historic failure of a season. Manchester United only played well for few minutes at the end of the first half and for a brief period after going down 2-0 one minute into the second half. That’s it. Liverpool controlled large swaths of the latest contest between England’s two most successful clubs. The Red Devils trail Manchester City by 12 points, and they need a minor miracle to bring Champions League soccer to Old Trafford next season.
Liverpool trailed eventual champions Manchester United by 29 points at this stage last season. Liverpool now leads Manchester United by 14 points — a stunning role reversal.
Manchester United plays Olympiacos in the second leg of its Champions League Round-of-16 series Wednesday. If manager David Moyes can’t figure out a way to overturn a two-goal deficit, United will be out of Europe and have little more than pride to play for over the final two months of the season.
We often fail to recognize a fallen empire as one until we happen upon its ruins. The reverse can be said about a great power on the rise once more. Liverpool won a hard-fought game against its rival, and Sunday’s result left no confusion as to which club was which. Moyes must destroy and rebuild, while Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers continues trodding his team down the road ahead.