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23rd Mar 2015

Señor Serenity escapes madness to earn vital win

What a beautiful man *hugs*...

Nooruddean Choudry

It’s quite fitting and ironic (in a loose Alanis Morissette kind of way) that a game of such comical madness was decided by Señor Serenity.

Juan Mata may not have partaken in the blood and thunder that swirled around him at Anfield, but he found two moments of clarity to earn Manchester United a vital victory and provide some context and conclusion to a whirlwind encounter.

United started with such composure, too. They enjoyed their most commanding half-hour of football at Anfield since…well forever, as they passed with a certainty and crispness that has been missing for most of the season. Only Valencia at right-back and a generally p*ss-poor Rooney failed to show the technique and confidence on the ball that Louis van Gaal demands.

Unlike Liverpool in the reverse fixture back in December, United made their dominance count via a Spanish combination that would have had Rodrigo and Gabriela fingering their instruments with delight. Ander Herrera once again gifted United fans with the kind of vision and slide-rule pass they once hoped of Shinji Kagawa as he played in Mata for a composed finish.

Liverpool v Manchester United - Premier League

Then the silliness began. Liverpool finally got their sh*t together and started to combine well, particularly down the right flank where Daley Blind and Phil Jones were staging their own production of Beauty and the Beast. A snappy move led to a gilt-edged chance for Joe Allen but, whereas United’s little zen master finished with aplomb, Allen placed his shot horribly wide.

Half-time came at just the right moment for United who were holding on a little, but it also allowed Liverpool to take stock and wrestle back some of the control they had been missing. In the first half they played like the away side, relying on the odd counter-attack while United looked sharp with the ball. The hosts needed someone to stamp some authority on to the game.

Enter Steven Gerrard with his wrinkled forehead of wary wisdom and decades of experience. Surely he was just the man to put his foot on the ball and wrestle some command back for his beloved Reds. What happened in his singular minute of madness on the pitch affords rival fans another 12 months of ridicule; just as the Chelsea memes had begun to slip away.

Liverpool v Manchester United - Premier League

Gerrard was straight into action, receiving and meting out meaty challenges within seconds. The latter was administered by the combative Herrera and Gerrard responded with the kind of stupidity that will haunt him for months to come, especially if it contributes to United finishing above Liverpool in a Champions League spot. He raked the Spaniard and was gone.

Liverpool rallied in his absence and got back into the game thanks to a deflected Sturridge shot that beat David De Gea at his near post. The keeper could have been better positioned but the shot was wicked as was the defender’s touch. Anfield grew noticeably louder as the home fans smelt blood, whilst United looked shaken by this unexpected reply to their general supremacy.

Angel Di Maria came on for the industrious but largely ineffective Ashley Young and proceeded to compete with Rooney for the most misplaced passes. Yet the one effective pass proved vital as he played in Mata who finished with a technique and artistry that didn’t quite belong in this pot-shot panto reminiscent of the free-for-all finale in Bugsy Malone.

What else happened? Well, Mario Balotelli needed to be restrained by his own fans from lamping Chris Smalling; Emre Can took umbrage with Blind for competing with him on the pretty boy front by conceding a penalty; Rooney missed the said pen to add the perfect crap cherry to his personal pile of sh*te; oh, and Martin Skrtel re-enacted his captain’s stamp on De Gea.

It was a game that advertised why English football is the most entertaining in the world, if far from the best. Both teams had their fair share of quality whilst divvying out the div behaviour in equal measure too. It was the kind of game that left you gasping one minute and chuckling the next. But in the eye of the storm there was one man who focused on what really mattered.