By Joe Behan
Liverpool beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford at the weekend, which gives EPL fans loads to anticipate over the holiday spell. There are no excuses. That United played Solskj’r and Scholes up front is really immaterial. All teams are dealing with injuries and other reasons for unavailability.
Last week, United let go of a 3-1 lead on Charlton and signs were there that Ferguson had underestimated the higher power of the game, which is bigger than its participants are.
Over the weekend Liverpool reminded the Red Devils and the Premiership that United are beatable. The Pool stole the show from Terry Venables and indeed mighty Middlesbrough, who beat Chelsea, also by 1-0.
Liverpool has been in the position of Kingpins themselves not so long ago. They understand the glory, but they also respect it. During the 1980s they dominated the league and all cup competitions. Their victory at the weekend is part of what makes the premiership a special league — the underdog will always have his day.
Apart from the big clash of the day, there were a number of other games that required certain teams to do well. Arsenal, Ipswich and Leicester are hot on the heels of the leaders, while Leeds and Chelsea will be glad of the winter recess.
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There is a group of teams that fit the bill to be the immediate challengers and for a while the rest were somewhat in oblivion.
The end of the year always brings lots of new ingredients to the table. Middlesbrough’s new coach, Terry Venables, and Manchester City, with Joe Royle, will be looking to Santa Claus for inspiritation.
Liverpool 1, Man. Utd. 0
The last time Liverpool beat Manchester United at Old Trafford was 10 years ago, and, astonishingly, it has been five years since they beat them at all. It was Danny Murphy who scored the winner that stopped the amazing two-year unbeaten run United had at home in the league.
It is the first time United have failed to score in Old Trafford since November 1998. Liverpool also stole Ferguson’s induction into equaling the club record in the unbeaten run column.
Ferguson continues to play with his lineup, as Teddy Sheringham did not take the field. Scholes was selected to partner Solskj’r. For a change it was United struggling with both selection and depth.
That was not the case for Liverpool. Fowler was benched and Michael Owen broke into the side to partner Emile Heskey. The pace of the game was hectic and tackles were ferocious. Murphy was fouled on the edge of the United box and it was an early sign that he was dangerous.
United had most of the ball but nothing to show on the end of all the possession. Liverpool’s defense got it right at long last, and what a game to do so.
In the 43rd minute Gary Neville handled the ball in front of the United goal just outside the box. Murphy curled the free around the wall and in it went, a goal he will not forget for a while.
He had come close earlier when United’s goalie, Fabien Barthez, pushed his shot out for a corner. Murphy himself then swung the corner in only to see Heskey’s chance cleared of the line by Scholes.
Liverpool came back out in the second half and continued to pressure, with the woodwork saving Barthez from an Owen shot. United tried to step the pace up but Liverpool looked more dangerous. Steven Gerrard had a good game in the middle, while Nick Barmby caused United concern out wide.
Ferguson tried to introduce his next generation and brought on Luke Chadwick with 10 minutes remaining. The move backfired when Chadwick was sent off for committing a professional foul.
While Houllier makes his 50th win, he stops Ferguson’s decoration at Manchester United and Old Trafford. Of course, one can never write off the Red Devils nor should one write off Liverpool, and indeed the strength of the EPL. The newest coach in action was the man himself Terry Venables. The anticipation to see how the controversial coach will handle his tactics against United may reflect his win over the weekend against Chelsea.
Boro 1, Chelsea 0
Terry Venables is back in the EPL and has stopped Chelsea in their tracks for a European holiday run. "El Tel" came up with a 1-0 win and sent a warning that he is out to take scalps. Venables introduced substitute Dean Gordon and his shot gave Middlesbrough their first win over Chelsea in 11 games. Riverside Stadium erupted with the victory and the Boro fans may have something to shout about over the holidays.
Coach Venables played his masterstroke in the 67th minute when he brought Gordon off the bench to score within four minutes. Boro were given their first EPL win in two and a half months. The goal took a deflection that gave Chelsea goalkeeper Ed de Goey no chance. Luck however may seem on Boro’s side but it is the kind of stuff that Venables is no stranger to. Middlesbrough deserved to win their first home game since March 25, and most significantly their first shut out of the season.
Claudio Raneiri’s attack for Chelsea failed to penetrate the Boro defense. Keith O’Neill showed signs that he has battled back from a series of injuries that have held the much-talked-about Irish international player out of the game. His inspirational performance was enhanced by Robbie Mustoe, as both worked their socks off for Venables.
It was one of those spirited efforts from a side in desperation. With a half dozen potential starters out, the pre-match talk had to be motivational. But in typical fashion, El Tel admitted he had no choice, really, and had little team selection to deal with.
Venables brought in Gianluca Festa, who is in the transfer market. The unpredictable Noel Whelan got the call from his new coach and it will be interesting to see can Whelan reach his promising potential under the much-experienced European coach.
Just on the 13th minute, O’Neill shot the ball just wide of the target from a great run onto a long pass. Six minutes before halftime the Irish forward was unlucky to smack a great open chance into Chelsea’s Poyet after de Goey was in no-man’s land.
The winner came from a bit of Whelan magic as he squared the ball into Gordon, whose smash deflected and looped over the stranded de Goey.
O’Neill struck a wicked ball into the box from a free that tested de Goey again and sent signals that Boro were still in the game. The defense responded and became more solid as the game came to a close.
Venables will be happy with the team performance and O’Neill was impressive up front, while that stroke of luck, perhaps genius, will live long in the memory of the loyal Boro fans