There’s no doubt about it – the 4-1 defeat by Liverpool was the most painful defeat in living memory for any Manchester United supporter.
Worse than the 1-0 defeat as Arsenal claimed the double at Old Trafford in 2002, worse than the 3-0 defeat at Chelsea in 2006, worse than the 5-0 defeats to Newcastle in 96 and Chelsea in 99, and even worse than the 5-1 derby defeat in 1989 and 4-1 loss in 2004.
The 02 and 06 defeats spurred United into winning the league the next season, and the 5-0’s elicited strong responses that culminated in triumphs in the league the same season. It outweighs the City results mainly because a) both were away and b) both were during periods of transition. No excuse for those defeats, it just serves to accentuate the devestation of this one.
What makes it so bad? Well, this is supposed to be (potentially) the best side in English history, being caught well and truly with their pants down against their nearest rivals. As weird as this sounds, the result would be easier to take if it had drawn Liverpool on level points with us, as it would at least spur us into life. As it is we could still stumble to the league in the same manner as we did in 2001, the defeat could mean little more than a blot on an incredibly successful season. But, it will be a blot – one we have plenty of excuses for – United had nothing to lose, played like a side who needed only to draw, the Vidic sending off changed the game, the scoreline was completely unrealistic – but at the end of the day, Liverpool scored four times and we couldn’t find the net after the first.
So, the positives? Well, to give it what I believe is the perfect (if a little rubbish) analogy, the defeat was like your girlfriend saying that someone else is handsome after you’ve both had a bit to drink. You’re angry and devestated at the time but on reflection you realise you’re still far better, and everything will sort out. Doesn’t make much sense does it?
Well, how about the defeat, in all its tragedy, still managed to sum up the beauty of being a supporter of Manchester United?
We were awful and Liverpool thoroughly deserved to win, but the defeat was more down to the former – you would be hard pushed to find anyone who isn’t a dyed in the wool Scouser or venemous ABU that would say hand on heart that Liverpool are a better side than United. It was simply a combination of the worst day for a long time for each of United’s starting XI, a mixture of complacency and an off day that had winked an alluring hello for 30 minutes against Inter and manifested itself for a hour against Liverpool.
But, even so, in the last minutes, Rooney was trying a left foot volley from the edge of the area and Ronaldo (to the anger of most fans) was trying a free kick in the dying moments with the score at 1-3, when the ball was better off floated into the box.
It’s precisely this attitude that, despite the scoreline, sets United apart from Liverpool (and the Arsenal and Chelsea sides of yesteryear). Sir Alex’s sides have always been set out to win whereas the others set out primarily to not lose – sometimes it means exaggerated scorelines like the one against Liverpool, and those mentioned above. The score could be 0-1 or 0-3 and United will be trying to claw it back.
Ultimately though it’s that same principle, that same attitude that means United will end the season with more trophies than Liverpool. At times, even with Liverpool leading, I honestly couldn’t see how a Liverpool fan could say in any seriousness that they had set out to win at Old Trafford rather than set out and see what happened. The response after Gerrard’s penalty showed just that – they had found themselves in a position they did not expect to be and they offered little in the second half, except, ironically, the goals. Some may say (and with a degree of fairness I might add) that they did not have to show anything else but on another day Vidic may not have been sent off, Edwin may have put a man on the line and United’s triple change may have paid the ultimate dividend.
Clutching at straws it may be but recent history (and that of United under Sir Alex) would support the theory.
And though I doubt there are many Manchester United fans hitting the panic button just yet, it serves as a timely reminder to utter the philosophy that was evident in our team even in the dying seconds today – “he who dares”.
It’s the philosophy that saw Eric Cantona volley in the dying seconds in the 1996 FA Cup Final, the philopsophy that saw Ryan Giggs take on the best defence in Europe in 1999 like a kid in a playground (and saw Teddy and Ole swing out hopeful boots in a game later that year), the one that saw Peter Schmeichel score to preserve our (at the time ) unbeaten home record in Europe. It’s also the same one that saw Giggs waltz past the Arsenal defence in 2003 at Old Trafford only to sky an empty net, the same that saw Schmeichel injure himself for the business end of the 1998 season trying to score in the crunch game against Arsenal, and the same that saw Rooney and Ronaldo miss with maverick attempts today. We were awful for 90 minutes but at least at the end we were still there making chances.
So the question I ask – is the Liverpool result a worthwhile sacrifice if it means another trophy at the end of the season? Or is the result unacceptable under any circumstances?