Saturday, January 15, 2005
ESPNsoccernet: January 17, 5:06 PM UK
And the cupboard was bare...
The word from the press room at Anfield ahead of kick-off in this historic fixture was that Sir Alex Ferguson is less than happy.
Those in the know from the North West press pack were happy to tell anyone who would listen that the Manchester United manager has fallen out with the club's chief executive, David Gill, over the lack of transfer funds at his disposal during this January transfer window.
Gill has already gone on record to suggest that Ferguson's insistence on spending close to £30million to sign Wayne Rooney from Everton in August means he will be limited in his dealings at this point in the campaign, but word has it that he was keen to have a piece of the action as Thomas Gravesen left Everton this week.
It is hard to believe the world's most profitable club could not match Real Madrid's offer of £2.45m for Everton's tough tackling Danish midfielder, yet the men who make those headlines suggest his lack of financial support is testing Ferguson's patience to a dangerous point.
He has long said that the decision over when he retires will be made by him alone, but weeks like this may just help him make up his mind sooner rather than later.
Ferguson's need to plug the gap that will be created when Roy Keane hangs up his boots is his most pressing concern and whether Gravesen was the man to fill such a massive void is open to question.
But on a day when the resources of his squad were stretched to the limit again as he lost Alan Smith and Rio Ferdinand due to injury, his need to extend his options became obvious.
The United boss would have doubtless sacrificed the capture of Rooney if he could have lured Steven Gerrard to Old Trafford, but when you pay so much money for one player, he is expected to produce the magic on days like this.
In a season that has seen Tottenham's £7m striker, Jermain Defoe, light up games week after week, the question over whether Ferguson signed the wrong superstar kid has been aired, but after an indifferent start to his United career, the stage was set for the player who blew a hole in the Old Trafford transfer kitty to sparkle.
While many eyes were falling on Fernando Morientes as he made his Liverpool debut, Soccernet's Insider opted to cast his gaze on Rooney and the home side started promisingly, it was the man the majority of the fans inside this stadium were jeering from the off who opened the scoring.
Special players have a habit of getting the rub of the green to go with their obvious talent and after 21 minutes of looking like a little chubby boy lost, Rooney burst into the game.
The kid who made his name at Everton has never been too popular around these parts, so when he unleashed a powerful shot that Jerzy Dudek allowed to sneak under his body, the jeers quickly turned to anger.
Liverpool fans had been here before. Dudek's tendency to fluff his lines in this most significant of games has been in evidence before and allowing Rooney to score will not have done his status too much good.
United had been given a helping hand they barely need and as Roy Keane blasted a 30-yard shot onto the bar after half and hour, they came within half an inch of building a dominant foothold in this game.
As for Rooney, his lucky break did not inspire him and he looked to be struggling to find his place in this side.
Often drifting out to the flanks and playing behind Louis Saha, the United No.8 is neither a striker nor a midfield right now and while his work rate cannot be questioned, his raw talent is not yet honed well enough to allow him to take games by the scruff of the neck and win them single-handedly.
Outshone by Saha and the ever willing Paul Scholes in the attacking third, Rooney looked to be a player lacking in confidence. Many of his passes went astray and his constant protestations towards referee Bennett suggested he was looking for help to revive his flagging spirits.
His bustling run after 62 minutes was a flash of the Rooney that lit up Euro 2004 last summer, but when he got into the danger zone, his fluffed cross was a disappointment.
Looking a little like a racehorse lacking the kick finish he needs to carry off a classic, Rooney is searching for his form. Then there is that fragile temperament, which so nearly got the better of him as he lashed out at Luis Garcia, with referee Bennett giving him a yellow card and a stern talking to all at once.
Wes Brown's dismissal for a second yellow card should have set up a Liverpool revival in the final 20 minutes, but other than a desperate injury time save from Roy Carroll from Jamie Carragher, they rarely came close to finding an equaliser.
'We tried everything we could to get at them, but they have an experienced team and controlled the game for long periods,' admitted Rafa Benitez. 'One mistake often costs you so much against the big teams and we have paid for that on this occasion. I will not criticise the goalkeeper because he has played well in the other parts of the game.
'For the first 20 minutes, we had control, but the goal changed things. It gave them confidence and left us chasing, chasing. In the end, we couldn't find a way through, but we will keep on working.'
Ferguson was in bullish mood and fired a shot at his title rivals by claiming his side have performed better than anyone at Anfield this season. 'It was a terrific performance,' stated United boss Ferguson. 'Arsenal and Chelsea have been here now and I would think that our performance has been the best of the top three.
'We deserved to win today and can take great confidence from the performance.
'A few lads were coming back into the side today and I felt Louis Saha and John O'Shea did a great job for us when called upon. We have kept seven clean sheets in a row now and since Rio Ferdinand came back, that composure is there again. The backline is looking very strong now.'
Rooney was taken off in the final seconds to the acclaim of the United fans and his manager, but this was not the type of performance you would expect from a £30m man. He may have scored the winning goal, but if he has been the man who broke the Old Trafford budget, there is plenty of room for improvement.
As for that rumoured Old Trafford transfer fund row, the Sunday newspapers may just spill a few more beans.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Paul Scholes: When he announced his retirement from international football last year, a few cynics suggested it may not be a bad thing for England as Scholes was in the midst of a woeful run of form. He is back to his best now and outshone Steven Gerrard in the midfield battle.
FOOD WATCH: A sandwich and a cup of tea was on offer, but the press men down south certainly seem to get a better lot.
UNITED VERDICT: They are cranking up the gears and as long as Scholes and Roy Keane continue to perform as they did today, these proven winners will be lying in wait if Chelsea do slip up.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Finishing fourth is the best Rafa Benitez's men can hope for and on this evidence, they are some way behind United.
ROONEY VERDICT: He has much to learn and is a raw talent that will doubtless come good for Manchester United, but their match winner at Anfield is not the finished article. His goal today may kick start his season.
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