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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Boss: We could have had more

United blasted three goals past arch rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford with Sir Alex Ferguson insisting it could have been many more.

Wes Brown opened the scoring in the 34th minute before late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani sealed the three points.

“The 3-0 scoreline wasn’t flattering,” Sir Alex told MUTV. “Not at all. Wayne Rooney could have had a hat-trick, Cristiano Ronaldo could have had a hat-trick… we certainly had the better chances and the better penetration.

“I was disappointed we didn’t finish them off earlier. When we did get the second goal there was relief right around the ground.”

Tomorrow’s papers will undoubtedly focus on referee Steve Bennett’s decision to send off Javier Mascherano just before half time for dissent. The Argentine midfielder was already on a yellow card when he ran over to Bennett to protest another decision.

“The boy had already been booked and dissent is dissent,” Sir Alex said. “There’s been a lot of focus on dissent after what happened with Ashley Cole. I don’t know why he got involved in the situation. He’s come running across the field to argue with the referee.

“The sending off gave us control of the match, although I think we had reasonable control up until that point.”

The three points propelled United further ahead at the top of the Barclays Premier League, although the manager said the result won’t have direct bearing on the title race.

“We’ve done our job but we’re not getting carried away. You can’t get carried away in his league. But it’s a good morale boost, that’s for sure."

Carrick not complacent

Michael Carrick insists the Reds won't rest on the laurels of victory over Liverpool, even if Sunday's win has sealed United's status as strong title favourites.

The midfielder believes the fixture list still looks difficult, telling MUTV: "We’re playing well at the moment but we’ve still got a tough run-in and it’s not going to be easy.

"We’re not getting carried away by any means but we’re happy with our position. Three or four weeks ago we were a few points behind Arsenal and aware that we needed to get points on the board fairly quickly.

"We’ve managed to do that and obviously Arsenal have slipped up a little bit and opened the door for us."

When United opened the door against Liverpool, the identity of the first scorer caught Carrick by surprise.

"It was mad to see Wes (Brown) up there, I was a bit shocked it was him when the goal went in," he laughed.

"It means a lot to Wes to score against Liverpool, being a local lad, and his goal got us up and running. We played some good football after that."

For all the good football and goalscoring opportunities created, United had to endure a long wait for the security of a second strike. As comfortable as the Reds seemed to be against the ten men of Liverpool, Michael admits a few doubts were starting to creep in as a rack of chances went begging.

"Cristiano had a great chance - just before he scored the second goal - and you think is it going to be one of those days?" confessed Carrick.

"Sometimes the longer it goes on the harder it becomes and Liverpool were just beginning to have a half-decent spell in the game, getting a few free-kicks and things.

"The game can be on a knife-edge until you get that crucial second goal. Once we got that we could relax and enjoy the game a bit more and then Nani’s goal capped things off for us."

Michael Carrick was talking to MUTV.

Manchester United Vs. Liverpool Result Report

A Portuguese one-two from Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, following Wes Brown’s first goal for United for almost three years, put the Reds in the top-flight driving seat and destroyed any lingering hopes Liverpool might have had of breaking into the title race.

After all the pre-match talk of great attacking players on the park, it was ironic that a defender delivered the telling first blow on a pivotal afternoon in the Premier League. But the main talking point in Monday’s papers will surely be the same one that followed last week’s match between Chelsea and Spurs – the relationship between referees and players. For Chelsea’s Ashley Cole and the disrespected ref Mike Riley, read Javier Mascherano and Steve Bennett – but don’t believe the hype that Liverpool’s midfield hardman lost the match as well as his temper. The storm that probably had teacups flying in the away dressing room couldn’t mask the fact United were as superior on the day as they have been this season. And last season, and the season before that…

Faced with his usual embarrassment of riches in midfield, Sir Alex Ferguson opted for an effective central trio of Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Anderson. The young Brazilian fashioned the first chance of Grand Slam Sunday (copyright: Sky Sports) when he fed the ball through to Wayne Rooney in the sixth minute. The United striker shrugged off the challenge of Jamie Carragher but couldn’t beat Pepe Reina, the Liverpool keeper who was alive to the threat and blocked.

The same foes Rooney and Reina went toe-to-toe again moments later but this time the striker didn’t take control of the ball sufficiently to get in a shot and the goalkeeper was able to gather under pressure.

The first card of the afternoon swiftly followed, not for Rooney but for Liverpool’s midfield hardman Javier Mascherano. The Argentine anchorman, compared to former United captain Roy Keane by his boss Rafa Benitez, saw yellow for scything into Keano’s former sidekick Paul Scholes. Referee Steve Bennett had previously taken no action when Scholes lunged unsuccessfully in Mascherano’s direction inside the first minute, giving the watching millions hope that he might let this traditionally pulsating fixture flow.

Liverpool’s first shot across United’s bows came from an unlikely source as left-back Aurelio blasted the ball beyond the top right-hand corner after a well-orchestrated short corner. The Brazilian was enjoying the better of his early encounters with his direct opponent Cristiano Ronaldo, skipping around one challenge from the Portuguese in his own half and evading another in United territory before firing wide.

Ronaldo had more joy on the left flank, switching in time to strike the post in the 24th minute when Ryan Giggs’ whipped-in free-kick from the right was inadvertently flicked on by a Liverpool defender. When play swung to the other end, United were grateful to the nick off Nemanja Vidic diverting Steven Gerrard’s piledriver over the bar.

Another end-to-end episode just after the half-hour began with Reina almost spilling the ball over his own goal-line before pushing it out at the second attempt to trigger a Torres-led counter-attack. Liverpool failed to capitalise from the corner however and were made to pay when Wes Brown, of all people, charged forward to power home a header from Wayne Rooney’s left-wing cross in the 34th minute. Reina was rocky again, flailing with a punch that missed both the ball and Brown who bravely ran the gauntlet.

It was all too much for the opposition to take – within minutes, Liverpool were a man down as well as a goal down after an extraordinary explosion of indiscipline saw Torres booked for dissent and Mascherano given his marching orders when the same offence brought his second yellow card. And all this after Liverpool were awarded a free kick in United’s half!

Mascherano was a man possessed and Benitez had his work cut out to keep his player away from Bennett, before launching into a heated exchange of his own with United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz. It was a stormy end to a fiery first period with the promise of more fireworks to come.

The half opened with Reina snuffing out Ronaldo’s attempt to extend United’s lead and van der Sar saving a long-range Gerrard shot. Alvaro Arbeloa became the first player after the break to get booked, bringing down Anderson inches outside the Liverpool box. It was close enough for Ronaldo to fancy his chances but this free-kick flew low and just wide of the far post.

Liverpool were on still on the ropes but United’s efforts to kill them off were being frustrated, Rooney having a close-range shot beaten away by Reina while a rarely deployed van der Sar looked on from the other end. There was a little resistance from Liverpool, enough to rattle Rio Ferdinand into a booking during his battle with Torres, but nothing to cause any serious nail-biting among the buoyant United supporters.

Reina redeemed himself further for his first-half flounderings with a flying save to thwart Carlos Tevez, just after United’s match-winner at Anfield came on for Anderson. Nani for Giggs was Sir Alex’s other change and the Portuguese sub swiftly made an impact – twice over.

First Nani’s left-wing corner was headed home emphatically by Ronaldo for his 34th goal of the season; then the youngster grabbed a beautiful goal of his own, cutting inside from the industrious Rooney’s pass and lashing the ball beyond Reina.

The ecstatic Old Trafford faithful chorused ‘Champion-es’ – a celebration of the Reds’ current status or a confident statement about the events still to unfold? On a happy Easter for United, it could well have been both.

Manchester United: van der Sar; Brown, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Anderson (Tevez, 73), Scholes; Ronaldo, Giggs (Nani, 73); Rooney.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, O’Shea, Hargreaves.

Booked: Ferdinand.

Liverpool: Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio; Kuyt, Mascherano, Alonso, Babel (Benayoun, 66); Gerrard; Torres (Riise, 83). Subs not used: Itandje, Hyypia, Crouch.

Booked: Torres, Arbeloa.
Sent off: Mascherano.

Attendance: 76,000

Manchester United Vs. Liverpool Highlights Video Clip

Manchester U. [3 - 0] Liverpool
34' [1 - 0] W. Brown
79' [2 - 0] C. Ronaldo
80' [3 - 0] Nani


Manchester United Vs. Liverpool Match Preview

Rio Ferdinand is doubtful for Manchester United's clash with Liverpool on Sunday but Edwin van der Sar could feature.

The pair have both missed United's last two matches, defender Ferdinand with a back problem and goalkeeper Van der Sar with a groin injury.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson was due to assess both players in training on Friday, along with striker Louis Saha.

The Frenchman sustained a knock in Wednesday's defeat of Bolton but is expected to be fit.

Spanish defender Gerard Pique could continue in Ferdinand's absence.

England full-back Gary Neville, who has been out for a year with groin and ankle problems, is close to a return after another run-out for the reserves on Thursday.

Ferguson is relishing the prospect of another ferocious battle with Liverpool.

Ferguson's side face a stern test of their title ambitions as their great rivals visit Old Trafford on the back of seven straight wins.

No love is ever lost between the two teams and this time, with just eight matches remaining, the stakes are high for both clubs.

United will hope to score a psychological blow ahead of the clash between closest challengers Arsenal and Chelsea later in the day while Liverpool are keen to cement their grip on fourth place.

On the face of it, Ferguson could be forgiven for wishing for more modest opponents than their fellow Champions League quarter-finalists, but the Scot insists he would have it no other way.

"We have got a big game, a massive game - I enjoy the madness of it. I love the Liverpool games and the players do,'' he said.

"They'll be anticipating a really difficult game, but they are the games you want to be playing in.''

Key to Liverpool's hopes will be Fernando Torres, the in-form striker who has scored 10 goals in his last eight matches and 27 in total this season.

Torres was once a target for Ferguson before Liverpool prised him away from Atletico Madrid and the United boss is well aware of the danger he poses.

Ferguson said: "For a first season in the premier division, he has to be very pleased with that. I'm sure Rafa's delighted with that return.

"I don't think he came here with any great doubts - he had a good record in Spain and is a Spanish international.''

The meeting of Torres and United's star attraction Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 33 goals this season, has been much hyped.

Ferguson said of the match-up: "It doesn't concern me at all.

"I'm only concerned about one player, and that's our man. I don't pay attention to these things.''

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has no new injury worries ahead.

Defender Daniel Agger is still out, having had a third operation on a broken metatarsal earlier this week. Benitez does not expect his return until next season.

Harry Kewell will captain Australia this weekend in Singapore, and although the midfielder has talked of still fighting for a new contract it seems likely now that he will leave Anfield this summer.

Benitez could field an unchanged side at Old Trafford, although he may use the experienced John Arne Riise in midfield ahead of Ryan Babel.

Defender Jamie Carragher believes the goalscoring double act of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard can cut United down to size.

The tough defender will be at the heart of Liverpool's attempts to halt the free-scoring Cristiano Ronaldo and co - but he has great confidence in the Anfield club's 46-goal scoring duo.

"When you put great players together, you get results. Torres and Gerrard are certainly that, they are both very clever on the pitch,'' said Carragher.

"Torres stretches defences and Gerrard gets into the hole behind; Stevie then is able to produce the passes for Fernando to run on to.

"It is not something we work on too much in training, it is just two top players getting together and the combination works.''

Carragher concedes Liverpool can only be seriously considered as a challenger for fourth place now and is aware they must continue their run of victories - which now stands at seven - if they are going to hold off Everton.

"Fourth place is obviously the aim now. We have to stay there, even if we know Everton are right in behind us,'' he added.

"They have had a great season and they are the main danger. They will look at how many games we have got left and believe we will drop points over the next few weeks.

"We have Manchester United and Arsenal away, and Everton at home in our next three league matches.

"We will see after those next three games where both teams are, but I expect it to be neck and neck right to the end of the season now.''