Manchester United v. Liverpool – 14 March
Nemanja Vidic let the ball bounce, breaking a cardinal rule. (I assume the Cardinals used to prove their piety to the Pope by keeping their footballs as close to the ground as possible. Or something like that.) He might have headed it away if he knew how abruptly Fernando Torres would be on the scene. But instead, thinking either that 1.) he had loads of time or that 2.) Torres had transformed into a tree sloth… Vidic sinfully let the ball bounce.
Torres wasted no time in punishing the Serbian defender. It was like something out of an old roadrunner cartoon. Torres zipped in behind Vidic. Time seemed to stop. I expected some kind of sound effect like swoosh as Torres swooped in and boing as he slowed to make his move, and then Torres’ faux latin name would appear on the screen: Spainiardicus Devastatii. Or something like that.
What really happened is this: Liverpool’s star strike hooked his leg around Manchester United’s star centre back and booted the ball forward into space, beyond Vidic’s reach. Vidic dutifully lost his balance and tumbled to the ground. It was a wonderful mix of athleticism and slapstick. Torres ran onto the ball with enough time and space to himself to manufacture a genius moment.
Torres was now one-on-one with keeper Edwin van der Sar. But by my math it was more like one-on-none. In fact, van der Sar might have later wondered why he didn’t sit down and have a rest, as he would need his energy for Liverpool’s coming goal onslaught. Or maybe he should have brought a book.
Though van der Sar has had an amazing year with more clean sheets than a toilet paper factory, much of his success has always relied on having the world’s greatest defense between him and serious threat. But Torres had shrugged that defense off with guile, determination and downright carniverious hunger. He’d yet to score on Liverpool’s arch-rivals since joining the Merseyside outfit and this was perhaps the finest chance he could have. Torres ran in, waited for the perfect moment and deftly fired the ball low into the opposite corner. Vidic held his hands to his head. The Reds were level.
For Liverpool, who rarely score at Old Trafford, the goals would keep coming. Patrice Evra tackles Steven Gerrard in the box. Gerrard converts the penalty on 44 minutes. In the second half, Vidic gives Gerrard an impromptu physical as Liverpool’s captain charges toward the box. I couldn’t tell if Gerrard was turning and coughing as Vidic pulled him down. Vidic gets the red card. Fabio Aurelio converts the free-kick on 77 minutes. Few would have expected a ten man Man U to come back against such a convincing Liverpool performance, (although, the hosts did make some penetrating runs and threaten from set play), but few would have expected Andrea Dossena, subbed on for Albert Riera, to cap of the evening with a stoppage time goal bursting with cheek. Running onto another poorly defended long ball, Dossena beat out his cover and caught the ball with a side-foot-full-volley-chip-lob. Exactly. The strangeness of the goal was only amplified by the fact this was Dossena’s second goal ever for Liverpool, his first coming one match before in the 4-0 drubbing of Real Madrid.
The win was a team effort, but Torres blazed the trail. He broke through Man U’s brick wall defense and brought the Reds back on terms after being a goal down in a stadium where goals, nevermind wins, have not been coming Liverpool’s way in recent years.
The kid opened the floodgates.
Two successful spot kicks came from Gerrard following the Torres route, and Dossena’s chip was a fine echo of Torres turning a long ball into a goal.
Liverpool came to Old Trafford with difficult gaps in the roster, key players Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa both out with injury, and with Torres himself showing signs that he was not fully recovered from his recent injury hiatus. But both Torres and Liverpool called up the mental fitness to dissect their oldest and usually undissectable arch-foes.
The kid really is something special. And if he stays fit, there should be plenty more of these displays in Liverpool’s future. Hopefully Setanta, Sky Sports, et al. cue up the sound effects for the next time.