The craziness that is this years Premier League title race continued at the weekend with Man United crashing to a shock defeat at Fulham, and Chelsea losing to a resurgent Spurs.
Man United swatted Fulham aside like flies twice already this season so I was convinced that it would be another easy win for them. Boy, was I wrong!
Fulham defended like Spartans all game, Hangeland and Hughes were once again outstanding, as they have been all season, Bobby Zamora had one of his best ever games for Fulham and Davies and Murphy ran the show from the middle. A Murphy penalty (He’s scored a few of those against Man Utd in his career) and a superb finish by Gera saw off United, who lost back to back games for the first time in over 150 games..
Chelsea also surprisingly slipped up, losing by a Luka Modric goal to Spurs.
That meant the onus was on Liverpool to beat Villa and close the gap to one point on United, while breaking clear of Chelsea for second place. This traditionally is the point where Liverpool completely choke and draw 0-0. Wrong again.
All I can say to the Liverpool manager is this: Who are you and what have you done with Rafa Benitez? We are playing open, attacking, un-Benitezlike football. Whoever he is, I’m actually enjoying watching Liverpool play for the first time all season.
We came out of the gate flying. Skrtel nearly scored after 3 minutes, we noticed Villa had Nigel Reo-Coker filling in at right back and we got Riera to exploit that all game. Riera drew a foul from Reo-Coker, and Xabi Alonso headed Gerrard’s freekick onto the bar but Kuyt smashed home the rebound.
Villa had their best period of the entire match after we scored and Carew was twice denied by excellent saves by Reina (who beat Ray Clemence’s record for the fastest to get 100 clean sheets). It was a really exciting opening half-hour with the game moving quickly from end to end with plenty of action.
A poor Villa freekick was handled by Reina, who then launched a long pass up field. Riera escaped the Villa defence and finished with aplomb. Riera hadn’t finished terrorising Reo-Coker and his exquisite control to another long pass caused Reo-Coker to clatter into him for a penalty, which Gerrard stroked home.
Liverpool were opening up the Villa defence at will and we were causing havoc with the movement of our front players. Gerrard beautifully placed a freekick into the bottom corner for the fourth and then Friedel brought down Torres, who was otherwise pretty quiet, for a penalty and a harsh red card (I know it’s the rules but I think a penalty should be sufficient punishment in those circumstances). Gerrard made no mistake and collected, if I’m not mistaken, his first ever Premier League hat-trick.
Liverpool were rampant and could have easily scored more. We really showed that we are for real, and United, whatever they say, will be worried.
What will really worry United is the manner of their defeats. They totally lost the midfield battle in both games, something you almost never can say about United. They also lost their discipline, losing Scholes for deliberate handball (which Alex Ferguson laughingly claims was an unfair dismissal) and Rooney for a second booking for throwing the ball aggressively toward the referee. The referee had rightly not allowed United to take their freekick from the wrong position and Rooney was so wound up, he hurled the ball back in the direction of the referee. United claimed he was returning the ball but there were no United players near. He also punched the corner flag on his way off.
Ronaldo was an embarrassment. He’s has been playing like he’s disinterested and I’ve spoke to a few United fans who are getting increasingly unhappy with him. He was throwing himself to the ground constantly and whingeing every time someone challenged him. He was also asking the referee to book Fulham players and he was lucky not to be sent off himself.
United must also be worried that Liverpool have wiped out an eleven goal deficit in terms of goal difference and now United’s goal difference is 2 goals inferior. United looked to be strolling towards the title 2 weeks ago but now its been blown wide open. United also have, on paper at least, a slightly tougher run-in than Liverpool, though they do have a game in hand.
The international break comes at the right time for United, as they will regroup but it looks as though it will be the closest title race in years.
P.S. Liverpool have scored 4 goals in 3 consecutive matches against teams that have won a European Cup/Champions League. Has this ever been done before?