Football: Vintage United walk alone

Liverpool see gulf widen as Beckham leaves his trademark and Cole continues goal run
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The Independent Online
Liverpool 1

Fowler pen 60

Manchester United 3

Cole 51, 74, Beckham 70

Attendance: 41,027

The lyric to the Liverpool anthem - and no matter how many times you hear it sung by a brimming Anfield, "You'll Never Walk Alone" still sends shivers through you - speaks of the sweet silver sound of the lark. Liverpool still looked some way from that elusive new dawn of silverware yesterday as Manchester United showed yet again how and why they have usurped them as the paragons of the English game.

There was to Liverpool's often careless work an individualistic quality, a reliance on one of several personalities to conjure something for them as, too often, players were left isolated. By contrast, United moved as one, worked diligently together, supported each other, and trusted one another. This was modern football, energetic, muscular and industrious, near its best.

Two goals by the lately prolific Andy Cole took his tally to 12 from his last eight games as United continued to assemble some awesome statistics: eight wins in their last nine games, 27 goals in their last six Premiership matches. After Juventus in the Champions' League this week come Aston Villa on Monday week and Newcastle two weeks today. In this mood they look likely to put some distance between themselves and their rivals by Christmas.

Last April, Liverpool looked to be approaching United's standards. A win at Anfield over their main rivals would have taken them close to their first title in seven years. Instead United won 3-1 virtually to end their challenge. The same result yesterday confirmed the gap, one widening as United's young players accumulate experience and confidence.

Liverpool, hoping that victory at Arsenal last Sunday might have been the launch-pad to their season, did have their moments, notably in the first half, and they created several chances. It looked promising at the outset as Stig-Inge Bjornebye's left foot twice found Robbie Fowler for attempts on goal. The first pass saw the striker, still not sharp after returning from suspension, stab wide before he headed wide from the second cross. Fowler also had a shot deflected just over the bar soon after.

In addition, Oyvind Leonhardsen sent a shot across goal,while just ahead of half-time, Steve McManaman - on whom too much of the burden of creativity rested - played a brilliant one-two with Fowler, who provided an overhead return pass, but shot lamely, also across goal.

With their shape tight and discipline steady, United always looked capable of striking on the break. Cole and Teddy Sheringham were always available as outlets, and defenders, Gary Pallister outstanding among them, knew with assurance into which areas to clear and not see the ball swiftly returned.

Cole sent in Ryan Giggs with a neat touch and David James had to dive to save, though he was less troubled by a shot from Nicky Butt - who, with Ronny Johnsen, constantly pushed back Jamie Redknapp and Jamie Carragher in midfield - after a splendid move also involving Giggs and Cole. Teddy Sheringham, winning everything in the air, also shot into the side netting.

There was the added ingredient of a likely error by the Liverpool defence, with their central pairing of Bjorn Tore Kvarme and Dominic Matteo often unsafe. Five minutes into the second half, Kvarme, seeking to find Matteo, surrendered possession to the harrying Cole, who ran on, cut inside and drove a low shot past James. It was the work of a man at the top of his game, a mirror of United's self-assurance.

Liverpool charged back into the game and won a penalty when the teenager Michael Owen - later fortunate to stay on the field after two handballs inside a minute - was bundled over by Butt and Gary Neville.Fowler tucked the kick into Peter Schmeichel's left corner as the keeper moved to his right.

Liverpool enjoyed a purple patch, Leonhardsen having a shot deflected wide as Anfield roared them on. One sensed this resilient United would come again, however. How they did. When Carragher fouled Cole on the edge of the penalty area, up stepped Beckham to curl powerfully beyond James and into the net off the underside of the bar. Vintage, trademark stuff.

Four minutes later it was all but over. Giggs's corner from the left was flicked on by Sheringham, eluding Matteo, and Cole had a simple task to touch the ball into the back of the net from close range. Now United could stroll to the whistle, their support taunting Liverpool's suspended captain, Paul Ince - once of Old Trafford - with the score.

Liverpool did fashion one late chance when Karlheinz Riedle clipped a pass from Patrik Berger just wide. The home side now had on view more strikers than the nearby docks, but it was tokenism. "Outclassed by the champions," went the United fans' triumphalist chant, and Anfield could hardly disagree.

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