Giggs snuffs out hopes Dalglish's return would restore old order

Manchester United 1 Liverpool 0

Old Trafford

From the moment Sir Alex Ferguson emerged from the Old Trafford tunnel and started waving his arms about, appealing to the home crowd to raise the pre-match atmosphere, you knew that the Manchester United manager was concerned yesterday might become Liverpool's day.

By doing nothing to disguise the fact that he knew the impact Kenny Dalglish's return would have on Liverpool yesterday, Ferguson inadvertently paid his old adversary the greatest compliment he could. Anyone at Old Trafford could hardly have failed to notice the Dalglish effect; the away fans were in the ground long before kick-off and they sounded the happiest they have in a long time.

As for the team, Dalglish picked a Liverpool side that would have appealed to the supporters. There was no Paul Konchesky in the side, with Fabio Aurelio a more popular choice, and a sprinkling of younger players on the bench. Then, as Dalglish came down the touchline to take his place in the dugout, he looked up at the away support, applauded, smiled and punched the air.

It provoked a response full of joy, affection and, it was impossible to ignore, optimism. From his seat in the dugout Ferguson cannot have failed to notice the mood. It took him the best part of a decade to depose Liverpool from their perch and the prospect of them clambering back up to it one day – one day in his lifetime – must still represent his greatest nightmare.

When Dalglish quit Liverpool in 1991, United were in their 23rd season without a league title and Ferguson, in his fifth year at the club, had finished a disappointing 13th the previous season, 31 points behind Dalglish's champions. In the years that followed he might have seen off Dalglish in his subsequent roles as Blackburn and then Newcastle manager, but as Liverpool manager, Dalglish retired when he was still on top.

So, yes, this day was about Dalglish but what should never be forgotten about Ferguson is that, despite his 11 titles and his great success, his entire professional existence is based on the continued subjugation of his managerial rivals. And Dalglish, 11 years out the game, is still a man who cannot be taken lightly, not now he is back at the club that once oppressed Ferguson and United in the 1980s.

What irony then that United should win a penalty after 32 seconds, exactly the kind of borderline decision that Ferguson once claimed Liverpool were given as a matter of course at home when he uttered that famous quotation in 1988 that clubs "come away from Anfield choking on their vomit and biting their tongues knowing they have been done by the referee".

Times have changed and Dalglish did not go that far, although he did call Howard Webb's decision to penalise Daniel Agger's challenge on Dimitar Berbatov "a joke". On balance it looked like the referee got it right. There was contact between the two and few Premier League strikers require a second invitation to go to ground.

Despite the bleak start, this game was not a disaster for Dalglish – in mitigation, his team had to cope with Steven Gerrard's needless red card. The Liverpool captain's reckless two-footed lunge at Michael Carrick after 32 minutes meant that a comeback was highly unlikely and, in the end, a 1-0 defeat turned out to be quite a respectable result.

Dalglish argued with Gerrard's dismissal too, although goodness knows why. There was not much anyone could do to explain why such an accomplished footballer would have such a self-destructive rush of blood. It was a long, lonely walk for Gerrard from the centre spot to the tunnel at the corner of Old Trafford and it was clearly an effort for him to keep a lid on his emotions.

The Liverpool captain had not liked his England team-mate Rio Ferdinand's intervention in the aftermath of the tackle and words were exchanged. Liverpool's strongest case for the defence was that Rafael da Silva had gone in two-footed on Raul Meireles seconds earlier but it was nowhere near as bad as Gerrard's challenge. He had to go.

It will concern Dalglish that his side's best player was Pepe Reina, who almost got to Ryan Giggs' penalty and made four brilliant saves in the space of a few seconds on 69 minutes as the ball fizzed around the Liverpool penalty area.

What of Fernando Torres? It was not the kind of inspirational contribution that Liverpool and Dalglish require from him but it was not as bad as some of those could-not-care-less performances that distinguished his worst efforts this season. He was substituted before the end for David Ngog and trotted dutifully to the bench.

For any Liverpool player, even Gerrard, Dalglish is a difficult man to let down and the full consequences of the captain's red card will be felt in his suspension over the next three games – especially against Everton next Sunday.

This was another of those United performances in which their form could hardly be described as irresistible but they were damned hard to break down. Ferdinand was excellent again and he was alongside Jonny Evans, back for the first time since that dreadful performance in November against West Ham in the Carling Cup, who hit the post with a header at the end of the first half.

Giggs was the pick of the team but Rafael, aggressive and sharp throughout, was not too far behind. United should have been a long way out of sight before the end of the game, especially as Liverpool's 10 men tired, but there remains something missing from Ferguson' s team. Still, top of the Premier League, in the Champions League knockout stages and away at League One Southampton in the FA Cup fourth round – it is not a bad position.

There was an insight into Dalglish's thinking when he gave Ryan Babel a run-out on the hour and the Dutchman responded with a lively, committed effort. It looks as if the Scot is prepared to give everyone a chance. As for going to war with Ferguson, United and the prevailing current powers in English football – that can wait. Although if Dalglish has plans to stick around beyond May, that battle will have to be fought one day.

Manchester United (4-3-3): Kuszczak; R da Silva, Ferdinand, J Evans (Smalling, 84), Evra; Fletcher (Anderson, 63), Carrick, Giggs; Nani, Berbatov, Hernandez (Owen, 75). Substitutes not used: indegaard (gk), F Da Silva, Obertan, Gibson

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Kelly, Agger, Skrtel, Aurelio; Lucas, Meireles (Shelvey, 60); Kuyt, Gerrard, Rodriguez (Babel, 60); Torres (Ngog, 77). Substitutes not used: Gulasci (gk),Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Poulsen

Possession Manchester United 58% Liverpool 22%

Shots on target Manchester United 10 Liverpool 5

Match rating 6/10 Man of the match Giggs

Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire)

Booked: Man United Fletcher, Anderson. Sent off: Liverpool Gerrard (32) Attendance 74,727

Liverpool lift-off

Five areas that Dalglish must seek to improve:



* Needs to get Fernando Torres back on form and scoring goals. The Spaniard's poor performances were central to Roy Hodgson's demise

* Get Jamie Carragher fit again. The defender is still very important to the side.

* Get Daniel Agger back on side. He fell out with Hodgson but Agger and Carragher are Liverpool's best central defensive duo.

* Sort out the left-back. If Paul Konchesky is not going to be picked again after his mother's Facebook rant,a replacement must be sought this month.

* More creativity required. On form, the likes of Ryan Babel and Joe Cole could offer Liverpool a great deal. Can Dalglish get the best out of them?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence