After 20 minutes of yesterday's Charity Shield it seemed that Manchester United would prefer a veil to be drawn over the game rather than the Millennium Stadium's roof. With Michael Owen causing havoc at one end, and Ruud van Nistelrooy embarrassing himself at the other, their mood was anything but charitable.
Liverpool, due to their European commitments, were further advanced in their preparation than United and it showed. They began Britain's first indoor game at a rush and were 2-0 up after 17 minutes. At that stage, Van Nistelrooy's meaningful contributions had been limited to a miskick in front of goal, a kick into Danny Murphy's ribs, and the inadvertent deflection of a Paul Scholes shot away from goal. United, especially Roy Keane, were growing tetchy.
But they are not the eternal champions without reason and, with the £19m Dutchman to the fore, United roused themselves in impressive fashion. Van Nistelrooy scored the first of what looks like being many goals for United and, were it not for the continuation of Stéphane Henchoz's charmed life on this ground, they would have forced at least a draw.
Since United have begun the last three seasons by losing the Charity Shield but ended each as champions, yesterday's failure is unlikely to worry their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Instead he will be encouraged by the way Van Nistelrooy settled, the easy slipping into gear of Ryan Giggs, and the clear evidence that the team's hunger burns as fiercely as ever. And there is still Juan Sebastian Veron, who was on international duty with Argentina this weekend, to add.
Liverpool also had reason to look beyond a scoreline which brought them their fourth trophy in six months and third at this stadium. Their own new signing, the more modestly priced (£5m) John Arne Riise, looked comfortable at left-back. They showed their customary solidity when defending as a unit, and Owen was electrifying. This will have particularly pleased the watching Sven Goran Eriksson and, given the latest doubt over Robbie Fowler's future, Gérard Houllier.
It took Owen only 42 seconds to discomfort United. The deafening roar that greeted kick-off, seemingly magnified by the presence of the roof, was still dying down when he broke into space on the left. Owen found Murphy well placed in the box but, struggling to get the ball under control, Murphy looked to have wasted the chance. He turned away from goal seeking space and Keane, rushing back, tripped him. Gary McAllister sent Fabien Barthez the wrong way from the spot.
Three minutes later Owen's livewire run across the top of the area drew a string of challenges from United defenders, culminating with Mickaël Silvestre bringing him down. It was a borderline decision as to whether the foul was inside the area or not. The referee, Andy D'Urso, who suffered "mass intimidation"' by United for awarding a penalty against them at Old Trafford two seasons ago and thus prompted a new disciplinary offence, decided it was outside and the free-kick came to naught.
Liverpool were not long denied. Thirteen minutes later Jaap Stam slipped as he stretched for Westerveld's long kick, Owen sprinted on to the loose ball, turned Gary Neville and rolled his shot past Barthez. Eriksson must have been tempted to send a message down to the Liverpool bench to the effect that it might be a good idea to withdraw Owen immediately with a view to the more important challenges ahead.
United's best chance at this point had ended with Van Nistelrooy miskicking after being set up by Giggs. The memory of Andy Cole's debut miss against Blackburn, and the subsequent struggle he had to establish himself, flashed across the memory banks.
It took United until the 26th minute to apply serious pressure but, when they did, they were unlucky not to be rewarded. Keane, from a Beckham free-kick, brought a flying save from Sander Westerveld with a powerful header. The resultant corner fell to Silvestre, whose shot appeared bound for goal when it bounced off Henchoz's thigh on to his arm. United screamed for a penalty; D'Urso waved play on. Much later, with United pressing for an equaliser, Henchoz committed an even more blatant handball, again D'Urso did not spot it.
Henchoz appears to be blessed at this ground. In the Worthington Cup final he brought down Birmingham's Andrew Johnson in the box. In the FA Cup he handled Thierry Henry's shot on the line. On both occasions he escaped conceding a penalty.
United's frustration could have boiled over had Denis Irwin not cleared off the line when Nick Barmby took advantage of Barthez's failure to clear a corner soon after. This inspired Keane, channelling his anger into his game, to drive forward himself only to shoot against the bar.
That gave United heart and they rolled forward in the second half with Van Nistelrooy and Scholes wasting good chances. Some critics were questioning the Dutchman's nerve, but the United supporters did not. He rewarded them after 50 minutes as, midway through a chant in praise of him, Van Nistelrooy took a neat pass from Giggs, skipped round Westerveld and scored.
With Dwight Yorke now on for Nicky Butt, and Scholes returned to midfield, United's movement improved and they ought to have drawn level. But with the hands of Westerveld and Henchoz denying Scholes, Keane and Van Nistelrooy, several flowing moves went unrewarded. United cared little. Though Liverpool had reminded them of the strength of their own revival, other, more important, rewards will surely come United's way.
Goals: McAllister (pen 1) 1-0; Owen (17) 2-0; Van Nistelrooy (50) 2-1.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Westerveld; Babbel, Hyypia, Henchoz, Riise (Carragher, 83); Murphy (Berger, 71), McAllister, Hamann, Barmby (Biscan, 71); Heskey, Owen. Substitutes not used: Redknapp, Arphexad (gk), Traoré, Litmanen.
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Barthez; Irwin, G Neville, Stam, Silvestre; Beckham, Keane, Butt (Yorke, 65), Giggs; Scholes; Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Solskjaer, Johnson, Chadwick, Brown, P Neville.
Referee: A D'Urso (Billericay).
Bookings: Liverpool: Murphy, Hamann. Manchester United: Scholes.
Man of the match: Hyypia.
Attendance: 70,227.Reuse content