Hard labour for Liverpool
Sunday 13 October 1996
Moments of passion were rare, with Neil Ruddock's pantomime villain appearance on the touchline provoking the most animation in the home crowd. But with Estonian-style kick-off time, the aches of international duty last week, and the burdens of European competition next, most of the players could be forgiven for a certain jet-lagged hesitancy. But probably just as potent was their knowledge that yesterday's game was far too early in the season to matter.
Sure, Liverpool would have wanted to preserve their unbeaten record, and would certainly have achieved it but for David Beckham's moment of instant daring, but at times their neat possession game looked like an end in itself, rather than a means to winning.
The absence, through injury, of Robbie Fowler may also have affected their thinking, but the continuing preference for Michael Thomas ahead of Jamie Redknapp smacks of undue caution and perhaps an unconscious acknowledgement by Liverpool that United are still the government of the day, while they are still just one of two or three opposition parties.
Last year, Fowler's four goals took four points off United but didn't affect the season's outcome. Liverpool's fans have had to settle for scraps in the battles with United - the last-game victory in 1992 which confirmed Leeds's title, and the defiant 3-3 draw at Anfield in 1994. But they know that in the ideological struggle with their fiercest rivals, only trophies count.
But it is now six years since Liverpool's last championship and being "out of office" for so long is beginning to show - they were almost deferential to United for large parts of this game, as if frightened that attacking them too vigorously would produce a damaging backlash. "They don't really cut you open," Alex Ferguson summed up aptly, words that Major might say of the Labour party.
United were, in their own way, as guilty of caution as Liverpool, but with Ferguson's eye on Europe next week, that was perhaps understandable and his players followed his orders not to be provoked by Liverpool's keep-ball.
"This game wasn't as important to us as next Wednesday's [against Fenerbahce in Turkey]; we can always catch up in the League," Ferguson spin-doctored to good effect as if yesterday was a mere by-election.
Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, clung to the "if you don't put the ball in the net" consolation, but a suspicion lurks that his team's inability to turn possession into goals in the games that matter may yet condemn them to another term in opposition next May.
Latest in Sport
Arsenal transfer news: Atletico Madrid closing in on Santi Cazorla deal - reports
Manchester United transfer news: Arturo Vidal subject of £39m bid
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger set to cancel moves for Sami Khedira and Morgan Schneiderlin in favour of Jack Wilshere - reports
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal
LA Galaxy vs Manchester United: 'Beautiful goals and beautiful attacks' - Louis van Gaal revels in 'fantastic' 7-0 start
- 1 Fifty Shades of Grey movie trailer released: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 50 books for students to read this summer: From Ernest Hemingway to Gillian Flynn
- 4 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...
£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...
£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...