Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mcmahon: A European night on Merseyside

By Steve Mcmahon

“Steve McMahon, former Liverpool midfielder and England International, is a resident football pundit on ESPN’s Football Focus and Football Forecast. Catch his predictions on www.espnstar.com”

European nights are special and there is nowhere like it other than Liverpool’s Anfield.

I was lucky enough to be on Merseyside to witness their game against Real Madrid.

You can go all over the world to watch football but there’s something about Anfield on a European night that makes it extra special.

Real Madrid are a fantastic club and one of most successful in Europe. But to be honest, I don’t think it matters when you are at Anfield.

Liverpool almost always turn it on in the Champions League – and it was just an unbelievable night. They never let Real settle down at all.

I expected Liverpool to win but not as emphatically as they did. It was a magnificent performance from start to finish.

Fernando Torres was the difference – he got Anfield going. Saying he is an exciting player doesn’t do him justice – he’s poetry in motion. He’s got elegance, class and that coolness in front of goal. He’s one of them the fans love to watch.

Torres makes the team play and whenever he gets the ball he makes the crowd buzz. And in turn, the buzz from the crowd ups the players.

As I have mentioned on Football Focus and in my previous columns on espnstar.com, Torres is one the best strikers in Europe, if not, the world.

That’s why earlier on at the start of the season, it was so frustrating to see him on the bench or injured.

Liverpool’s performance at Old Trafford was something else.

I was surprised as much as anyone else by not just the win but the nature of the win. The best Liverpool could do was hold out for a draw, that’s what I thought anyway.

Liverpool didn’t just win; they demolished Manchester United – no two ways about it. Liverpool absolutely battered them in their own backyard. Nobody has done that to United in a long, long while.

Nemanja Vidic didn’t know what day it was. The Serbian who has been United’s best player this whole season struggled badly. Mind you, I think he is a strong contender for the PFA Player of the Year award and he has been up there with the best this season. And yet Torres made him look like an average player.

Steven Gerrard and Torres were simply too good for United. When you keep these two fit enough, they can win games for you. This duo can get into any team at the moment.

For United, I was a little surprised by their line-up. They usually play the local players in this kind of game. But the usual suspects Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher were all on the bench.

So maybe, just maybe, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has made a mistake there. Maybe he has gotten a little complacent. He thought the team that he put out will be good enough to beat Liverpool. He didn’t expect Liverpool to play as well as that.

For their part, Liverpool suffered a massive blow ahead of kick-off when Sami Hyypia had to come in for Alvaro Arbeloa and Jamie Carragher had to be switched to right-back. And Lucas came in for Xabi Alonso. Lucas, whom I am not a great fan of, actually did very well. Everybody did their job properly.

Well, they could make all sorts of excuses for United’s display but in the end it was Liverpool who made it that. Everything went right for Liverpool.

Ferguson said Man United were the better team. Well, if he had said that, he certainly was not watching the same game everyone else was watching.

But in terms of the title race – it is still United’s to lose. It is too late for Liverpool to come back from such a deficit. It’s such a shame really. The same goes for Chelsea.

I really find it difficult to see United slip up. There will still be hiccups between now and to the end of the season. But United will have to lose an unthinkable three games in order for the title race to be blown wide open.  There’s no chance whatsoever of that happening.

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