Mimicry, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "the action or skill of imitating someone or something, especially in order to entertain or ridicule". If any one of boring, lacklustre or uninspired could be used to describe the first half between Manchester United and Liverpool on Saturday, the second half was summed up in one word -- mimicry.
Billed as the biggest fixture in English and world football (Real Madrid and Barcelona won't be too pleased about the latter), expectations were high for the match that never fails to entertain. This time though it was just for 45 minutes.
It would not be too hard to imagine the team talk Brendan Rodgers gave to his Liverpool players ahead of the match. Picture this: The Liverpool squad is gathered in the dressing room for their biggest fixture of the season in enemy territory. They await the arrival of their manager to come give them some final words of encouragement and tactical advice. Outside, Old Trafford fans can be heard singing their team's name, waiting to see the prey (these very players this week) enter the Theatre of Dreams and live a nightmare. Brendan Rodgers comes in, looks at his players and his team talk is probably summed up in one word -- "defend". On to the second half then.
Blind's Scholes moment
United legend Paul Scholes was often called the greatest midfielder of all time and for all the praise heaped on him by his peers, two things set him apart -- his shyness off the field and a right foot that any goalkeeper would fear. Scholes made his name by making runs into the box when the entire team was ahead of him, latching on to a perfect pass or loose ball and firing it into the top corner. Daley Blind on Saturday did just that, albeit with his left foot.
With the game locked in a stalemate despite United's dominating possession, winger Ashley Young won a foul on the left. The resulting free-kick was sent in low by Juan Mata with all United players running forward. All but one. Blind made a late run into the box and wrapped his left foot around the ball to open the scoring in the 49th. Playing as a centre-back this season, and not very tall, he was the perfect man to have at the end of a move that has clearly been practised umpteen times on the training ground. First blood to United.
Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera made it 2-0 in the 70th, converting a penalty he won after being fouled by young Liverpool defender Joseph Gomez. Herrera, for his calm looking exterior, sent the ball into the roof of the net with such ferocity that former Red Devils' striker Robin van Persie would have stood up and applauded. Maybe he did just that at home in Turkey given that Fenerbahce weren't playing on Saturday.
Benteke does a Rooney
Wayne Rooney was ruled out of the match with a reported hamstring injury, and in his absence, Marouane Fellaini was deployed as the focal point of United's attack, much to the disappointment of the fans who would have much rather seen new signing Anthony Martial given a start. One thing was certain though, there would be no 'Rooney Man City Goal' moment.
Or was it?
At 2-0 Brendan Rodgers seemed to have finally realised that defence does not mean attack and Liverpool started to threaten. Their patience paid off and in some style. Right-back Nathaniel Clyne found himself in acres of space on the right flank and after drifting into the box, the England international sent a low cross into the area. It looked to be harmless at first, with no one making any contact but Reds' forward Christian Benteke, who worked tirelessly throughout the game despite his teammates' shortcomings (like Rooney so often does), controlled the ball well, sat it up for himself and struck an overhead kick so sweet that the goal of the season could already be decided. With six minutes plus added time left, Liverpool knew they could snatch a late point here but it was not to be.
Henry? Is that you?
Many believed the occasion was just too big, the stakes too high for Martial to make an appearance. The forward may have cost a record £36 million from Monaco, but he is only 19. Frenchman Thierry Henry, Arsenal's all-time record goalscorer, needed eight matches to score his first goal for the Gunners. Martial, needed just over 20 minutes for United.
Unknown to most outside England but dubbed the next Henry, Martial is known for his ability to take on defenders but no one could have predicted he would do so with such boldness and to such effect in a game. The forward found himself facing centre-back Martin Skrtel on the left flank having already lost Clyne with his clever movement off the ball. The Frenchman took on Skrtel, going left and right and body feinting before beating his man. From nothing, he found himself facing the goal and calmly slotted home a finish reminiscent of Henry's goal against Leeds. His last for Arsenal.
The 3-1 result though, is not by any means a sign that United's troubles are behind them. The first came from a set-piece, the second a penalty and the third was a piece of individual brilliance. The score line did however, let one player make his under the radar return to the team.
The publicity of United goalkeeper David de Gea's failed move to Real Madrid, which also saw him sit out all the matches till now, ensured that his return to the team would be in the spotlight and his every move scrutinised. The Spaniard, thanks to the attention given to Rooney's injury, Martial's debut and, of course, the result made his return to the team. He never put a foot wrong, making two brilliant saves in the second half. Did anyone even notice he was gone? With Sergio Romero in goal these past few weeks, everyone did.
United have failed to convince in the opening few weeks, but as a whole, they would have won a mimicking contest had there been one in Manchester on Saturday evening. With beautiful goals, a thunderous crowd, and a favourable scoreline against their biggest rivals, they mimicked the United of old.