Liverpool wrapped up the inaugural ‘Legends of the North’ series, beating Manchester United 2-1 at Anfield.
The Reds had won the first leg 3-1 at Old Trafford back in May, but fell behind in the early stages through Dimitar Berbatov, before goals from Mark Gonzalez and Florent Sinama Pongolle earned them the win.
United took the lead in stunning fashion in the first half when Berbatov curled in a strike after a clever knock-down by Danny Pugh. The Bulgarian, without a moment’s hesitation swerved the ball with the outside of his foot past the despairing Jerzy Dudek into the top corner.
The visitors had the better of the first half but after Liverpool made a bunch of changes at the break, the pendulum instantly swung the other way. Robbie Keane was one of the new arrivals and capitalised on a rare Jaap Stam error to find the ball in the penalty area. The Irishman then played a smart ball across the pass for fellow substitute Mark Gonzalez to level the scores.
Roy Keane came off the bench to a cacophony of boos from the Anfield crowd, but those jeers quickly turned into cheers as Florent Sinama Pongolle fired Liverpool into the lead with seven minutes to go.
We take a look at the main talking points as Liverpool get one over their old rivals again.
United call in the cavalry
These days are all about the charities and the brilliant fund-raising efforts from English football’s biggest clubs. But that doesn’t mean both want to get one over on their old rivals and United’s team news said as much.
Going into the game with a two-goal deficit, United called in some younger players and their midfield of Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson and Darren Fletcher showed they were in it to win it.
Danny Pugh,39, was one of the standouts for United, little surprise considering he was still playing for Port Vale two years ago. Fraizer Campbell at 35 was unsurprisingly the quickest player on either side as he looks out for a new side following leaving Huddersfield last season.
However, it was a lack of options off the bench that ultimately cost United, with Liverpool bringing on fresh legs which would tip the game in their favour.
Berbatov still got it
Some retired players understandably look a shadow of their former selves. No longer possessing the kind of pace which made them reach the very top of their sport.
Fortunately for Berbatov, that was never part of his game anyway. And so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he looked a cut above.
Having sauntered around the pitch in his prime, his style suits these types of games perfectly. His nonchalant opener was a thing of real beauty, flicking a Danny Pugh knockdown into the top corner with ease. Now 41, he still looks capable of doing a job…if that job is strutting around a pitch and creating YouTube highlights.
For any of those in attendance who perhaps didn’t get to see Xabi Alonso in his prime, the Spaniard took just 45 seconds to show why he dazzled supporters during his time at Anfield. Picking the ball up in his own half, he sprayed a wonderful, inch-perfect, 45-yard pass. There was an audible gasp as the arrowing ball found its destination with ease. He then repeated the trick before the break, only for Anthony Le Tallec to volley wide.
And how cruel that his flashes of class come at a time when Liverpool so desperately need a player exactly like him. Jurgen Klopp was forced to act in the final days of the transfer window, with injuries ravaging his options in the middle of the park.
Alonso may be 40, but he still looked capable of the bits of brilliance he showed so often. What Klopp would give for a 30-year-old Alonso right now…
Keane’s telling moment
After insisting he would never appear in a United legends game, Denis Irwin managed to convince his old pal to dust off the boots yet again. Coincidentally, this was the same venue where his previous United appearance came back in 2005.