United back to being better than Liverpool
Liverpool were so close. They almost got the Manchester monkey off their backs. They almost walked alone.
But they blew it.
Manchester United put down the Anfield uprising. The Kop witnessed a copout.
Liverpool lost the battle and will now lose the war. They will not recover. They will not stand at the summit again.
Bragging rights belong to yesterday. Tomorrow belongs to Manchester United.
After a single season of superiority, Brendan Rodgers' men have recast themselves in familiar, unwanted roles, chasing devilish coattails and making up the numbers.
It's a sobering reality that should comfort no one.
Sunday's game was dipped in gravitas because it actually meant something beyond bragging rights. The outcome mattered. The points were pivotal. Both teams were chasing Champions League qualification.
For the first time in years, there was little to choose between them. We welcomed the equilibrium. We savoured the uncertainty.
We may not see it again for a while.
Liverpool's tilt at the title last season offered a glimpse of a brighter future, a chance to step away from United's shadow.
At the time, romantics saw the trophy charge as a sign of things to come, a stepping-stone to future glories.
Today, the failed campaign resembles a time capsule, a fleeting moment when the Reds were almost kings.
Last season should've been a springboard. It may be remembered as the high point of an eventual epitaph.
If Liverpool cannot compete on the turf, then they've got little chance in the cutthroat transfer market. The signs were ominous even before a ball was kicked in pre-season.
Despite dangling the carrot of Champions League football, Rodgers still failed to adequately replace Luis Suarez.
Without any European football, Louis van Gaal still signed two of the world's best players (at the time).
In recent months, Rodgers' purchases mostly settled and Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao disappointed, but their signatures said it all.
South Americans will always covet Spanish football. La Liga remains the preferred destination for the prized elite, with Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich offering an attractive back-up option.
But if it really must be Lancashire, then it will usually be United.
The pedigree attracted van Gaal. The legacy pricks up the ears of the game's most accomplished practitioners.
Next season, Champions League qualification will do the rest.
Liverpool's enduring support across South-east Asia is a credit to the region's loyalty, but it isn't entirely replicated elsewhere.
A solitary Champions League triumph in 2005 doesn't quite cut it in territories where two generations of English Premier League followers have been raised on United's dominance.
As a global institution, United still sells itself. Van Gaal should get first bite at the players Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern don't want.
Jose Mourinho may boast the personal magnetism, but Chelsea fall way short of United's stature and Manchester City are facsimiles of a football force, all dressed up with nowhere to go.
But all three of these EPL clubs are ahead of the Reds in the pecking order. Liverpool are left to forage on the scraps left behind in the transfer trough.
Their American owners are determined to pursue the Moneyball-lite policy of buying cheaper potential to fit a preconceived template, rather than pay over the odds for existing superstars.
The philosophy may be noble, but it's rendered obsolete when Rodgers' main rivals are prepared to spend top dollar to sit at the top table.
That's why the Anfield loss to United on Sunday had ramifications beyond the result.
If Liverpool failed to overtake United this time around, when the odds were steeped in their favour, how can they possibly keep up next season?
Van Gaal has hit upon a formula that accommodates his belief in football by intelligent design. Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are suddenly the right pegs for the right holes.
United can only get better. They should finish in the top four.
If they end up above Liverpool, the Red Devils will outspend their rivals. With Champions League football, they can attract superior players to both a branded club and a branded manager.
The Reds won't be able to compete and last season's heroics will be recorded as a blip, rather than a new beginning.
Unless a miracle happens between now and May, Liverpool will be left with nothing but bittersweet memories.
Herrera happy with United move
- PHOTO: REUTERS
Ander Herrera never thought he had made a mistake by joining Manchester United.
Herrera (above) has become a regular in Louis van Gaal's team of late, starting the last seven games in all competitions.
It was a different story earlier in the season though. Despite impressing on the club's pre-season tour of the United States, the £29 million ($58m) summer signing from Athletic Bilbao could not hold down a first-team place.
Although he started just six league games before the middle of last month, the Spaniard, speaking to El Pais, was convinced he had made the right decision in moving to England.
"Manchester United are the second wealthiest club in the world, and they continue looking for talent. Everyone takes time (to adjust)," the United midfielder said.
"Now I am playing more, but when I wasn't playing I always knew in my head that I came here to play five years minimum, not just a few months."
Herrera discussed many topics in the interview with the Spanish newspaper.
The 25-year-old said David de Gea had told him there was less of a hierarchy in the squad with the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand having retired.
Herrera also revealed Wayne Rooney has been picking up some of the language used by the Hispanic members of the squad.
When asked about any jokers in the camp, Herrera said: "Rooney leads because he is very open and he insults us in Spanish."
Herrera poked fun at the United skipper for his shadow-boxing celebration against Spurs.
"I'd rather talk to him about football because he likes boxing and could try with me," he added.
Herrera also gave his backing to van Gaal, although he is wary of getting too close to the Dutchman.
"I keep my distance with van Gaal," the midfielder said.
"But he's a good guy with a strong character. He likes discipline and doesn't believe in egos in the squad.
"He loves possession and he doesn't like losing the ball. At the beginning he used to tell me off because I always looked for the ball, I wanted to have it, and I must wait for it."
Herrera also revealed he was nearly moved to tears by Lionel Messi's performance against United's local rivals Manchester City.
"The last time I cried? I almost cried watching Messi against Man City. He's so good. But anyway, I get emotional very easily. I'm a classic man." - PA Sport.
JAMIE CAUTIONS STERLING
The wrath of the Kop could turn on Liverpool striker Raheem Sterling if his contract dispute continues.
Former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher, writing on social network site Kicca, warned: "The fans' frustration comes from his contract situation.
"The longer it continues, the more frustration there will be, and it paints him and his advisers in a bad light.
"We all like to maximise what we can earn in any industry but his standoff won't help his relationship with the fans."
Last week, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers conceded that Sterling's contract talks have been put on hold until the end of the season.
The 20-year-old starlet, with two years of his contract remaining, has been linked with big-money moves to Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and other big clubs.
Sterling was reportedly offered a new contract by Liverpool of around £90,000 ($180,000) a week. But the player is said to be holding out for £150,000 a week.
However, his recent performances, notably in Liverpool's 2-1 loss to arch-rivals Manchester United last Sunday, have been criticised by fans, who questioned whether he deserved such a big pay raise.
Carragher noted: "Sterling's performance (against United) received a lot of criticism and he was nowhere near his best.
"But he's never really looked comfortable in that wing-back role, no one has apart from Jordon Ibe." - Wire Services.