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Liverpool vs. Manchester United: 6 Things We Learned About United

Paul MurphyCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2016

Liverpool vs. Manchester United: 6 Things We Learned About United

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    Manchester United versus Liverpool is the biggest game in English football with a long and storied history.

    Last season the rivalry reached levels of hatred long forgotten, both on and off the pitch.

    The Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra incident was the spark that reignited the hatred for many, but there had always been a minority who'd sought to cause trouble.

    Considering these were the two most successful clubs in English football, there was very little talk about what would happen on the pitch today.

    Instead the focus was on how Liverpool would honour the 96 fans who lost their lives in Hillsborough and whether United fans would show the proper respect.

    Here's six things I learned about United watching the game today.

Even the Most Bitter of Enemy's Can Put Their Differences Aside When It Matters

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    The North-West derby is probably the most hotly contested rivalry in English football. Anytime the two most successful clubs in English football come together, the world watches.

    Today was the first time Liverpool played at home since the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report, finally giving the families who lost their loved ones a semblance of truth.

    There have been tributes all week, but this was the big one. A moment when Liverpool and their fans could unite and show their respect for their own.

    United, just like Manchester City at the 50th anniversary of Munich, owed it to their rivals to show the greatest of respect.

    The tracksuits with 96 on the back were a great touch to the 96 who died, as was Sir Bobby Charlton presenting 96 roses to Ian Rush. Charlton is one who ignores the limelight but, given his history, was the perfect man to make such a gesture.

    The first flashpoint was the handshake, but that passed off without issue as Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez finally put the issue to bed.

    Next came one of the most emotional renditions of You'll Never Walk Alone you are ever likely to hear.

    A section of United fans continued to chant during YNWA, and a few United fans chanted "Where's your Munich song?" later in the match. But they were well behaved for the most part.

    Finally the two captains released 96 red balloons into the sky, with Pepe Reina paying close attention.

    It was a fitting way to remember the dead. Players and fans united as one to do the right thing, and it's not often you say that in football.

    I have rarely heard Anfield as loud, and you almost see the emotion that filled the stadium.

United Still Have Problems at the Back

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    When United opened the season conceding goals at an unusually high rate, most people blamed it on the injuries forcing them to play Michael Carrick in defence.

    But the injury crisis is over, yet we fans are still worryingly open at the back.

    Galatasaray cut the team open on numerous occasions on Wednesday night as did Liverpool today.

    Both full-backs have a habit of getting pulled out of position, allowing men get in behind them. This could be because they're not getting support but it is becoming increasingly worrying.

    Also too often this season United has been caught out by a player passing a corner or free kick across the face of the box for a oncoming player to shoot.

    This leads me to believe the issues are mental rather than physical.

    It might be that the defence haven't been able to spend enough time together on the training pitch ironing out these issues.

    I hope that's the case because our side will be cruelly exposed as the season goes on if it doesn't become more cohesive.

Paul Scholes Remains a Class Apart

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    For 45 minutes Man United were passengers. Liverpool had upward of 60 percent possession and all the goal-scoring chances.

    Neither Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa or Nani had a touch of note, and I'm still not sure if Antonio Valencia spent the first half on the pitch.

    All that changed with the introduction of the Ginger Ninja. He immediately started pulling the strings in midfield, and while Liverpool remained on top, United were at least in the fight.

    Nothing fazes the man, and his calm intelligence helped bring United's players into the game.

    It helped that his arrival came at the expense of the ineffectual Nani.

    And he still can't tackle, as he introduced Raheem Sterling to Premier League life with a typical Scholes challenge.

Once Again It Wasn't Pretty, but the Job Was Done

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    It is often said that the sign of a great team is that they win games even when they play poorly. I'm reserving judgement on whether this is a great team but they certainly know how to win while playing poorly.

    They've now won five games on the bounce, but four by the margin of one goal. Their only standout performance game in the 4-0 drubbing of Wigan.

    But all that matters in a win in the win/loss column. We learned how important goal difference can be, but goals don't matter if you don't have the points.

    Sir Alex Ferguson's teams have long been slow starters so chances are they will improve, and there is the return of talisman Wayne Rooney to look forward to.

    We as fans can worry about all the issues till the cows come home, but we're still near the top of the table within touching distance of the leaders.

The Penalty Streak Is Finally over

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    When United won a penalty in the 75th minute of today's game, I wasn't confident. We'd missed three from three in competitive games this season.

    I'd also heard an unconfirmed stat that we'd missed six in a row.

    My first thought was we can't miss again, then I looked and made sure Nani was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully Ferguson made sure he stayed in his seat.

    The six-minute wait for the penalty, heaped the pressure on van Persie and ensured I had no nails left to chew.

    When Robin van Persie stepped up he made no mistake, smashing the ball with power and precision past Pepe Reina.

    And with that the streak was dead. 

Rafael Is Possibly the Most Infuriating Player at United (Nani Excluded)

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    At the age of just 22 he has already made almost 100 appearances in the colours of Man Utd, an impressive record for one so young.

    But he has never really fully cemented his role in the side, mostly due to his huge inconsistency.

    He has all the skills you would want in a modern full-back. Pace, power and great ability on the ball. If he could make the most of these skills, he could be among the best in the world.

    Today we saw the good Rafael, defensively and offensively. He made a few mistakes but was much solid than Patrice Evra.

    He made one great clearance when Anders Lindegaard palmed a Suarez shot toward the onrushing Liverpool players. Rafael nipped in and headed the ball away from danger and allowed Jonny Evans to clear.

    And then there was his goal, a goal that few full-backs would dream of scoring, let alone attempt to do so.

    From an impossible angle and using his weaker left foot. he curled an unstoppable shot past Reina into the Liverpool goal.

    He is at an age where his rashness can no longer be passed off as youthful exuberance.

    If he can turn in consistent performances of this level, he will quickly silence the doubters.

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