Sunday, March 06, 2011



by Wayne Robins

Two thousand years ago (give or take a year or two) Arminius forged an historic ambush as his Germanic warriors surprised and slaughtered the invading Roman army in the Teutoburg Forest. Manchester United must have felt like that Sunday afternoon in Anfield as they showed up the favorite for a match at Liverpool. Liverpool had other plans, and throttled Man U 3-1. The game wasn't as close as even that lopsided score suggests.

Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt was credited with all three goals; his new teammate, Luis Suarez, set up the ball perfectly for him on two of the goals. It could have been four nil had a late surge by Liverpool not been turned back. Man U didn't score in the 90 minutes of regulation; a header by Hernandez in stoppage time enabled the world's most famous sports franchise avoid a clean sheet, or shut out.

By that time, the Liverpool crowd was singing the loudest version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" since Megadeth performed it at a Monsters of Rock tour sound check in the 1980s.

In terms of soccer relativity, Liverpool's manhandling of Manchester essentially changed the outcome of Saturday's tie between Arsenal and Sunderland. That match ended nil-nil thanks to the heroic goalkeeping of Sunderland's 21-year-old Simon Mignolet, whose stops were often spectacular.

With Sunderland having lost four in a row, and heavily favored home team Arsenal needing to keep from falling further behind Manchester United in the Barclay's Premier League standings, yesterday the tie looked like an Arsenal loss. Instead, Arsenal gained a point on Man U; while a win would have closed the gap between Man U and Arsenal to one point (60-59) in the standings, the Gunners trail by three, (60-57) recoupable in one game. Saturday, March 12, Arsenal is at Manchester United. How big will that be? Well, not that big: It's not a Premier League match, but part of the FA Cup, yet another distraction for the two leading teams.

Yet one still wonders which Arsenal and which Man U show up. The Arsenal that lost the Carling Cup to Birmingham and tied Sunderland? Or the Arsenal that weeks ago beat Barcelona in the EUFA Champions League? Perhaps Arsenal was tired and distracted Saturday: the road to Manchester next week goes through Barcelona in the EUFA round of 16 home-and-home on Tuesday. Last year, Barcelona trampled Arsenal, 4-1 in Spain. Carling Cup, EUFA—isn't the Premier League tough enough without those distractions?

And whither suddenly vulnerable Man U? Earlier in the week, it lost a fierce battle with erratic Chelsea, and Sunday was cold-cocked by Liverpool. The ambush by Arminius stopped the spread of the Roman Empire into Central Europe; will Liverpool's turning back Manchester similarly alter the course of this Premier League season?

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