Ten years ago, the Reds found themselves right in the thick of a title challenge, but a solemn run of draws and a shock defeat to Middlesbrough a few weeks back meant Manchester United were strengthening their grip on the league trophy and things looked bleak for Liverpool.
United had a seven-point lead and to make matters worse, they had a game in hand on top of that. Simply put, this was a game that Liverpool could not afford to drop any points in. Despite the magnitude of the occasion, Liverpool fans had high spirits following an unforgettable 4-0 win at Anfield against Real Madrid on Tuesday night.
The stage was set – arguably the fiercest rivalry in football in a match that was certain to have huge ramifications on the title race and it took place on this day 10 years ago.
With key man Xabi Alonso already missing due to a calf issue, the last thing Benitez’s side needed was Alvaro Arbeloa injuring his hamstring in the warm up. This forced a change, with veteran defender Sami Hyypia being named in the starting line up in Arbeloa’s place.
The away side were having difficulties settling down early on, and it took a phenomenal block from Jamie Carragher to prevent Ji-Sung Park from giving United the lead. Park would get the reward for his liveliness and energy 23 minutes in when Pepe Reina made the grave error of dashing off his line and bringing the Korean down completely unnecessarily.
Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and converted from the penalty spot, as expected for a player of his quality. United were looking on course for a huge home win, but Fernando Torres had other ideas.
Martin Skrtel produced a long clearance which seemed harmless for Nemanja Vidic but Torres’ presence and acceleration created uncertainty for the Serb. Vidic let the ball bounce and a flurry of lightning pace from Torres allowed him to poke the ball away from the defender and strike a cultured finish past Edwin Van der Sar.
Torres wasn’t finished with Vidic yet as not long after the equaliser, he planted a cheeky nutmeg on the defender then the two collided in the box, leading to many penalty appeals from the Liverpool players which would be waved off from the referee.
The intensity of the tie would spill over momentarily after a trip by Carragher on Tevez and a foul by Ferdinand on Kuyt, causing a swift exchange of bookings. Liverpool were getting into their groove late in the first half and this would culminate in them taking the lead in the 44th minute.
The danger man Torres played a clever pass just ahead of Evra, who tripped Steven Gerrard in the box after the Liverpool captain got to the ball first. This left Alan Wiley with a big decision to make and he would make the right one, immediately pointing to the spot.
Who else but Steven Gerrard would step up to take the penalty, and much like Cristiano Ronaldo did earlier in the half, Gerrard tucked the penalty past Van der Sar, stunning the home crowd and completing an outstanding Liverpool fightback.
Sir Alex Ferguson surely would have got the hairdryer out at the break, wondering just how his side managed to squander the lead so suddenly.
A big chance came for the home side 62 minutes in when Ronaldo who had been relatively quiet so far picked out Rooney at the far post. His header flew dangerously across the face of goal and fortunately Tevez was unable to get a touch to it.
Sensing he had no choice but to go for it with just under 20 minutes left, Ferguson employed a triple substitution, subbing on Berbatov, Giggs and Scholes in the place of Anderson, Carrick and Park. This would go out the window when United went down to 10 men and went further behind in the space of seconds.
As if Vidic wasn’t having a bad enough afternoon, a poor touch from him gifted Gerrard a run on goal. He made the decision to pull Gerrard back, inevitably resulting in a red card. While the home crowd were still trying to get to grips with the fact they now had 10 men, Fabio Aurelio would rub salt in the wound with an audacious free kick.
United’s torment and our celebration would not end there when in stoppage time, substitute Andrea Dossena was allowed to race onto Reina’s goal kick and exquisitely lobbing the ball over Van der Sar’s head, just four days after scoring past Iker Casillas.
It would be four days that Dossena, let alone Liverpool supporters around the world, would surely never forget. United were still heavy favourites to retain their league title since they still had a four-point lead and a game in hand, but this spirited Liverpool display at Old Trafford would give the Reds just the incentive they needed to carry the fight to United.