Meet Fernando Torres and Dimitar Berbatov.
Fernando is the Golden Boy of the Red Part of Merseyside. The new “Messiah” who has inherited the sacred #9 shirt, coupled with the unconditional adoration, of the former “God” Robbie Fowler. In contrast, Dimitar is the on-off Whipping Boy of Manchester United supporters and non-supporters alike, having been labeled as “Berba-flop” and often the subject of the “players that need to be sold” discussions.
Last Sunday, old and bitter rivals Liverpool FC and Manchester United met at Old Trafford, Manchester, for the first leg of their 2010-2011 Premier League clashes.
These are the moments that made their stories:
The first Torres Bitchface Moment came when they showed the Liverpool squad getting off their team bus. Actually, it wasn’t a full-on Bitchface, more like a three-fourths Bitchface and one-fourth “crap-this-match-is-hella-important-I-want-to-piss-in-my-trackpants” face.
The Prematch coverage started off brightly (heavy on sarcasm here) with the commentators launching scathing attacks on Torres in turn. He was called everything from uninspired to lackadaisical to just plain uninterested. This gave me an overwhelming sense of deja vu, as it was only 7-8 years ago when a certain Liverpool striker named Michael Owen was undergoing the same treatment from the media and fans alike for his supposed “goal drought”. When will the critics ever realize that it’s not a cake walk to carry a whole team’s goalscoring task on your muscled, physiotherapist-approved shoulders? They can shove all their acid words and armchair analysis up where the sun doesn’t shine, as far as I am concerned.
Man United immediately dictated the tempo of the match as soon as the opening whistle sounded. Portuguese winger Nani wins the award for Miss of the Match as he bungled a golden opportunity wide during the 9th minute.
In all honesty, the first half was completely not worth the hype. The way both teams played belied their Royal Status in World Football and the disorganization and disarray on the pitch was truly woeful.
Enter Dimitar Berbatov. He pounced on the ball on a set-piece and in a blink of an eye, put Manchester United 1-0 up. Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that Fernando Torres was the player marking him when the set-piece transpired. What the hell was wrong with the Liverpool defenders, leaving Torres to mark Berbatov?! The man may be tall and imposing, but he’s a striker. Also, the less said of Paul Konchesky’s truly confusing non-defensive moment along the goalline, the better. In moments like that, you just cannot help but facepalm.
As usual, the commentators focused on Torres’ anonymity during the Halftime Analysis, but conveniently forget to mention just how ineffective Wayne Rooney was playing for the Mancs. Quelle Surprise.
Manchester United continued to boss the match, and with less than 15 minutes played, Berbatov made an astounding (some would call it plain lucky) overhead kick that thundered past Pepe Reina, and made it 2-0 to the Red Devils. Reina just stood there, dumbfounded, after the ball went in. He couldn’t have done anything to stop that. Facepalm Moment #1005 for Liverpool Manager Roy Hodgson.
Fernando Torres then decided to wake up from his Bitchfacing stupor and made a blistering run into the box and was clipped by an overenthusiastic Jonny Evans. The 1st assistant blew his whistle and Howard Webb confirmed that a penalty kick is awarded to the Scousers.
Captain Steven Gerrard stepped up to the mark and coolly converted the penalty to make it 2-1. I’m not going to lie, I did feel annoyed when Gerrard took the pen and not Nando. It would have been apt for Nando to take and convert that pen to (partially) shut his critics’ pieholes.
Six minutes later, Torres made another trademark sprint to the goal, and just before he reached the box, he was pulled down by John O’Shea. The whistle blows, and as everyone stood up, expecting a straight sending-off for the Irishman that will reduce the Mancs to 10 men, Howard Webb pulls out a yellow card. The Mancs breathe a collective sigh of relief while the Scousers become incandescent. You can practically read their thoughts as saying “Howard Webb’s objective? You’re ‘avin a laugh!”
Freekick given to Liverpool as a result of that foul. Captain Steven Gerrard surveys the Man United wall while Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar positions his players. As Gerrard takes the kick, Darren Fletcher moves away from the wall, enabling the ball to fit perfectly and catching van der Sar wrong-footed and helpless. 2-2. Gerrard promptly celebrates by kissing the camera.
The tension was so thick in the stadium, you can cut it with a chainsaw. Liverpool brought in David Ngog and Daniel Agger to bolster their squad. Agger and Nani promptly got involved in a mini-catfight that had to be broken up by Webb. Whoever said Scandinavians are mild-mannered sure haven’t met Danny Agger. then again, he’s practically a full-blooded Scouser now, so he’s both mild-mannered and well hard. A deadly combination.
Fourteen minutes after the last goal, the deadlock was finally broken, and Dimitar Berbatov’s day of heroism was finally cemented as he completed his hattrick to make the scoreline 3-2. FYI, Berbatov is the first Manchester United to score a hattrick against Liverpool FC since 1946. Damn. Even I have to give props to him for that feat.
And now, for The Moment That Didn’t Happen.
Part of my sheer and unadulterated excitement for this match stems from my desire to see two of my favorite strikers in the world, Fernando Torres and Michael Owen, play together on the same pitch. During the 80+ minute, when the score was still 2-2, the commentators casually mentioned that Owen has begun warming up, which means he will be getting ready to come on to the pitch at any given time. They even noted that it would be a notable moment if Owen goes on to score the winner in this match, considering his history with the opposition. Now, the mere mention of his name has already sent my heart into full on-palpitation mode. I even had my mobile phone camera ready, so I can capture the moment when Owen and Torres finally shares a pitch, on a historic match such as this. Alas, this dream of mine did not happen as Sir Alex Ferguson did not make Owen play, even though he took off Berbatov in the dying minutes, and instead opted for 2 non-strikers to come on. Excuse me, but how can you make a player warm up if you don’t intend to play him? Don’t give me any bullshit about team politics or Owen being too controversial for this match. You’re at home and any subsequent abuse hurled at him from opposing fans will surely be drowned out by the home fans. Why trample my dream and rain on my parade like that, Sir Alex Ferguson?! Now I have to wait for the return fixture before I can realize that moment. Damn you. Rant over, thankyouverymuch.
So, the two strikers both influenced their team’s performance, but for this round, Golden Boy Fernando Torres has to play the Loser and the Forgotten Man Dimitar Berbatov emerged as the clear Winner. Talk about a complete Reversal of Fortunes.
Will this curious turn of events continue for these two strikers, or can they both sustain their newfound zest for the game and help their respective clubs cement their rightful place among the so-called Big Four?
Only time will tell. For the meantime, Berbatov better enjoy his moment while he can, as it’s only a matter of time before the El Niño of the old come charging back.