Author Topic: RAWK Advent Calender Bonus: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United, 2011  (Read 5651 times)

Offline DutchRed

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Please forgive me for having the audacity to add a bonus feature to one of the best inventions in recent years: The RAWK Advent Calendar, but on a bored, rainy Christmas Day it was one way of spending the day.

It is the story of the seven and the story starts in an outskirt of the Dutch capital of Amsterdam during a rainy, cold Saturday evening in October 2006. The scene for this prologue is the stadium of the local football club, Ajax. Fate has it that the game they play tonight happens to be the seventh of their League campaign. The four-times European Cup winners had been playing second fiddle to PSV Eindhoven for the past two seasons and were laughed upon all over the country after their Champions League qualification round exit at the hands of the modest Danes of Copenhagen. Some poor transfer business had seen their position weakening ever since their potential-packed side won the league convincingly in 2004. To make a statement, Barcelona assistant manager Henk ten Cate and fringe player Gabri were brought to Amsterdam, along with Jaap Stam. Yet the optimism wavering around the city was slashed soon by the European disaster.

The game on October 14 carried significance, even outside being the seventh match of the season. The Amsterdam aristocracy had long given way to the provincial powers  of PSV, yet their position was threatened from multiple angles. FC Twente, Heerenveen and tonight’s visitors FC Groningen were amongst those sensing weaknesses in the Ajax empire:  only a couple of months ago did a late Wesley Sneijder strike deny Groningen a Champions League qualification spot. So there was quite a bit at stake and it was tangible around the ground. Ajax started fiercely, hoping to get an early goal to make their intentions well and truly clear. They didn’t manage and the crowd was worried at half-time. And how right they were.  Even when future Red Ryan Babel knocked in a soft goal, the doubtful mass were proved right. This Groningen side were renowned for their toughness and refusal to give in. A cheap penalty for the side from the north of the country put them level. And then there it was. Around the hour mark. A moment I’d turn out never to forget, even though it’s likely that most of the seasoned match-going mass in the ground has long since erased this from their collective memory.

Gibril Sankoh, a Groningen centre-back known best for being erratic at the best of times, intimidated by the appearance of Klaas Jan Huntelaar hoofs a ball high up the pitch. The clearance had distance on it and landed well within the Ajax half. The ageing yet highly intimidating force of Jaap Stam and the highly experienced youngster Maarten Stekelenburg were always going to deal with this. Groningen’s new striker, a young lad who looks a bit fat, is putting a little bit of pressure on the two of them.  He hadn’t been making any impression in the past hour and this looks like a bit of compensation for a  poor performance. When Jaap Stam is near a ball, he is in charge. Fact. He will deal with it or he will leave it to Stekelenburg. It seems a waste of time and energy to even bother with chasing when you’ve been under the cosh and hanging on to a 1-1 draw. Yet he persists.
 
What’s this? Stam makes an error of judgment. He overestimates the distance the ball will travel and leaves it to his keeper and he underestimates the sublime power of will from the kid from Montevideo . The next thing the 50.000 attendants notice is a ball in the net and the fat fella grinning his stupid grin. Many of them rub their faces in horror in a Roy Hodgson-manner. It might only be a small sound, just a drop in the ocean, but in the Bijlmer district of the Dutch capital one Luis Suarez first announces his entrance to the European scene by putting Groningen 1-2 ahead in this crucial match. And I was in attendance. The match went on. Huntelaar fouled the Groningen keeper in the back but got away with it and. This causes the goalie to drop the ball and Babel has a second tap-in. Ajax would go on to win this thriller by an Urby Emanuelson stunner from 25 yards out. The tube making his way through the capital night was in jubilant mood all the way from the south-east to the north-west area. Most men, drunk and high on either booze, marihuana or just sheer happiness, were nowhere near appreciating the deeper meaning behind what had just unfolded in front of their eyes. Yet, indirectly, the Suarez goal would prove to be one of the most significant memories in Ajax’ recent history.

Come the end of April, namely, Ajax’ reward for an impressive late-season surge was to be missing out on the league title by the finest of margins: a single goal saw the title moving to PSV for the third consecutive time. It sounds a bit stupid to say that Suarez pouncing on a late October misunderstanding in the Ajax defence cost the Amsterdam side their title, but from a purely statistical perspective you can’t argue with it. But obviously the Ajax bench spotted something they value highly. They pulled their financial muscle to the extreme to get him to Amsterdam on a permanent basis in the summer of 2007 after a legal struggle between boardroom people from both clubs. Suarez was to be loved in Amsterdam and absolutely loathed by anyone else. He epitomized the title ‘flawed hero’. His work rate and his goals won him a place in the hearts of the Ajax faithful, even when his erratic finishing record were a source of frustration. His willingness to step over the line of conventions accepted to try to win a game of football made him a man who they loved to hate in rival grounds. Suarez didn’t hide though, he thrived under hostile circumstances.
Suarez proved to be a walking paradox. Between the lines, the horribleness of his behaviour was often only matched by the brilliance of his performances. Yet off the field he was quite a relaxed bloke in the couple of times I saw him strolling in town. He took all the time in the world to put a signature on every object where it was desired by a complete class of school kids assaulting him. Not in the slightest did it seem a hindrance to him that it would take him something like three hours to escape from a super market alive with the bottle of water he was hoping to get. In January 2011 I was a seasoned RAWK reader. I laughed and grinned at Roy Hodgson’s Christmas Carol. I punched the air in delight when Kenny, another number seven, was announced manager. I shared the joy and relief expressed on RAWK the day we beat Wolves 3-0 at Molineux, one of the goals being a Raul Meireles worldie. And then there it was. Luis Suarez seemed to duly follow my path. I was there when he announced himself to the Dutch public. I was there when he played in my city for over three years and now he was going to Liverpool. At the other end of the North Sea I found RAWK exploding in hysteria. Was he? Wasn’t he? Would he come? Really?
 
The moment looked suitable for me to sign up for RAWK. I knew he would come after all and I knew it days before the rumours gathered pace, let alone the day when he actually signed. Somebody I know quite well is always well-informed about the going of things at Ajax, so I was told the news and I was the happiest man in town. Yet the registration process took a while and I was only permitted entrance once the transfer market was closed. It’s understandable, given that January 31 was the busiest day in RAWK history, notable for the arrivals of Andy Carroll and Suarez and the departure of a certain Mr Torres. Throughout February Anfield saw its first glances of Luis Suarez. He scored on his debut after Stoke’s Andy Wilkinson couldn’t adjust the direction of the Uruguayan’s strike enough to prevent it from going in.

Yet the labeling had already begun by March. Despite scoring 35 goals for Ajax the previous season, his reputation as ‘not clinical enough’ was in a way understandable: his conversion rate still provided room for improvement. And then came along one of those special days. Just like I had the fortune to be introduced to this man five years earlier when he was a fat kid in a green shirt, this was the day Luis Suarez was to announce himself to Anfield. It was a tale of two sevens. One of them had just turned 60 the Friday before the match and the other one took this game to make his first huge mark on the Premier League. Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side were top of the league when they visited Anfield to play a Liverpool team disheartened by a disappointing defeat at the hands of lowly West Ham.

Luis was unplayable that day. John O’Shea was sat on the bench and the camera once caught him wearing a look saying ‘thank fuck I’m not out there’ and the same though must have gone through the minds of absent centre-halves Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. The truth is: they wouldn’t have made any difference. You could have had Beckenbauer and Maldini in their prime up against him and they would have thrown the towel come half-time. He was that good, Wes Brown and Chris Smalling are probably  still waking up drenched in sweat looking back on that day in the same fashion as Roman soldiers did when remembering the days of Hannibal. The confidence that could be extracted from his magic performance rung around the entire Liverpool team, playing their best game of the season, dominating from start to finish. We were going to win this one and there was no way in which we were to be denied in this one. It was Liverpool v Manchester United, but basically without all of the stress and abuse this generally involves. So even when Suarez and Maxi missed good opportunities nobody looked to genuinely despair. Berbatov hitting the post never really sent shivers of fear through Kopite spines either. It was waiting for the No. 7 to truly stamp his mark.
He did. In stunning, Luis Suarezesque fashion and it took approximately half an hour in coming. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, the pony-tailed Greek warrior who had come on after the ever-injured Fabio Aurelio had to stop playing, held up the ball and played in Suarez. What followed can’t really be described but I’ll try anyway. Suarez takes the ball, fools two Manchester United defenders with one turn of his body, only to beat two more players in such a small space, then squeezes his shot under Edwin van der Sar and it deflects of Patrice Evra, only for Dirk Kuyt to score, even though the actual goal belongs to Suarez. Five minutes later the ground was awestruck. In a moment of madness, Nani headed a ball straight into Kuyt’s path and the Dutchman has another goal gifted to him. At the end of the half things turned ugly: Jamie Carragher took out Nani with a nasty tackle and Rafael returned the favour when lashing out on Maxi. Neither was sent off.

Manchester United had a habit of coming from behind that season, but there was precious little to assume another comeback was on the cards. Even when they mounted some pressure early in the second half it wasn’t fully impressive. Any tension left was swapped aside just over the hour mark. Suarez’ free-kick was bending magnificently around the wall, only to be met by the giant presence of Edwin van der Sar. No doubt the keeper was congratulating himself on a splendid save for a moment, but the moment he saw his compatriot Kuyt storm in he knew the joy was to be short-lived. The product around Anfield was statistically to be sold as Triple Dutch, but in reality it was Made In Uruguay. The rest of the match saw us enjoying life.  Stevie had a smile on his face when he refused to stick in a fourth. Kenny had a smile on his face when The Kop sang him a birthday song in the way only The Kop can do. On the last day of 2011 we saw our uniqueness further proved when that lot 30 miles up the East Lancs Road tried to celebrate their manager’s birthday and failed spectacularly, using a squad of kids commercialized to the max in a cringeworthy attempt to copy us, but that’s pretty much why they exist altogether. Alas, the smiles. Andy Carroll had a smile on his face when Kenny gave him his debut and every Kopite had a smile on his face. Javier Hernandez consolation barely  looked to register with the crowd, already appearing to have their minds in the pubs.

When the ref blew his whistle, everybody knew this was more than just three ordinary points against Manchester United, for as far as those victories are every ordinary. This was the presence of Luis Suarez and the start of a mutual love affair. And the rest? The rest is history.

RAWK: Enjoy your Christmas!
It's just sex and violence, melody and silence.

Offline 007.lankyguy

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Re: RAWK Advent Calender Bonus: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United, 2011
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2013, 12:34:53 PM »
The main thing I remember from this game was that preview video with Paul Merson before hand - SUAVEZ!
"Mind you, I've been here during the bad times too - one year we came second." Sir Bob