Ronaldo opens the scoring but Liverpool humble Man United 4-1.

Saturday’s lunch time kick-off showcased the Premier League’s most awaited clash of the year – also considered as the title decider – featuring hosts Manchester United and Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool.

Wayne Rooney had revealed his hatred against the Merseyside Reds in the build up to this titanic game while football editors were relishing a battle between United’s rock in defense Nemanja Vidic and Liverpool’s Spanish sensation Fernando Torres aka El Nino.

(Watch full highlights of all the five goals in Manchester United’s game against Liverpool here)

Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Red Devils a perfect start on 23 minutes after Ji-Sung Park was fouled inside the box. The World Player of the Year stepped up and fired the ball at the back of the net, sending keeper Pepe Reina inches away from catching the ball. This was Ronaldo’s second goal in the week – after scoring against Inter Milan in midweek – and thirteenth goal in the Premiership, putting him still on course to retain his Golden Boot award.

But instead of holding on to this lead, the Red Champions emphatically lost the plot, allowing Torres to cancel Ronaldo strike five minutes later. Captain ‘Planet’ Steven Gerrard then put Liverpool in the lead just before half-time through a penalty.

Manchester United were desperate to turn things around in the second half and Liverpool seemed to feel the pressure at that point in time. Rafa’s men kept conceding free-kicks over free-kicks; Cristiano Ronaldo and co always came close to troubling the reigning Golden Glove winner Pepe Reina, but their efforts were never enough to deceive him.

Liverpool pressed on, searching to inflict on Manchester United the same sorrow they put on Real Madrid earlier in the week. And Aurelio just got the perfect touch; his rocket free-kick – created by Vidic’s foul on Gerrard for which he saw red – stunned Van der Sar who had previously inscribed a record run of clean sheets at Old Trafford in all competitions since November 1. Liverpool were leading 3-1.

The Merseyside Reds weren’t satisfied yet; their will to torture defending champions Manchester United was still very much on.
Dossena completed the score line on 90 minutes, meaning that Liverpool had handed Manchester United their heaviest defeat since losing 3-0 away to AC Milan in 2007.

Rafael Benitez’s 100th Premier League win came at the right time for Liverpool. The Mancunians’ archrivals are back in the title race. The EPL trophy is not as secured for the Red Devils as it seemed to be before the game.

Winning the quintuple is doable, but finishing the season miserably is also a realistic – although pessimist – possibility. Manchester United are yet to know their fate in the FA Cup and in the Champions League, while they’ve now got everything to play for in the league.

If Cristiano Ronaldo was able to end last season scooping almost every individual award, it is because Manchester United were good enough to protect his influence. Now, after Saturday’s game where Ronaldo gave the lead to his side that eventually lost emphatically, there are doubts over United’s ability to hold on till the end and emulate what they did last year.

In terms of individual play, Cristiano Ronaldo has been good enough since his return from injury. However, the Portuguese winger certainly isn’t as wonderful as he was last season and with a strong contender like Lionel Messi for this season’s awards, clinching at least a treble has become imperative for Ronaldo to beat off the likes of any challenger.

The question, though, remains:

Can Manchester United help Cristiano Ronaldo to retain his crowns?

Written by: Angela Asante

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