You'll Never Walk Alone
In the day following the little incident with Brendan, Kakeru and his Japanese friends returned to normal duties. On Wednesday October 25, Manchester United had to travel to Nottingham in order to face EFL Championship side Nottingham Forest F.C. in the 4th round of the English Football League (EFL) Cup.
The single elimination cup competition named the EFL Cup is mostly perceived by top Premier League sides as a much lower priority to the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, and the FA Cup. Because United fielded mostly a team of youngsters and other players in need of minutes on the pitch, Nottingham Forest took a surprise 2-0 lead before José attempted to salvage the match by inserting Nana, Pog, and Anthony as his 3 substitutes. Nana provided the assist for Anthony’s goal which reduced the deficit down to one goal. However, the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper had a better day at the office than usual by stopping several dangerous attacks from the Red Devils, especially on 2 free kicks taken by Nana.
Finally, United got knocked out of the EFL Cup with a 1-2 defeat. Some of the players apologized to Nana and Kakeru, who was given a rest on that day, for not fulfilling the promise that was made in May. However, the 2 Japanese players reassured their teammates by telling them that the EFL Cup was never really in their minds as part of that promise. Regardless, there was very little time for the Manchester United players and coaches to dwell on the recent defeat as the next challenge was coming fast in the form of a Premier League match at Anfield.
Sunday October 29
Somewhere on the M62 Motorway linking Liverpool and Manchester
12:20 PM GMT
While the Manchester United team was already in Liverpool, the traveling 3,000 Manchester United supporters were on their way to a designated area of Liverpool on buses before they would later get off to be escorted by police officers on foot towards the stadium. On the leading bus, Noriko and Taeko were highly anticipating the match while everyone on board already started shouting their voices out as their own warm-up before the match.
"UNITED! UNITED! UNITED!" the fans on the bus shouted altogether.
"I can only imagine how this will sound like at Anfield if they already start like this, Noriko-chan." Taeko said.
"Win or lose, it will be a special experience. We have the best away support in the country after all, Tae-itoko." Noriko replied.
Then Adam showed up alongside with a bald man who is one of the lead singing voices among United supporters for both home and away matches. Supporting the Red Devils for more than 40 years, that man is TV presenter, songwriter, and former DJ Pete Boyle.
"I'm really honored that we have the Ladies team's skipper with us for today. My name's Pete Boyle."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Taeko Ishiki. I have seen many videos of you on YouTube."
"Is this your first time going to an away match with fellow supporters?" Pete asked.
"It's a first for me, yes. My cousin here knows a lot more about it than I do." Taeko replied.
"Red Kate is one of the most vocal people we have whenever she is part of the away group. With her as your 'mentor', you will see in no time what a hardcore supporter is." Adam said.
"I can't wait to see that." Taeko replied.
"Let's get going with a song we all love." Pete said before he took the lead with the next chant on the tune of Spirit in the Sky before everyone on board added their voices in.
Going on up to the spirit in the sky
It's where I'm gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I'm gonna go on the piss with Georgie Best!
After singing that particular chant a few times, Pete led his fellow United supporters to sing a different song about a former Manchester United player who once scored a late match-winning goal at Anfield.
When Johnny goes marching down the wing, O'Shea, O'Shea
When Johnny goes marching down the wing, O'Shea, O'Shea
When Johnny goes marching down the wing, the Stretford End will ****ing sing
We all know that Johnny's gonna score!
Before going to the next song, the supporters on the bus grabbed whatever drink they had in hand: beers, energy drinks, or others. Everyone raised bottles and glasses up at the following lyrics about the legendary player named Eric Cantona.
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee'll drink, a drink, a drink
To Eric the king, the king, the king
He's the leader of our football team
He's the greatest centre-forward
That the world has ever seen.
"How do you like that so far, Tae-itoko?" Noriko asked during a short break.
"That's great! I can keep going all day." Taeko replied.
"Welcome to the Manchester United away support group." Noriko finished.
And the supporters kept on singing for the rest of the trip leading them to Anfield. Regardless of how the match would unfold, there was nothing stopping them from making themselves heard for the whole time spent in hostile territory known as Merseyside, the metropolitan county that includes the city of Liverpool.
Liverpool vs. Manchester United (Premier League match 10)
Anfield, Liverpool, UK
The rivalry between Liverpool F.C. and Manchester United is considered to be one of the biggest in world and European football. It is considered to be first and foremost a manifestation of one which already had existed between both cities since industrial times. Both clubs also enjoyed long periods of dominance over English football in which they had won both domestic and European competitions. Liverpool dominated English football from 1975 to 1990 before Manchester United dominated English football between 1993 and 2013. A few players from both sides also admitted a strong antipathy towards the other side of the rivalry, sometimes even hatred that sparked a few unsavory moments. Regardless of which side appears to be the most dominant at the time, a fixture between Manchester United and Liverpool is a very combustible affair where form goes out of the window to make way for a battle of wits.
To some people, José was taking a gamble for this match by starting Nana as the more advanced midfielder at Anfield instead of the Spaniard Juan Mata. However, it was also recognition for her solid performances in the last 2 matches she played. As for Kakeru, he was set to start on the right wing while Romelu was the spearhead of the attack. Because Yusuke was still relatively new to English football and because it was also important to maintain squad rotation with the upcoming UEFA Champions League match, he started the match as one the 7 substitutes on the bench.
As for Liverpool, their starting XI came as followed: Simon Mignolet (goalkeeper), Joe Gomez (right-back), Joël Matip (centre-back), Dejan Lovren (centre-back), James Milner (left-back), Adam Lallana (central midfielder), Jordan Henderson (central midfielder and captain), Georginio Wijnaldum (central midfielder), Sadio Mané (right forward), Roberto Firmino (striker), and Philippe Coutinho (left forward).
Inside the players' tunnel at Anfield, rivals only shook hands when the players normally are teammates with their respective national teams. Otherwise, not many looks were exchanged between the 2 sides. At the given time, the referee led the march of the 2 teams out of the tunnel. The Manchester United field players wore black shirts, white shorts, and white socks. Meanwhile, the Liverpool field players wore their legendary all-red kits. As it is customary, some Liverpool players reached one or both hands up to touch a sign stating "THIS IS ANFIELD" for good luck on the way towards the pitch. As both teams made their way onto the pitch, both sets of supporters already started the war of decibels by shouting in support of their respective teams. At the end of the stadium known as the "Spion Kop", flags and banners were raised as part of the traditional display of partisanship before matches.
Following the pre-game handshake, the anthem of Liverpool F.C., titled You'll Never Walk Alone, was played in the last 3 minutes preceding the 2:05 PM kickoff, and the Liverpool supporters joined their voices altogether with the recording. Opposition players would say that they do not pay attention to the Anfield crowd, but can't help themselves looking around in awe. The singing performance went into a crescendo at the moment the following lyrics arrived:
WALK ON THROUGH THE WIND
WALK ON THROUGH THE RAIN
THOUGH YOUR DREAMS BE TOSSED AND BLOWN
At that moment, the Liverpool supporters sang the chorus in full voice...
WALK ON, WALK ON WITH HOPE IN YOUR HEART
AND YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE
YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE.
...which led to the climax of the moment:
WALK ON, WALK ON WITH HOPE IN YOUR HEART
AND YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE
YOU'LL NE-EEEVER WALK ALONE.
Having won the coin toss a little earlier, Manchester United were set to kick things off. As part of their habits, Liverpool chose to have the Kop behind them for the first half only to attack towards it in the second half. It was synonymous to United's habit of attacking towards the Stretford End in the second half.
Your match commentators for this one are returnees for the first time of the season, Gary Neville and the legendary Martin Tyler.
Martin Tyler: Liverpool are looking to move ever closer to the top 4. Meanwhile, Manchester United, despite the surprise elimination in the EFL Cup on Wednesday, can go top of the table with a win in the next 90 minutes. It's a pulse-raising rivalry for both geographical and footballing supremacy in the Northwest. Liverpool vs. Manchester United... and it's LIVE!!!
Manchester United kicked things off in the match under the loud boos from the Anfield crowd. True to the identity of a José Mourinho team, the Mancunian visitors absorbed the pressure by maintaining a compact group in order to cut most passing lanes for the "Scousers", which is a colloquial name used to identify Liverpudlians. While chasing for openings, the Liverpool players got stretched out of position, and opened up spaces to be exploited.
In the 7th minute:
Martin Tyler: Adam Lallana... gives it away to Young.
In an attempt for a give-and-go between 2 Liverpool players, Ashley intercepted the ball, and then passed it quickly to Pog. The Frenchman then skillfully flicked the ball above an opponent and into Nana's run.
Martin Tyler: Mishima has space... She took it beautifully! Sliding it through to Aizawa...
Kakeru timed his run to keep himself onside, and then broke away towards the goal from the wing. However, Nana's pass rolled a little too far ahead of Kakeru, and then the Liverpool goalkeeper arrived first to smother the ball under his body when it arrived inside the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: It was just out of reach for Aizawa, but you know these two are always on the same wavelength.
Gary Neville: That was a good little combination between Pogba and Mishima. Aizawa held his run perfectly on the last Liverpool defender to stay onside, but the pass was just a fraction ahead of him. Otherwise, he was cleanly through on goal.
Kakeru raised the thumbs-up sign to acknowledge Nana's good intentions. For the Mancunians in black, it was a sign that their fiercest rivals were showing vulnerabilities at the back. In the 10th minute of the match, the play started with a pass between defenders and goalkeeper David de Gea before the latter kicked the ball down the field towards Kakeru on the left.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... He kept the ball in. Now it's Young.
Then Ashley launched the ball towards Pog, who was running a little higher up the pitch. The French midfielder came up facing Liverpool's captain, Jordan Henderson. However, Pog quickly spotted Nana to his right for a pass. In the next second, Nana saw Jesse slipping through the Liverpool defense.
Martin Tyler: Nana Mishima... Lingard is making a run. It's a good through ball...
As all Liverpool defenders moved in one direction, Nana launched the diagonal through pass in the opposite direction, making it impossible for the defenders to intercept. Having slid in the space between 2 Liverpool defenders, Jesse was thinking about shooting until he spotted a fellow black shirt running towards the opposite far post. Seeing that the Liverpool goalkeeper was standing flat-footed, the English winger sliced a ground pass across the 6-yard box for Kakeru.
Martin Tyler: ...and AIZAWA! 1-0! It had to be him again! And he scores at Anfield of all places.
In the midst of the celebrations, Kakeru went to the nearest corner flag only to whack it down with both feet before he was joined by his ecstatic teammates.
"Hell yeah, Knight!" Pog congratulated Kakeru.
"Get in!" Matthias added.
"Thanks, lads!" Kakeru replied.
"Way to go, Kakeru!" Nana added while all the other Mancunian players congratulated Kakeru.
Gary Neville: That's an absolutely brilliant team goal for Manchester United. They managed to get the ball into Mishima there. And then, Lingard makes a good run. The runners arrived in, Lingard finds Aizawa, and makes a sharp pass across the 6-yard box to Aizawa. As cool as you like from that position, the Japanese never had any doubt.
Meanwhile, it was wild euphoria in the Anfield Road stand where the 3,000 Manchester United supporters jubilated, so much that their cheers were burying the rest of the crowd in the stadium. Noriko, Taeko, and Adam had seats in the front row of the designated section for the away supporters.
"COME ON, UNITED!!! YEEEEESSS!!!" Noriko shouted out loud, pumping both her fists up.
"GREAT GOAL, GUYS!" Taeko added.
"'AVE THAT!!! COME ON!" Adam shouted as well.
"UNITED! UNITED! UNITED!" the Manchester United supporters then shouted together.
For Manchester United, it was a dream start. However, the Liverpool F.C. players and the Anfield faithful also knew that there was plenty of time left to turn things around as it happened many times in the past on the Anfield pitch. From the moment the Liverpool players felt the urgency to apply more pressure against the United players, all it took was just one mistake to get the 50,000+ Liverpool supporters roaring and pushing their team to score the next goal.
In the 18th minute:
Martin Tyler: Pogba... can't get to the pass. It's Adam Lallana.... Now, it's Gomez...
Pushing forward, Liverpool right-back Joe Gomez charged down the right flank before unleashing a long aerial ball across for a teammate.
Martin Tyler: Long early pass... to Philippe Coutinho...
With lots of space, Liverpool wide forward Philippe Coutinho touched the ball down. Instead of taking a quick shot with 2 United defenders running in to block a shooting lane, Coutinho passed the ball back for the front man and fellow Brazilian, Roberto Firmino. With no direct shooting lane, Firmino made a layoff pass to the Senegalese right winger, Sadio Mané.
Martin Tyler: SADIO MANÉ!
Mané's shot was slicing towards the low bottom corner to David de Gea's right. However, the Spanish goalkeeper took a quick and desperate dive to his right, and managed to deflect the ball away for a Liverpool corner kick.
Martin Tyler: But for De Gea, Liverpool would have been level.
"Nice save, Big Dave!" Noriko shouted.
"Defend this one, lads!" Adam added.
Martin Tyler: Maybe that last attack will lift Liverpool up. They have a corner.
Rather than wait for all players from both sides to set up, Liverpool's James Milner played a quick give-and-go with Gomez on the short corner kick. Finding his spot, Milner unleashed a high aerial ball in the middle of the slightly disorganized Manchester United defense. Waiting to take a free header was the Cameroonian defender in full red, Joël Matip.
Martin Tyler: A FREE HEADER!
Matip managed to get away from both United defenders, Eric Bailly and Matthias Köhler, for a split second. That was enough for the Cameroonian to have a clean header of the ball. The shot was slightly touched by David de Gea's fingertips, but it wasn't enough to deny the equalizing goal.
Martin Tyler: De Gea's couldn't keep it out. The quickness of thinking from Liverpool has led to an equalizer from Joël Matip. 1-1!
Reacting to their team's goal, the Anfield faithful lived up to their reputation as one of the loudest crowds in all of football. It was almost impossible to hear the person next to oneself say anything. The Manchester United players and supporters alike could only look around silently in disgust.
Gary Neville: That has to come down as a team error. It's a great pass by Milner on a plate. The Manchester United players are caught on their heels. No one takes charge of Matip, who makes them pay.
"You gotta be kidding me!" Kakeru shouted out loud.
'I should have run by that post to stop that header.' Nana thought.
Meanwhile on the bench, Yusuke was looking at his teammates' reactions.
'This ain't the time to lose your focus now, guys. Stick to the gameplan, and hit them back even harder.' Yusuke thought.
Invigorated by their thousands of supporters, the Liverpool players grew in confidence while deploying their tactics against United. In an attempt to take advantage of the still shell-shocked visitors in order to gain the lead, Liverpool moved into high-tempo attacks and counterattacks.
In the 21st minute:
Martin Tyler: Too far for Aizawa... taken away by Gomez. He finds Mané.
Sadio Mané ran a few yards with the ball before he passed the ball to Adam Lallana. With a quick run, Lallana managed to escape the Mancunian midfielders, and pushed the attack towards United's defensive third of the pitch. Despite the arrival of Matthias to deny any access to the penalty area, Lallana took his chance with a quick and low shot that rolled past David's reach.
Martin Tyler: Lallana... That's off the post!
The shot bounced off the inside off the post, and flew back in mid-air towards the edge of the 6-yard box. Although the Manchester United goalkeeper was down and at the mercy of Firmino, Liverpool's Brazilian forward was caught off guard by the pace of the rebound. As a result, the attempted header flew high into the Anfield Road stand, and United barely avoided falling behind on the scoreboard.
Martin Tyler: Firmino! It flies way above the goal.
In the away supporters' section:
"Bollocks! We can't keep on playing like this!" Noriko said.
"They have to keep their focus, Noriko." Taeko said.
"I don't know what you two are exactly saying, but we have to regain some composure." Adam said.
"No, I agree. That was exactly what we meant. We're lucky it's still 1-1 after that." Noriko replied.
"The only way we can take the game back is to control the ball so we can keep the opposition on their heels." Taeko added.
Gary Neville: Well, it's a timely break for United. Gomez picks up the ball, gives it to Mané, who then finds Lallana in front of the penalty area. The shot hits the inside of the post, but Firmino wasn't ready to deal with the pace on the rebound.
At the very same time on the pitch, the Manchester United players were looking between themselves for answers.
"WAKE UP, LADS!" David shouted angrily at the players in front of him.
"Come on, guys! Stay focused! We are better than these guys." Nana added to the rally cry for her teammates.
"Big Dave and Little Witch are right. We have to play better." Pog added.
"Eyes peeled and quick passes! Don't let anyone get through." Matthias passed the word to his fellow defenders.
Nana then looked towards Kakeru in some distance, looking for a response.
'Try to get that ball ahead. I will come in, and create those openings.' Kakeru thought.
Almost instantly, Nana understood Kakeru's message before the match continued. Just a couple of minutes later and following a Liverpool goal kick, United launched a first attempt to regain the upper hand against their historical rivals.
Martin Tyler: Wijnaldum... He has Matić on him.
Liverpool's Dutch midfielder tried to chest the ball down after the goal kick towards the middle of the pitch. However, Nemanja stuck the leg out to take the ball away, and then passed it towards Nana.
"You're mine!" Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said as he rushed towards her.
Making a perfect Witch Turn to shake off Henderson, Nana scooped the ball, and unleashed a killer ball intended for a running Kakeru. Beating the Liverpool defenders for speed, Kakeru ran after the ball for quite a long distance. By the time Kakeru reached the ball inside the Liverpool penalty area, the angle was a little narrow for a good shot on goal.
Martin Tyler: It's Aizawa... He's onside. Can he score another one here?
Knowing that the nearest Liverpool defender was almost on him, Kakeru struck a quick shot with his left foot. However, the Liverpool goalkeeper had moved forward quickly to close the shooting angles, and made a reflex save by reflecting the ball behind with his right hand.
Martin Tyler: Terrific save!
Kakeru took a look in disbelief for a few seconds, but then moved into his assigned attacking position for the following corner kick. Meanwhile, Nana already made her way towards the corner flag with the ball under the whistles and the insults of a number of Liverpool supporters sitting in the Spion Kop stand. Unfazed, Nana waited for the referee's signal to proceed.
Nana then whipped the cross with some curve to make sure the ball would fly towards the goal while her teammates would attack the ball in the air. Arriving first was Romelu with a thumping header.
Martin Tyler: It's towards Lukaku! Another great stop by Simon Mignolet.
The Belgian goalkeeper for Liverpool, Simon Mignolet, stopped the powerful header shot with both hands. However, the ball bounced behind for another corner kick conceded in favor of the Mancunians.
Gary Neville: It was good reflex by Mignolet, but the shot went too close to him. I think if this is a yard wide from Simon Mignolet, it would be a goal.
The corner kick was to be taken by Nana from the same position as she did a few seconds earlier. Again a number of Liverpool supporters shouted insults towards her, including a few sexist remarks.
"Hey, Mishima! Show us your tits!" a male Liverpool supporter taunted.
Upon the referee's whistle, Nana used the same kind of kick as she took in the previous corner kick. However, the ball was aimed towards the front of the near post. The Liverpool goalkeeper came forward in an attempt to punch the ball in mid-air, but Matthias managed to get to it first with a well-synchronized header. The outcome was one that none of the home supporters wanted to see.
Martin Tyler: And it's a goal by Köhler! In the 24th minute, Köhler steps up, and puts Manchester United back in front 2-1.
Before Nana got on her way to celebrate with her teammates, she took a quick look back to give a reply to the Liverpool supporter who previously taunted her.
"Now YOU show me your tits, fat loser." Nana said with a little smirk on her face.
"Piss off!" the Liverpool supporter replied angrily while Nana left to join the celebrations.
Gary Neville: It was very good header by Köhler. But you have to say it was poor defending as far as Liverpool are concerned. Lukaku almost scored seconds ago on a similar play. It's poor marking by Lovren on Köhler. At the same time, Mignolet came out, but he was nowhere near the ball.
"Way to go!" Kakeru congratulated Matthias.
"Well hit, Matthias!" Pog added.
"Good goal, Matthias!" Romelu congratulated as well.
"Thanks, lads." Matthias replied before he pointed at Nana. "Nice corner kick, Witch. Perfect ball."
"Thanks, Matthias. Nice header." Nana replied to Matthias.
"Back to where we belong, lads!" Romelu exclaimed.
Meanwhile in the away supporters' section, it was wild euphoria for the second time.
"Well done, Matthias! Great pass, Nana!" Noriko shouted in pure satisfaction.
"Great pass by Nana! She really knows how to find a head on corners." Taeko said.
"I trust your word; you know her as a player better than any of us here. Great ball indeed." Adam replied.
"The key for United now is to stay focused, and to keep on following the plan." Taeko said.
"I'm sure they will not repeat the same mistake this time." Noriko finished.
After Matthias scored the goal, the first half winded down with United maintaining their grasp on the pace of the match. The Mancunians maintained a compact setup, and applied solid pressing to give Liverpool no space in making through passes. Although the Liverpool players worked hard to find a new spark from somewhere, the goal they conceded only a few minutes after their own equalizer was difficult to accept. The local side had a tough time creating anything against the visitors since. At the end of the first half, the score still was: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United.
In the Manchester United dressing room:
"OK, just make sure you keep giving them a hard time out there, and take the opportunity when you see one. Liverpool will try to attack, but it also means they will stretch themselves, and create gaps. Keep things simple, and stay disciplined. The openings will come." José instructed his players.
After the team talk, the 3 Japanese players gathered together as they often did during halftime of other matches.
"Well, Yusuke, this is what a match at Anfield looks like. How do you feel?" Kakeru asked.
"Even on the bench, I can feel the tension. I played against Bayern youth teams and other J-League teams as part of existing rivalries before, but I never felt something like this." Yusuke replied.
"You really want to get in there, am I right?" Nana asked.
"You bet! The more I feel the intensity of their hatred, the more I want to come in."
"Nevertheless, we all better be careful. If they get frustrated, things can easily get out of hand." Nana said.
"Yeah, you're right. Despite what we did and saw in the first half, the Scousers will get meaner and meaner regardless." Kakeru added.
"I will make sure to be prepared for it. If they want to play that kind of game, I can make them suffer in more ways than one." Yusuke replied.
When both teams returned to the pitch several minutes later, nothing really appeared out of the ordinary except that Liverpool came back with only 10 players with the Anfield Road stand behind their backs. Meanwhile, the 11 Manchester United players stood in the half in which the Mancunian goalkeeper would have to endure the loud pro-Liverpool support from the "Kopites" in the Spion Kop stand. Before everyone was set to start the second half, the 4th official indicated number 6 in red and number 17 in green. One of the Liverpool defenders who started the match was about to be replaced.
Martin Tyler: Ragnar Klavan is about to come on. Dejan Lovren, who looked shaken up after that challenge at the end of the first half, has been taken off. It sure hasn't been Lovren's best performance today.
Gary Neville: Lovren had a difficult first half. He was involved when Matthias Köhler scored the goal that gave the lead back to Manchester United.
Martin Tyler: Whether this change can make any difference in the match, we're about to find out.
And so Liverpool kicked the second half off. For a little more than one minute, the Merseysiders in red passed the ball around until United regained control of the ball to carry the play inside the Liverpool half of the pitch. However, what was about to happen would be the first of a few flashpoints.
In the 48th minute:
Martin Tyler: It's a throw for Manchester United. Here's Mishima...
Antonio Valencia threw the ball in for Nana, who then made a run across to shake off a Liverpool player before finding someone to pass the ball through. At the same time, Kakeru called for a pass while making a run between 2 Liverpool defenders. Having spotted her teammate and fiancé in the right spot, Nana's reaction was immediate with a through pass towards Kakeru.
Martin Tyler: Good pass for Aizawa. Can he cut inside?
Kakeru followed the pass deep inside the Liverpool penalty area. However as Kakeru made a stepover feint before starting his move to cut back towards the goal, Klavan stuck his foot in, and took Kakeru down. At the same time, the ball rolled behind the goal line and out of play.
Martin Tyler: Oh! Klavan with the challenge... and the referee says it's a goal kick.
Several Manchester United players complained to the referee about the decision. However, there was nothing to change the referee's mind. At the same time, Klavan stood above Kakeru to give a piece of his mind.
"Learn to stand the **** up." Klavan said.
"**** off, hage (baldy)! You stepped on my foot." Kakeru replied before Klavan walked away. Kakeru's last word was in fact a derogatory term in Japanese to call a person as "stupid".
Meanwhile in the away supporters' section, Noriko and several other United supporters were very angry about the decision. Some of them were able to see the whole incident from really close range.
"What the hell is wrong with you? That was a blatant penalty, you daft fatty!" Noriko shouted at the referee.
"That was as clear as daylight, ref! You incompetent homer!" Taeko added to the angry shouts.
"YOU SCOUSE BASTARDS! YOU SCOUSE BASTARDS! YOU SCOUSE BASTARDS!" several United supporters shouted in unison.
Gary Neville: Well, my first reaction was penalty. Aizawa was going to his left, and was about to turn to his right towards goal. Klavan steps on Aizawa's right foot when the ball is almost half a yard ahead. Aizawa has every right to look at the referee and ask why a penalty wasn't given.
Kakeru then walked on his way back to a defensive position for the upcoming goal kick, but he was still fuming at the referee's decision.
"I don't believe this!" Kakeru said out loud.
"Forget about it, Kakeru. We'll have them next time." Nana shouted from distance to make sure Kakeru doesn't lose his concentration because of a controversial decision.
Despite that incident, United still remained mostly in control of the tempo in the match for several minutes. Even when Liverpool had the ball, the visitors pressed the player with the ball, and cut several passing options. Sometimes, that tactic could force errors and mistimed passes.
In the 55th minute:
Martin Tyler: Henderson... has to pass back to James Milner.
As Liverpool's defender received the ball, Jesse was already making a run towards him. In a short moment of hesitation, Milner passed the ball to his right. However, the intended receiver was already walking back by a few yards because Nana was also pressing high in the area. As a result, the loose ball went straight into Nana's feet.
Martin Tyler: Oh, it's given away...
With a one-touch pass from Nana, Romelu started the counterattack with a run towards Liverpool's final third of the pitch. In desperation, Liverpool's captain had to come out tackling Romelu hard to the ground.
Martin Tyler: It's Lukaku... He's been tripped.
The referee watched the ball rolling forward with Nana in pursuit to see if there was an advantage to be played. However, Klavan lunged in with a sweeping tackle to push the loose ball out of danger. Immediately, the referee blew his whistle to award the free kick, and immediately pulled the yellow card out to punish the Liverpool skipper.
Martin Tyler: The referee waited, but there was no advantage. It's a yellow card against Jordan Henderson and...
Suddenly, everyone turned their gazes towards Nana and Klavan exchanging feisty words against one another. What happened was that Klavan dragged Nana down with a shirt tug after the whistle was blown. At the exact same moment the referee was busy punishing Jordan Henderson, Klavan started shoving Nana after both players fell down. The Little Witch then stood up to the Estonian defender, and started some shoving of her own.
"Get out of my face, girl!."
"Keep talking, wannabe tough guy. I'm right here." Nana replied to the Estonian.
"You better not try me. You don't belong here." Klavan said.
"Oh, yeah? I can kick male butts anytime; I've been doing it since I was young." Nana replied.
"Beat it, Mishima!" Jordan Henderson said.
"Mind your own business, you ****!" Nana shouted back.
Within the next second, players from both sides came in to separate both Nana and Klavan before things could go any further. Some of the Manchester United players also had harsh words towards the Liverpool defender, and then more belligerents started pushing and shoving each other as well. Obviously, the Manchester United players hate when someone goes after their sister-in-arms.
"Hey, ***hole! What's your problem?" Yusuke angrily shouted only inches away from the Liverpool defender's face.
"What problem? You're a tit!" Klavan replied.
"I swear I will get you next time." Yusuke said.
"Leave him, leave him." Pog held Yusuke and Nana back while Klavan was also pulled away by his own teammates. However, that didn't stop Pog from giving a small piece of his mind: "You're a ****!"
In the midst of the altercation, the referee separated the opposing sides, and then immediately asked both starting captains for a talk. The man in charge of the match demanded for order on the pitch. A few seconds later, Klavan and Nana both received yellow cards.
Martin Tyler: Well, the referee was showing the yellow card when there was another angry confrontation. The temperature is rising by a few notches at Anfield.
Gary Neville: Things are boiling over now. Henderson commits with the foul on Lukaku, and then the referee waited to see if the ball could go through for Mishima until Klavan cleared the ball. The play was stopped. After that, there was a coming together, Klavan started shoving Mishima down, and then Mishima stood up to Klavan.
In the away supporters' section:
"You stupid, disgusting animal!" Noriko shouted out loud.
"Some jerk he is." Taeko said.
"Typical Scousers." Noriko finished.
While everyone was watching the aftermath of the incident, Manchester United's chief physiotherapist went to check Romelu's condition after that earlier tackle. The Belgian only needed a few moments to shake off the pain, but he had to walk off limits of the playing surface before the 4th official would later allow him to come back in play. Meanwhile on the touchlines, Yusuke was still warming up alongside 2 other players while he had to stay frosty as he watched the recent incident.
'Hang in there a few more minutes, guys. Reinforcements will come on soon.' Yusuke thought.
A few seconds later, everyone moved in position for the free kick. Nana and Pog both stood over the ball, making things difficult for the opposition as both players can strike the ball well from such distance.
Martin Tyler: It is Mishima!
Nana struck the ball over the Liverpool wall with a strong curve and a strong dip. However, the shot barely missed the top corner of the goal with the whole crowd holding the collective breath when it flew just inches away from goal.
Martin Tyler: That shot went wide.
Gary Neville: Mishima took that shot quite well with some pace and some dip. Simon Mignolet thought for a moment that was in. The shot just bent a little too much, and missed by a few inches.
Although Nana was not able to convert the free kick, it was not too long until another opportunity came up when United earned a corner kick. Right before the corner kick was taken though, José ordered his first substitution of the match in the 61st minute.
Martin Tyler: Mishima is going to be replaced by Yusuke Saeki.
Gary Neville: You also have to see this as a tactical change from Mourinho. He has to strengthen his midfield for the last 30 minutes or so.
"Go get them." Nana said.
"I will." Yusuke replied.
After Nana and Yusuke gave each other the double high five to confirm the change, she walked towards the bench, and gave high fives to his teammates as well as people from the coaching staff.
"Good job, Nana. You played well today." José said as he shook hands with Nana.
"Thanks, Boss. I just hope we can score another one though."
"I'm very confident that we can and we will." José finished.
When the referee gave the signal to proceed with the corner kick after Yusuke arrived in the pack of players, Ashley spotted Kakeru making one of the pre-planned runs they were training on. Following the kick, Kakeru made a sharp turn so he could get to the slicing ball in mid-air. The Liverpool players were somewhat surprised that the ball would fly towards the near post, and that element of surprise allowed Kakeru to head the ball towards the Liverpool goal.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... hits the bar!
The ball bounced off the crossbar, but the Liverpool goalkeeper was already committed with a desperate diving save attempt, and fell out of position. As the ball bounced back towards the edge of the 6-yard box, the rushing Yusuke struck the loose ball in mid-air with a left-footed volley that gave Liverpool no chance when the shot flew by the Liverpool player who guarded by the post.
Martin Tyler: SAEKIIII!!! He just came on the pitch seconds ago, and puts Manchester United up by 2 at Anfield!
Running a few yards further, Yusuke found himself in front of the Manchester United supporters who celebrated the goal. Noriko, Taeko, and Adam were jubilating less than 5 yards from where Yusuke stood.
"HELL YEAH, YUSUKE! GREAT GOAL!!!" Noriko shouted out loud.
"OUTSTANDING, SAEKI-KUN! OUTSTANDING!!" Taeko added.
"YES! COME ON!!!" Adam shouted as well.
Yusuke responded by screaming his joy out loud along with the United supporters, and by kissing the badge on his chest before he turned to see his teammates arriving.
"Huge goal, Yusuke! Huge!" Kakeru quickly jumped into Yusuke's arms.
"Nice header too, Kakeru. I wouldn't have scored without that." Yusuke replied.
"Beautiful goal, Yusuke!" Romelu said.
"Bang, bang! Well done, Yusuke!" Pog added.
"We have them where we want now. Let's finish this!" Matthias finished.
For the Liverpool players, coaches and supporters alike, Yusuke's goal was a devastating blow. With a 2-goal deficit against a Mancunian side that kept playing better than the Liverpool team for most of the time so far, things looked dire for the Merseysiders as the final outcome was approaching towards the point of inevitability with less than 30 minutes to go in regular time. Furthermore, frustration grew within the Liverpool ranks as time went down by the minute.
In the 67th minute:
Although the Manchester United players were often falling back to defend their own half as a unit, the Liverpool players began to control ball possession a little better, and pressed forward. As a result, the team from Merseyside earned their first serious opportunity of the second half.
Martin Tyler: Good movement by Mané...
After using some fancy footwork to shake off Ashley at the very edge of United's penalty area, Sadio looked for a passing lane. Although Firmino was well covered by several black shirts, there was Georginio Wijnaldum arriving towards the front of the penalty area. Without hesitation, Sadio passed the ball in position for a one-timer shot. Yusuke tried to get in front of the shot, but the shot got through him.
Martin Tyler: Wijnaldum! Stopped by De Gea...
David de Gea stopped the shot, but then gave away a rare rebound in a dangerous area. Coutinho then charged towards the loose ball.
Martin Tyler: COUTINHO!
The Brazilian star of Liverpool thought that he had United's goalkeeper at his mercy. However, David managed to get back up on his feet and rush towards his opponent. Coutinho tried to tap the ball past David, but the Spanish goalkeeper deflected the ball out of danger, and added to the disbelief of the home supporters at Anfield.
Martin Tyler: Terrific save again by De Gea! It's a corner kick.
Gary Neville: Well, you have to give full marks to the goalkeeper. Several Manchester United players shadowed Firmino in the box, but forgot Wijnaldum arriving at the edge of the box. The shot goes off Saeki, but De Gea makes the first save. And then, De Gea denies Coutinho from close range as well.
"Great save, Big Dave. Sorry for letting that coming in." Yusuke said.
"Keep focus on the corner kick." David replied.
The corner kick led to nowhere as David easily caught the ball in the air. On the ensuing counterattack, Kakeru tried to take advantage of the open space ahead. However, the ball was tackled out of bounds by a Liverpool defender. The play then continued before Manchester United earned a corner kick a few seconds later.
Martin Tyler: Young with the corner kick.
Ashley struck the ball above most of the players and towards the far post. Yusuke and Matthias were in the area, but Klavan managed to head the ball out of danger and behind the goal line. However, Yusuke also raised the ire of the Liverpool supporters when he angled his run to slam Klavan in the back when both men were jumping up for the same ball. Yusuke was still on his feet while the Estonian was decked on the floor; the latter almost landed face first into the goal post.
Martin Tyler: The referee blows his whistle. It's a free kick for Liverpool. Saeki impeded Klavan.
"Hey! What was that?" Klavan asked.
"I told you I would go after you." Yusuke replied before he walked away and back to his position.
"Why you…" Klavan wanted to go after Yusuke, but was restrained by at least 3 Liverpool players who had to remind him that he was already on a yellow card. Liverpool could not afford to go a man down.
Gary Neville: It's a good ball by Young at the far post. Klavan was at the right place to clear it. The Liverpool supporters are not happy because they felt Yusuke Saeki should have had more.
The last action Yusuke performed against Klavan came across as a message saying that the visitors were not shy in retaliating if necessary. Nothing of the ordinary happened for several minutes until a moment of controversy came up.
In the 82nd minute:
Martin Tyler: Liverpool looking to make something out of it. Gomez...
Liverpool's right-back unleashed a long ball deep inside the Manchester United area. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho perfectly timed his run to stay onside when he got to the ball. Rather than pass the ball to the striker, Coutinho slid the ball behind the defenders for midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
Martin Tyler: Good movement by Coutinho. They are in behind here...
In a desperate attempt to save a goal with the ball rolling towards the 12-yard spot, Nemanja stuck his foot in, and cleared the ball away. However, Wijnaldum also fell to the ground because of the tackle. Immediately, the referee blew his whistle against Manchester United, and the 50,000+ Liverpool supporters cheered at the outcome.
Martin Tyler: Penalty! It's a penalty called against Nemanja Matić, and Liverpool have a lifeline here.
No one supporting Manchester United could believe it. On the Mancunian bench, the substitutes and the coaches were asking for an explanation about what just happened.
"He caught the ball, right?" Ander asked.
"I think so too. The player was not caught before the ball at all." Nana replied.
At the same time, the visitors on the pitch protested against the decision:
"He caught the ball first. The player fell after." Nemanja said.
"This is not a penalty, ref." Matthias added.
"Say whatever you want, but I won't change it. Penalty for Liverpool." the referee replied.
Gary Neville: It looked to me he got the ball. Matić makes a great effort at pulling back. He goes to ground, and sweeps the ball away. There was contact with Wijnaldum, but after the ball was pushed away. I'm not sure how you can give a penalty for that. But as you said, this is a Liverpool lifeline.
Martin Tyler: With 8 minutes to go.
In a matter of seconds, the referee got everyone outside of the penalty area but for David de Gea and the penalty taker for Liverpool, Jordan Henderson. On the penalty kick, David went in the right direction by diving to his right. However, the shot went away from the goalkeeper's left hand and high into the top corner of the goal.
Martin Tyler: Henderson... bangs it past David de Gea. It's now: Liverpool 2-3 Manchester United.
And suddenly, the Merseysiders in red found new energy, and had new hopes to salvage something from the match. Once again, Manchester United had to find a way to regain some control. In response to the goal, José sent Ander Herrera in to replace Nemanja. With Anfield turning into a cauldron of noise once again, José relied on one of his most devoted blue collars to add some energy in midfield. Everything was set for a nail-biting finale for both teams.
In the 85th minute:
Martin Tyler: Klavan… Gomez is looking for options.
Gomez ran a few yards forward before he attempted a long pass into the penalty area. Substitute striker Daniel Sturridge was well covered by the Manchester United defenders, but his presence forced one of the defenders to head the ball away as far as to Adam Lallana. Escaping Ander for a split second through a skillful feint, the Englishman cut towards the middle. Knowing that Yusuke would not come in quickly enough to prevent the shot, Adam took his chance from long range.
Martin Tyler: LALLANA!!!
It appeared that the 30-yard attempt would curve down and inwards to hit the top corner of the Manchester United goal. However, David de Gea quickly jumped, and reached the ball at the very last fraction of a second. As a result, the ball was deflected behind the goal line for a Liverpool corner kick, and the Kopites who thought the goal was a certainty from their position behind David's goal could only watch in total disbelief.
Martin Tyler: Oh, what a save by De Gea!
Gary Neville: He couldn't hit that any better, Adam Lallana. He had all the time and space to strike that from distance. But David de Gea got the left hand, and did really well to keep the ball out.
Martin Tyler: That was fantastic football from the player who had the shot, and from the man who kept it out.
In order to avoid repeating the same mistake as on the first Liverpool goal, the 11 Manchester United players went down quickly to take defensive positions for the upcoming corner kick.
"Great stop, Big Dave!" Yusuke congratulated his goalkeeper.
"Thank me later when we win. We have to stop them now." David replied.
"I’ll cover you, Dave." Kakeru said as he took position on the goal line.
Martin Tyler: Liverpool have another chance to make something with this corner. Milner to take.
James Milner took the corner kick. Meanwhile, Klavan was running from within the 6-yard box and towards the opposite direction to the goal in order to deflect the ball. Klavan's deflection appeared to go towards the goal, but Kakeru instinctively kicked it away from the goal line.
Martin Tyler: Klavan... It's off the line.
However the ball bounced back towards an area inside the penalty area where Lallana took the ball, and passed across the 6-yard box for Sturridge having almost the goal gaping in front of him.
Martin Tyler: Sturridge...
Fortunately for United, Sturridge didn't strike the ball as cleanly as he would have wished, which allowed Kakeru to stop the shot on the goal line again. And then Yusuke cleared the ball further down the pitch on the touchline.
Martin Tyler: Off the line again and cleared away by Saeki.
Gary Neville: Those were 2 good clearances by Kakeru Aizawa on the line. On the first one, it's a good flick by Klavan, and Aizawa reacts really well. On the second one, Sturridge scuffed that shot. But again, Aizawa was there to stop the second shot before Saeki clears it away.
"Good work, Kakeru. You just saved us there." Yusuke congratulated Kakeru.
"Good instinct to defend that ball, Knight." Matthias added.
"Thanks, guys. But we are not out of the woods yet. We do not let them breathe in our half." Kakeru replied.
"That's the spirit, Knight." Pog finished before the Manchester United players moved into a defensive setup for the next action.
The match continued, and went deep into stoppage time. The Liverpool players were passing the ball around, and were looking for a passing opportunity. However, United were giving none late in the match. Meanwhile, the thousands of Liverpool supporters remained faithful to their habits by singing You’ll Never Walk Alone when it gets late in the match as a reminder of their undying support for the team even when defeat is imminent.
In the final seconds of stoppage time, the desperate Liverpool side played their final card.
Martin Tyler: Maybe one last chance for Liverpool... Coutinho... it may be a pass through for Sturridge.
Coutinho attempted to pass the ball through for his English teammate. However, Yusuke was patrolling the space between Eric and Matthias, and succeeded in stealing the ball away from Sturridge. Waiting a couple more seconds, Yusuke kicked the pass forward for Pog. The Frenchman only had one thing in mind: take the ball close to one of the corner flags in the Liverpool end of the pitch, and stall the action there. Kakeru also arrived in support to help keeping the ball deep in Liverpool's territory.
Martin Tyler: Cleared by Saeki for Pogba down the pitch. Aizawa is arriving in support. Seconds left to go now.
Rolling the ball quite slowly but safely towards the corner flag standing deep in Liverpool's half, Pog made a very short pass to Kakeru. The Japanese forward shielded the ball from 2 Liverpool defenders to wind the final seconds down.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
Martin Tyler: The referee blows his whistle. Manchester United have won against Liverpool. That man Kakeru Aizawa opened the score with an early goal. Liverpool equalized through Joël Matip, but then fell behind for the second time when Matthias Köhler scored on a corner only a few minutes after Liverpool's equalizer. The substitute, Yusuke Saeki made it 3-1 for United in the second half. Jordan Henderson paid one back from the spot, but it was too little too late. United will leave Anfield, which still remains a difficult ground to play for any opposition, with 3 points, and momentarily get at the top of the table. There were plenty of incidents as you would expect, but the final result reads: Liverpool 2-3 Manchester United.
The only cheers that followed the final whistle came from the 3,000 Manchester United supporters who saw Kakeru securing the win with the last action of the match right in front of them. Noriko and Taeko joined their voices to the celebrations.
"Well done, lads! Well done!" Noriko said out loud.
"That's a big win. Good game!" Taeko added.
And then the Manchester United supporters started chanting repeatedly:
We love United, we do
We love United, we do
We love United, we do
Oh United we love you!
After a few handshakes between rivals, and following celebrations between teammates in the middle of the pitch, the Manchester United players walked their way towards the United supporters' section to salute the consistently strong away support. Sometimes after a victory at Anfield, a few Manchester United players take off their shirts, and throw them into the group of United supporters. For this time though, Yusuke was among the few who took off their shirts on this day.
"What is Yusuke doing?" Noriko asked.
"I don't know. I'm surprised he's willing to take his shirt off." Taeko replied.
'God, I must say he's really hot. Expected from a footballer, but still...' Noriko thought as she looked at Yusuke's upper body.
While several Manchester United supporters expected Yusuke to throw his shirt randomly towards them in the stands, Yusuke walked towards the front row instead despite the presence of stewards and security guards. That shirt was only destined for the one person he already chose to give it to.
"Here, Noriko. Have it." Yusuke handed his shirt to Noriko with a smile on his face. "I think we're even now."
Noriko took the shirt, but she was also lost in her own thoughts for a moment. Furthermore, her cheeks were turning red.
"Are you OK, Noriko? Your face is getting red."
"What? Yeah, I'm alright, Tae-itoko."
"What did he mean by being even?" Taeko asked.
Then Noriko remembered the little incident when she accidentally found herself naked in front of Yusuke after she took a shower. Quickly, Noriko snapped out of it, and replied: "No-nothing. It's nothing at all."
'I think you're lying to me, Noriko. Whatever there is between you and Saeki-kun, it looks interesting.' Taeko thought.
While the Manchester United supporters were still singing in full voice, and waited for the approval from the stewards and from the Merseyside Police officers to leave the stadium as a group, the players already left the pitch. For the official live post-match interview on television, Kakeru and Matthias were joined by Geoff Shreeves.
Geoff Shreeves: Kakeru and, first of all, Matthias. This is a tough place to come, so how big is the victory today?
Matthias: Yeah, it's a massive one for us. Regardless of where both teams stand, the buildup and the anticipation always make this fixture a big one. It’s 3 points for us, and we’re delighted with the win. Liverpool fought hard, but my little friend here did a massive job at both ends of the pitch.
Geoff Shreeves: Kakeru, you scored one goal and an assist today. But as Matthias just said, you also did well defensively by blocking 2 shots on the line. How satisfying is it when you manage to make a difference at both ends of the pitch?
Kakeru: It's very satisfying, especially against Liverpool. When you play a massive fixture in the history of English football, and perform very well at both ends to lead your team to victory, it's a great feeling.
Geoff Shreeves: Matthias, you scored the second goal at a time Liverpool looked like they were dominating. After that, your team stayed in control for most of the match. Would you say that was the turning point?
Matthias: I think so. They just scored the 1-1 goal, and then missed a chance to go ahead. We got a corner shortly after, and I was just at the right place and at the right time to score the goal. After that, I think we controlled the match really well. We scored another goal, but were just unlucky on the penalty. Still, we held on to that lead, and we got the 3 points.
Geoff Shreeves: Kakeru, you have known Yusuke Saeki for years. Were you surprised that he coped so well for his first game at Anfield?
Kakeru: Not really. He is a player who thrives for big pressure situations. He also has the skills and the right mentality to become a force to be reckoned with at all times. Everyone in the dressing room likes him. I guess we will like him even more now after he scored the winning goal today.
Geoff Shreeves: Well, Kakeru, you picked up a goal – your 11th goal of the season for the club, an assist, and the Premier League Man of the Match award. Matthias, would you do us the honor, please?
Matthias: Well done, Kakeru. Cheers.
Kakeru: Thank you, mate.
After Kakeru received the small Man of the Match trophy from Matthias' hands, both players went to their dressing room. Kakeru was greeted by big cheers and congratulations from his teammates; he was well and truly the most valuable player on the day. Before the Manchester United players got to their bus just outside the stadium sometime later, they signed autographs for the away supporters who were still around to applaud their team. Finally, the Manchester United team got on board, and left on their way back to Manchester.
Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke were particularly interested in the match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. The 3 Japanese teammates were watching on their tablet through a wi-fi connection on the bus.
"It's hard to believe that Chelsea managed to contain Arsenal this well so far." Kakeru said.
"Yeah. They scored the early goal, but then parked the bus really well while applying the right amount of pressure on the player with the ball." Nana replied.
"Hey, watch this." Yusuke said.
Rob Hawthorne: Great through pass for Hazard. Eden Hazard...
With an Arsenal defender blocking a direct path to goal, Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard whipped a cross into the no-man's land in front of the 6-yard box. The pass flew towards the intended receiver, who instinctively struck the ball in mid-air with a trademark capoeira-inspired kick. The shot left no chance for the Arsenal goalkeeper at all.
Rob Hawthorne: MURASAKI!!! What a goal! What a goal by Mai Murasaki! Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal!
"Damn!" Yusuke exclaimed.
"She is not as easily pushed around as she used to be when she began her career. She will be dangerous for any tired back 4 in later stages of a match." Nana replied.
"It will be a tight game on Sunday. We will have to be at our best then." Kakeru finished.