A humiliating defeat that Fergie turned into a positive.
During the 2008/09 season, Manchester United and Liverpool were locked in an intriguing title battle that saw the two sides regularly swap positions as league leaders and Patrice Evra has fond memories of how Alex Ferguson used a humiliating defeat at Old Trafford to Manchester United’s benefit.
While Liverpool occupied top spot in early February, Alex Ferguson must have had a wry smile on his face after Rafa Benitez’s famous ‘facts’ rant in January.
However, after dropping points to the likes of Stoke, Wigan, and Middlesbrough, Liverpool began to lose ground on their fierce rivals and by mid-March, the two sides would meet at Old Trafford as United had an opportunity to stretch their lead to ten points with a win.
It didn’t work out that way as Liverpool humiliated United 4-1 and revived their ambitions of claiming the Premier League title.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side looked on course to stretch their advantage at the top of the table when Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty gave them an early lead after Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina fouled Ji-Sung Park.
However, Fernando Torres tormented Nemanja Vidic into a mistake eight minutes later and raced through to score, and a minute before half-time, Steven Gerrard scored from the spot after he had been fouled by Patrice Evra.
United’s day of misery was summed up 15 minutes from time when Vidic, who had a nightmare afternoon at the hands of Torres, was sent off for fouling Gerrard and Fabio Aurelio brilliantly curled home the resulting free-kick from 25 yards.
To compound the torment, Andrea Dossena lobbed a composed finish over Van der Sar after being allowed to race unchallenged on to Reina’s goal-kick.
In the aftermath of the game, Patrice Evra said that rather than slate his players, Alex Ferguson used the defeat to galvanise the team because he felt the players owed the United supporters more.
On a post to Instagram, the left-back compared the current attitude of United fans to the time when he was playing: “Now we become just a club where people just laugh about us but we let people talk like that. When people say ‘but Patrice, you talk like that and now you’re going to bring so much negativity.’ What do you want me to say? I can’t lie to people, especially our fans, who are the best fans in the world. Yes, they’re the best fans in the world.
“Even sometimes when players were playing so bad, the fans never boo them. Never. Now, of course, they can boo and things change because the fans have had enough. I remember one game we lost 4-1 to Liverpool at Old Trafford. I go into the tunnel and the only thing I hear is the crowd chanting ‘United! United!’ I feel ashamed of myself. We go inside the dressing room and Alex Ferguson says ‘You see that, can you hear that? Now we have to win the league for them’ and we did win the league,” said Evra.
Of course, Liverpool used that victory at Old Trafford as a springboard to relaunch their title bid in a race that had some incredible twists and turns – Federico Macheda’s goal against Aston Villa being the most dramatic one – as United’s mental strength to hold on and lift another trophy proved to be valuable.