Manchester United’s trip to Selhurst Park might mark the start of a bright new beginning for the club, but it was a look at the past on Saturday afternoon that also provided a possible solution. He’s Dutch. He’s bald and he might be the answer to United’s problems. No, not incoming manager Erik ten Hag but fan favorite Jaap Stam.
United are looking to sign a new centre-back in the summer transfer window and they have the ideal blueprint for success in the shape of their former stopper.
Signing a defend in the same no-nonsense mold as Stam would greatly enhance their backline this summer, but just as important could be bringing the Treble-winning centre-back back to the club in an official coaching capacity to share his knowledge with a defense which has been shambolic all season.
READMORE: Manchester United legend XI player ratings vs Liverpool: Dimitar Berbatov classy and Jaap Stam good
United players have been, rightly, accused of lacking passion and commitment this season. The likes of Stam and fellow former defender Patrice Evra certainly didn’t lack it at all against the Liverpool legends.
While it might have had the prefix of a ‘charity match’ it was still, most importantly, United versus Liverpool. Stam made sure Andriy Voronin knew it wouldn’t be an easy ride when he left something on him after a challenge for the ball early on.
On the other side, there was another centre-back who embodied everything his club is about. Jamie Carragher played the ultimate pantomime, registering the loudest boos of the match whenever he got on the ball and receiving one of the loudest cheers when his first pass of the match was so under-hit that it rolled harmlessly out of play in his own half .
An enterprising full-back is also on the radar for United in the summer. They’ll need one capable of the same threatening run that Evra embarked on eight minutes into the match, darting forward to the edge of the Liverpool box before laying the ball off to Dimitar Berbatov who forced a stop from Jerzy Dudek.
Stam flicked the ball on from a corner, only for Ronny Johnsen to blast a volley way over the bar. But just as impressive was his calmness of him on the ball, carefully selecting when to push forward into midfield and smartly passing the ball out wide to someone in a better position.
In essence, the big Dutchman is everything United need in a modern defender. There’s just one problem, he’s 49.
If not for some aware defending from Antonio Valencia, Liverpool would have had the lead at the break. He flicked the ball off the line to deny Sir Kenny Dalglish’s side after Maxi Rodriguez had connected with a Voronin header across goal.
It wouldn’t take long for the game to spark back into life after the break, though.
Liverpool took the lead when half-time substitute Luis Garcia was played clean through on goal after a defence-splitting pass. The Spaniard kept his cool as he performed a deadly stepover to leave Raimond van der Gouw on the floor before rolling into an empty net.
Two minutes later, United were level. Dimitar Berbatov was tripped in the box by Momo Sissoko but the Bulgarian stepped up to send substitute Sander Westerveld the wrong way with a pass into the bottom right corner.
As the game went on, it began to stretch, suiting the visitors and their larger pool of players. Mark Gonzalez should have scored when he was played one-on-one with sub’keeper Kevin Pilkington and Dirk Kuyt soon fired a low effort at the near post.
The woodwork wouldn’t come to United’s help for a second time, though, as Gonzalez made amends for his earlier miss when he fired a 25-yard free-kick in off the right post to regain Liverpool’s lead.
United huffed and puffed for a way back into the match, with John O’Shea almost chipping Westerveld from all of 30 yards and Johnsen firing just over the bar from a similar range shortly after.
Stam received the loudest reception when he was replaced twenty minutes from time, and United’s defense was suddenly a lot more open in his absence.
Garcia should have killed the game with a third when he was played clean through but poked wide from six yards, and within a minute he squandered another chance from a tight angle in the box.
Liverpool would make their dominance count before the end, though, when Gonzalez grabbed a second on the break in injury time to put the result beyond any doubt.
Ten Hag’s appearance at Crystal Palace on the final day will give United fans reason to smile after a sorry season of failure, and he could be joined in SE25 by assistants Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren.
Stam might be the next to join them.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.