Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
The final result’s harsh, but it’s not that shocking considering Liverpool played with 10 men for over 45 minutes already down a goal.
Every time Liverpool loses to United, I find far too many ways to complain about it. Today’s no different, but it’s unavoidable after such a display.
Brown’s goal in the 34th minute was little surprise. United had started off the better team, dominant in possession and creating more chances, with Reina twice stopping Rooney in the first ten minutes. However, after those two good saves, Reina disappointed. His distribution, so often a benefit, was poor throughout the first half, he nearly put Giggs’ effort into his own net in the 33rd minute, and shared fault for Brown’s goal with Skrtel, with Brown out-jumping/climbing over Skrtel and Reina unable to get a fist to it.
In nearly every match between Liverpool and United under Benitez’s tenure, the winner has been scored by an unlikely source. John O’Shea, Mikael Silvestre, and Rio Ferdinand are three from recent meetings, and Wes Brown’s goal was in the same vein.
But the Mascherano sending off in the 44th minute still completely changed the match. At 0-1, even with United better, Liverpool always had a shout, especially with Torres and Gerrard on the field. But it’s a totally different ask with 10 men.
Mascherano had picked up an arguable booking in the 11th minute, late in the tackle but clearly trying to pull out of it, while both Anderson and Vidic were let off with warnings in similar circumstances. But the yellow card didn’t change Mascherano’s tactics at all -- if anything, he began to run his mouth even more, which isn’t completely out of character, if a dumb move.
And it’s an even dumber move with a disciplinarian like Steve Bennett, a referee who’s had it out for Liverpool since giving two penalties against Sheffield United last season. The only favor Steve Bennett did Liverpool all game long was blowing the final whistle four seconds before the added time was up.
When Torres picked up a booking for dissent, again quickly given, Mascherano ran across the pitch to argue and Bennett immediately produced a second yellow. Mascherano had to be dragged off the pitch, I thought Benitez was going to throttle the fourth official, and now Mascherano misses the Merseyside derby.
Running over to argue with the ref when you’ve nothing to do with the play and on a yellow is simply stupid, but Bennett has to show some common sense. A second yellow there is just cruel, especially after already booking Torres for dissent, and I’d say that whether I rooted for Liverpool or not. Against a side with the quality of United, on their pitch, the match was done and dusted.
The thing is the entire display is out of character for the entire team. Both commentators made a point of noting that Bennett may have been responding to Chelsea’s theatrics last week and setting an example, but that makes it even tougher to swallow. Liverpool is one of the best-behaved sides in the league, topping or near the top of the fair play table every year under Rafa. You want to punish a side for theatrics, punish Chelsea, United, or Arsenal. You know, for a change.
Despite Reina atoning for his errors with excellent stops on Ronaldo in the 47th, Rooney in the 56th, Tevez in the 74th and Ronaldo in the 79th, United finally got their second from the resulting corner after the save in the 79th. And it was Ronaldo again, ghosting past Alonso for a header with Reina slow to come out, his first in eight matches against Liverpool.
Nani’s goal two minutes later put even more gloss on it, touching Rooney’s throughball into space and slamming in from outside the box. Liverpool had some decent moments in the second half; the away side was more resilient, Reina made some outstanding saves, and Torres worked hard to find an opening with Ferdinand and Vidic hanging all over him. But once United got a second, Liverpool players were just wishing the game to end.
I’m obviously not thrilled with the performance, and my complaints over the dismissal obscure the fact that United were better throughout. The home side had all the better chances before the opener and before the dismissal, with Liverpool struggling to keep possession and few opportunities created. Brown’s goal was in keeping with recent history, and had Mascherano stayed on, I’m sad to say I wouldn’t have been surprised with a 0-1 loss.
As tough as it is to write, Liverpool still isn’t as good as United. Make no mistake, I’ve been postponing writing the inevitable, but United will win the Premiership this year. Arsenal’s streak of draws has made it more assured, but with the form they’re in, the title was United’s for the taking the entire time.
If we’re being unbiased (and I do try), United’s the better side from top to bottom. Only Chelsea can compete with the squad they have, and it’s no coincidence those are the two richest teams in the league.
No matter the scoreline, no matter the fact that a 0-3 loss is the worst defeat to United in five years, I’m not going to condemn the team or manager, other than Mascherano for losing his head, which was unforgivable. Players still gave it their all until the second goal, Liverpool’s still improving, and their fate for next season is still in their own hands.
This run of games was always going to be tricky. Everton’s draw with West Ham keeps Liverpool two points ahead in 4th. The failure to at least get a point from today’s match has just made next week’s derby that much more important.