23 March 2008

Liverpool 0-3 United

Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Alonso Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Babel

Brown 34’
Ronaldo 79’
Nani 81’

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.


Ace Cowboy said...

Today's match shows why Arsenal should and will be favored to win the CL tie with Liverpool. For all our optimism, for all our current form (until today), Liverpool's class shows in the matches against the big guns. Even without the bookings, or the very shoddy refereeing, Man U is by far the better side.

Liverpool, for its credit, played very well for much of the second half, til CRonaldo's nail in the coffin, or what can only be called the Surely! Moment. I don't know what Rafa said at halftime, but I'm sure it was unintelligible. For a few minutes there I thought we could chip a cheapie home and steal a point. 'Twas not to be.

Masch's cards will be debated...but where is Gerrard? Where was the skipper to pull Masch away? That's as much on him as it is on the diminutive Argentinian.

Reina had a dynamite second half, but he was ABYSMAL in the first. Not only the goal, which was atrocious goalkeeping, but his clearances went nowhere and he looked shaky as fook. He had some nice highlight reel saves today, and at times looked his world-class self, but he was really poor for 60 of the 90 minutes.

Rough match. All around. Mostly poor play, little inspiration, a day in which Liverpool learned where they stand. They better beat Everton, because going into Arsenal Week on two straight losses would be a very tough mindset.

I watched in the Liverpool NY bar, probably 200 Fans of the Scousers in attendance. Great atmosphere, and nothing to cheer about. Woulda been a nice day and a nice environment in which to nip the leaders.

Django said...

Thanks for the recap Nate, agreed with the comments above. The controversy over the booking will surely gloss over the fact that, as mentioned, Liverpool were simply out of sorts whether they had 10 or 11 on the pitch. Masch's sending off cemented it--Gerrard sat further back, Torres had two on him and even showed signs of sulking. Not encouraging. One thing, and I suppose that my newness to the sport taints my opinion here. How can the skipper be as much to blame as Mascherano? I understand that Gerrard can come over to calm him down and do some negotiating with Bennett, but I guess I come from the mindset that grown men can handle themselves.

Anonymous said...

Everything aside, the minute I saw that Steve Bennett was the officiating referee, I knew we were going to lose this tie again.

Hasn't anyone picked up how blatantly biased he is against Liverpool all this time? While our players were getting booked, United's players get off scot-free for similar or *ouch!* worse infringements!

Nate, you said it all -- his only favor to Liverpool was blowing the whistle 4 seconds before time.

It's a real pity Masch is going to miss the Merseyside derby...

nate said...

couple more thoughts:

1) I'm not happy at Gerrard or Alonso for the Mascherano incident either. Yes, Masch is to blame for his own actions, but it's Gerrard's role as captain to pull him aside and have a word. Of course, Steve Bennett should have told Gerrard or Masch as much, but that's part of the captain's role. And I include Alonso in this as if you catch replays, you see Masch hustle over and Xabi think about stopping him, but let him keep going towards Bennett. At the end, Masch is responsible for what he did, but he could have used some help from his teammates.

2) I have never, ever heard one word of praise for Steve Bennett from any manager, player, commentator or anyone familiar with the Premiership. He's an automaton who wants to be the center of attention. I didn't keep it in, but I swear when writing the preview, I originally had "Oh shit" next to Bennett's name. Look at how bloody proud he is of himself:

Masch pic

3) If Mascherano gets more than a 1 game ban, the FA is a complete farce. I'll be waiting for the bans for Lampard, Terry, Ashley Cole, Ronaldo, Rio, Rooney, and every other player who thinks he's a referee. Mascherano has never been red-carded for Argentina, West Ham, or Liverpool. But of course, that won't come into their thinking.

4) Maybe you saw something I didn't Django, but I didn't see Torres sulk. In my opinion, Torres, Aurelio, Babel, Kuyt, and Reina were the only ones, in retrospect, who acquitted themselves yesterday.

5) Even though Reina flaps at crosses far too often, I still wouldn't rather any other keeper. His sweeping and shot-stopping is simply outstanding, and yesterday notwithstanding, his distribution is as well. I just wish the defense wasn't so hesitant and slow. I miss Dan Agger.

iskoppa said...

Bennett should be the one dragged up in front of the FA, if you ask me! Someone needs to rain on that mans parade and soon! I'm sure if the stats on this so called ref were checked out, they would make very intresting viewing indeed, anyone? I also agree with you Nate I miss Daniel Agger like nothing!!! On another note, next Sunday the clocks go forward one hour in 'Good Old Blighty'. Take care- Other Side!LFCFL

Betting on the Reds said...

A thoroughly disappointing game all round. I thought we started well but faded after 15 minutes and you have to say United were the better side before they scored and had created several good chances before the goal. Frustrating that Reina, Gerrard, Carragher and Babel decided to choose this game as one of their worst displays of the season so far. You need your big players to perform in these game and only Torres came out with any credit for me. As for the sending off, well, it has to be said Masch was utterly stupid to get involved in something that had nothing to do with him after already being booked and well aware Bennett was going to make an example of someone. What was discgraceful was Torres' booking in the first place - a truly awful decision from Bennett and Liverpool should be appealing that booking.