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A scintillating performance by Liverpool against Manchester United put Chelsea on top of the table today. Rafael Benitez’s men completely out played the Red Devils who are starting to look more and more like a team that is regretting having let go two big, game-changing players in Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. Liverpool, who had lost their last 4 games and have been in the news for all the wrong reasons, from protests from fans to owner trouble to lack of funds to a weak bench owing to bad dealings in the transfer market to a manager who many thought had lost the plot seemed to have directed all the negative energy, the criticism, the frustration into playing what can only be described as a stunning game.
Steven Gerrard hadn’t recovered and wasn’t in the starting line-up but many Liverpool fans (and Chelsea fans) breathed a sigh relief when they saw Fernando Torres on the team sheet. Mascherano was also in the starting 11 despite having refused signing a new contract with Liverpool this morning and speculation about him possibly moving to Spanish club Barcelona, who have shown interest in the Argentine midfielder. Mascherano said, “I don’t play football for the money. I play for me to win.”
Thankfully, going by how Liverpool played today, I don’t think Mascherano will be going anywhere.
A Liverpool-Manchester United encounter is always feisty but this season it has got even more bite to it because of both the clubs being tied at 18 titles each. And both clubs had very high stakes riding on this match While for Manchester United it meant going top of the table, 2 points clear of Chelsea FC for Liverpool it meant staying in the race for the title. If Liverpool had lost they would have gone 7 points behind the table leaders and it would have been almost impossible to catch up. Manchester United on the other hand wanted revenge from last season when Liverpool had managed to pull a double on them. It was always going to be a great contest and it lived up to all the hype with the better team on the night taking all three points. Yossi Benayoun who had an absolutely brilliant game, passed the ball past Ferdinand to Fernando Torres who scored the first goal for Liverpool in the 67th minute. It was a trademark Torres goal combining power, skill and class. Ngog scored the second for Liverpool in added time and really put the game past United. The game also saw Vidic and Mascherano being sent off. It is becoming quite a habit for both the players whenever their teams meet. Anfield is one of the toughest places to go to and win. Liverpool boasts of having the best fans in the world and it showed today. The fans were a 100 percent behind their team and relentless in their show of support.
Rafael Benitez in his post-match interview said, “The players showed character and the fans were behind the players, we had 12 men. The mentality was good, everyone was working together, plus the ‘keeper (Jose Reina) to the last fan on the Kop. The players answered a lot of questions, that is the most important thing.”
And for a change, Sir Alex also admitted that his team was second best on the night. He said, “Liverpool were the better team and I am not taking anything away from them at all. They deserved to win the game, as it was a disappointing performance from us. We were not good enough. Last season we lost at home 4-1 to Liverpool which was a travesty but we went on to win the league.”
And some things never change…
Sir Alex also said, “We lost out to one or two major decisions. I felt Carrick in the first half was a penalty kick. He [Carragher] has clearly gone over the top of the ball. If it was outside the box, it would have been a free kick. But the controversial one that everyone will be talking about is when he brought Michael Owen down on the edge of the box.
“He is their best defender, so if he goes off at that stage it would be difficult for them. Their fans put the referee under pressure all the time. This atmosphere is hard to handle for a referee. Whether he had enough experience or not, I don’t know, but he will certainly learn from it.”
Ah…well, I guess its one tiny step at a time towards mastering gracious, honest, ‘poor-performance-admitting’, non-blaming, post match speeches for Fergie.
‘When the going gets tough; the tough get going’ – Liverpool played a passionate, give-all game with no fear and showed everyone that they are a force to reckon with on their day and why underestimating their threat and counting them out of the race would be foolish.