An Unhappy Easter

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Watching Liverpool games live on television has its good points and bad points when you live in Vancouver, Canada. Due to the time difference we watch the weekend games early in the morning and midweek games at lunchtime. If the Reds win it’s fantastic and we get the rest of the day to celebrate. However when they lose it can ruin the rest of the day. Unlike in England, where you only have a few more hours till you can sleep and forget about it, we have an entire day to be annoyed. Such an occasion occurred on Sunday and to make it even worse it meant that Easter was ruined as well.

The defeat at Old Trafford was the fourth in succession since Rafa became Liverpool manager. It was also the fourth in a row that a Man Utd defender has scored. I thought the game near the start of last season was awful but this was even worse and downright embarrassing. There are a number of reasons why we lost the game such as Mascherano’s sending off or the formation Rafa chose. When it all comes down to it, the players themselves let us all down by simply not turning up. The only player that seemed to be getting stuck in was Mascherano but he barely lasted half an hour on the pitch.

I’m not usually in agreement with the words of Tom Hicks but he has suggested that Liverpool’s players have an inferiority complex when it comes to playing Man Utd. Based on the evidence we see every season it’s hard to disagree with these sentiments. I think we can all agree that we have a first eleven that can compete with any team in the world and we have seen plenty of evidence of this. Yet when it comes time to play Man Utd we simply collapse. I cannot fathom why this is and it really bothers me. I do not blame Rafa for this because he publicly talks up our chances before these games and fill us (and surely the players) with plenty of confidence. Yet as soon as the whistle blows we simply allow them to dominate.

GerrardWould anybody else agree that Steven Gerrard did not act like a captain on Sunday? I don’t want to start slagging Stevie off here because I am a big fan of the man and he would be in my starting line-up every week without fail. But I cannot excuse the way he goes missing in games against Man Utd. He had one good shot in the second half but other than that he wasn’t really involved in the match. I understand that he played a lot deeper when we were down to ten men but even before that he wasn’t really doing a lot. I would love to know why he wasn’t involved in getting Mascherano off the pitch when he was sent off. As the captain, I feel that Stevie should have run straight over and done whatever it took to get him to calm down. I understand that he may have wanted to set a good example by not getting involved in the argument, but once Mascherano lost control he should have been straight over.

Anybody who watched the game could quite clearly see that Mascherano was always at risk of being sent off once he had received the first yellow card for the foul on Scholes. I counted six occasions in which the cameras caught him swearing or gesturing at the referee Steve Bennett. It didn’t need an expert lip reader to understand that he was f’ing and blinding. Every time I saw him mouthing off I was panicking and shouting at him to ‘˜please shut up’. As we were already a goal down at that point we probably would have lost the game anyway, but by getting himself sent off when he was our best player, Mascherano clearly cost us a chance of getting back into the game. I just hope at this stage that he doesn’t get his one game ban increased because of his refusal to leave the pitch once he was shown the red card.

We all knew that we would see dissent punished more harshly this weekend after Cashley’s behaviour in mid-week, but it seems that Liverpool were more harshly treated than others. I watched Chelsea vs Arsenal and saw loads of players giving the referee abuse and yet none of their players were given cards for it. Yet when Torres complains about the constant fouling he received without the referee giving the fouls, he is booked straight away. Bennett should have had a quiet word with him as it was a first offence and clearly Torres was just frustrated. Instead he was immediately yellow carded for it. The inconsistencies in refereeing standards seem to get worse with every week, and Steve Bennett’s performance on Sunday was pathetic. Mascherano was booked for a bad foul and Man Utds players were consistently allowed to kick and pull back our players without punishment. Ronaldo clearly dived twice in the game and was he booked? Of course he wasn’t. I’m not suggesting that Steve Bennett was biased, just incompetent to be in charge of a game of this importance.

I know that it’s easy to say this in hindsight but I think that Rafa got the formation wrong, especially once we were down to ten men. Leaving Torres on his own up front was never going to work with Ferdinand and Vidic playing so well this season. It was even harder for Torres when he was getting no service from the wings and with Gerrard going missing we seemed to be simply playing long balls to him and then expecting him to do the rest. Peter Crouch would have been a perfect player to bring on in this game and once again he was sitting on the bench. It’s quite clear that he’s done something bad to offend Rafa this much and despite talk of him signing a new contract, I can’t see him staying at Liverpool after this season.

Looking ahead to the Merseyside derby next Sunday we simply cannot afford to play like this again. We have a two point lead over Everton right now and we need to be increasing it to five points as we look to maintain fourth place. With no Mascherano for this game, Rafa may decide to revert to a 4-4-2 formation, or he may stick with new one and simply replace Mascherano with Lucas Leiva. I would like to see a natural winger like Pennant or Benayoun play on the right instead of Kuyt so that Torres can get some good crosses. With the amount of hard tackling that is expected of this fixture, especially with the amount on the line this time around, Torres may get more chances to score from the wings instead of passing through the midfield. One thing is for sure this game can’t come fast enough for me and doing the double on the Bluenoses will be the perfect tonic to soothe the pain in our hearts that we’ve been feeling since that terrible Easter Sunday.