I both relish and dread games against Manchester United. The excitement, tension and animosity surrounding the fixture is like no other. It builds for weeks beforehand, culminating in a crescendo of expletives and show of passion new to both me and my friends. Quite simply, animalistic qualities hidden beneath a usually calm exterior burst through like the Easter Bunny on steroids.
The lead-up to the battle is engrossing. Obviously, we possess additional rivalries of plenty but none holds a candle to this deep, resentful hatred. There are a multitude of reasons why Liverpool-Manchester United remains the fiercest rivalry in English football. Primarily, and most simply, the pair hold the honour of being the country’s two most successful teams. Then there is the geographical situation, each fighting the other for North West supremacy and bragging-rights. The list is endless. But for me, the overriding factor is an underlining arrogance of every one of their so-called ‘supporters’. Roy Keane once belittled such as the prawn sandwich brigade. I need not expand on that precise description but due to a lingering bad mood, I will do so.
Yesterday, I received countless text messages, phone calls and Facebook comments regarding our defeat. Fair enough, banter is banter, part and parcel of football. But of those sarcastic notes, only two actually held a right to dish the shed load of ‘stick’. Why? Because they actually know something about the sport, they attend games in Manchester. Others know about as much as Gavin Peacock.
Nevertheless, they don their colours for two days in the season, feeling the need to laugh at true fans of the opposition who view EVERY game, trek across the country to SEE encounters, sing the songs, know the names of former AS WELL AS current stars and appreciate what it means to be a loyal fan, not some fair-weathered dud with a lust for conformity.
I quizzed one of those in question a few days ago – Who was your boss before Fergie? His response … Gordon Strachan.
It was with a culmination of all of the above forthright in my mind that I sat down in my local to watch the Reds take on Sir Alex Ferguson’s side yesterday. In all honesty, I expected little. Any hope in hell was though extinguished when Javier Mascherano saw red just before the break.
Masch was foolish yes but he was passionate, an attribute lost on too many in our ranks yesterday.
I would never criticise Steven Gerrad, so often our saviour, our leader, but for the opening 30 minutes he was as effective as a snapped belt. Am I wrong to expect to see Stevie crashing into Mancs early? Laying down a marker and letting them know they are in a game.
Carragher likewise, who had a rare off-day. Of course, it cannot always be left to our Scouse contingent to set a precedent. Sometimes, as is the way, they will not perform. But when that day came yesterday, we were horribly exposed. There were no leaders. Alonso went missing, Babel seemed anything but committed and Aurelio only heightened the appeal of John Arne Riise. It was an incoherent mess.
Therefore, it was left to Mascherano to lead the charge. He appeared totally immersed in the event that is Liverpool-Man United, implementing the desire of our fans watching from the stands. But he was the only one.
If the significance of this fixture was lost on some of our own yesterday afternoon it was a trait shared with Steve Bennett, an incompetent fool of a referee. Why on earth he booked Masch for his very first foul is beyond me. Common sense needed to prevail here. The intensity of this particular game was bound to bring early challenges; therefore an appreciation of circumstances was required. Bennett though seemed more concerned with an exchanging of Easter pleasantries with the Old Trafford faithful.
Paul Scholes made two fouls in the opening quarter of an hour, neither punished. Cristiano Ronaldo was adjudged to have dived twice throughout the course of the game, yet no caution, warning even, was administered. THAT is a disgrace.
It is also the reason why Mascherano harried the official so frequently. In that kind of a fixture it cannot be one rule for the home side and another for the away. You need a strong, calculated head to ref proceedings, not one keen to endear himself to the frightful Sir Alex. Bias was evident and basically ruined the game as a spectacle.
Our beleaguered team sparked into life only when they saw the Monster vent his vehemence at a jovial dismissal. Watch the VT and see how many of our lads try to haul him back. Why weren’t they doing so to Scholes, Carrick, Ronaldo or Anderson?
Where was the willingness yesterday? Where?
The game was lost as soon as that red was brandished. 3-0 was actually kind because it could and should have been a lot worse.
I don’t blame the manager for that. He sent out a winning team in form and in the ascendency. Unfortunately, too many of them retained the kind of blasÃ© mood capable of beating a Reading or West Ham but not a world class outfit.
If the defeat was meant to be a test of how far we’ve come, we failed miserably. Something is seriously lacking whenever we play away to the top three, which is why I dread that Champions’ League tie with Arsenal.
As I draw this uncharacteristic rant to a close I do so looking ahead to next week’s derby. One can only hope for a seasonal resurrection of a faltering domestic campaign. In the mean time, good luck to all those destined to be the butt of many a joke this week. Just remember, we won it 5 times.