|photo by JoshMcConnell||via PhotoRee|
Kenny Dalglish was spotted stifling a yawn as he exited Old Trafford this afternoon after being handed his FA Cup exit papers in the form of a 1-nil loss to Manchester United. You can't really blame King Kenny, Liverpool's new/old manager, for feeling bored after witnessing the ineffective and uninspired display his team gave. I was bored to tears watching them search for a way -- any way -- into a game in which they were never really in contention.
Notable mostly for Steven Gerrard's ugly two-footed challenge on Michael Carrick, and the subsequent red card which ended his day early, the game this afternoon highlighted the vast chasm in talent that currently exists between the two sides. Although Liverpool's squad sheet is theoretically filled with some "big" names (e.g., Torres, Kuyt, Rodriguez, Gerrard), the emphasis should be on the word "theoretical," as none of those names played as if they are worthy of the title. Fernando Torres looked disinterested and distracted -- probably dreaming of bigger and better places to play next season; Kuyt looked ineffective; Maxi clownish while rolling on the ground in mock agony after trying to coax a card from Referee Webb's pocket; and Gerrard -- well, shambolic is the most polite word I can think of.
The game was over from the start, as Berbatov was bundled over by Agger in the box at the two minute mark. Up stepped Giggs, and well...you can guess the rest. Although there was criticism of Webb on Twitter for calling a "soft" foul in the box, there can be no doubt that Berbatov was indeed pushed and Agger was guilty of very poor decision making and defending. For the Liverpool fans who cried about the foul, there were at least two other clear-as-day penalties in the box -- fouls on both Evans and Evra -- which Webb managed to conveniently overlook in order to keep the contest close. Although one out of three may be acceptable in Major League Baseball, it's not in the EPL, and Webb was guilty today of not being officious enough.
He did manage to get the day's other talking point correct, though, as Gerrard went into a fifty-fifty ball with both feet raised, studs showing. Once again, Liverpool fans and match commentators -- one in the same in many cases -- criticized Webb for taking too strict an interpretation of the rules, but anyone who viewed the action in replay can have no doubt that Gerrard deserved a red and more for his attempted tackle, which could have easily broken Carrick's ankle.
United motored on in cruise control today, and were unlucky not to have padded the scoreline more to reflect their true domination of the match. Jonny Evans headed the ball almost through the post just before halftime, and only Pepe Reina's remarkable string of five consecutive saves in the same second half sequence was able to keep United from adding to their total. Liverpool was able to pester Kuzszack only two or three times, and truly test him only once throughout the 90 minutes.
On the positive side, I thought Rio and Evand were both teriffic today, as frankly were Evra and Rafael. Evra looks back to his swashbuckling best, and seems to have put his erratic form from earlier in the season behind him.
Giggs looked Giggs-like again today, slaloming through the heart of the Liverpool defense on multiple occasions, and Michael Owen -- in his brief cameo -- looked as if he lost about 10 years while rehabbing his hamstring. His creativity and vision have never been in question, but today even his pace was there for all to see.
At the final whistle it was United 1, Liverpool 0, as United move into the Cup's fourth round and Liverpool head deservedly home. Sir Alex looked satisified with the result and the performance of his men, and King Kenny realized that his task is not going to be simple: this Liverpool side is a flawed team in many ways, and the turnaround looks as if it will take longer than anticipated.
This is farlieonfootie for January 10.