|photo by Eric The Fish (2011)||via PhotoRee|
Using the Manchester United - Liverpool game as his drawing board, Correspondent Scott presents his most fair and balanced piece yet:
There is no Rooney, no Nani and no Chicharito in Manchester United’s starting eleven when Liverpool hosts the reigning champions at Anfield. Is this, as Kevin Keegan is reported to have said, an insult? No, I’d say it is an opportunity. Unfortunately, it is an opportunity wasted. A win would put Liverpool back in the title hunt but poor finishing dooms them to continue their fight for European play next year.
The first fifteen minutes see no real chances by either tentative side and is most notable for a few phantom fouls and Patrice Evra’s yellow card miming skills, for which he receives an official consultation. Even through the following fifteen minutes, Liverpool look disjointed, with the reliable and crafty Jose Enrique being the only bright spot. But right around the half hour mark Liverpool begins to pull it together and only four minutes later have a first real chance at goal when Luis Suarez inexplicably pulls the ball back to his weaker left foot before cannoning directly into David De Gea. For the balance of the half, Liverpool is clearly playing better – winning the ball back quickly and pressing relentlessly. Nevertheless, as the halftime whistle blows, Liverpool has still failed to capitalize on the fact that United’s three best players are on the bench.
The second half starts with both teams pressuring the ball and space is limited. Dirk Kuyt’s header toward goal that is blocked by the arm of Jonny Evans is a good no-call by the referee, as there is clearly no intent and the arm is only slightly away from the body (the Dutchman’s protestations notwithstanding). Jordan Henderson comes on in the 57th minute for Lucas Leiva who is riding a yellow card. Liverpool continues to look the better team but need to score.
Evra seems to give Suarez a taste of his own medicine, going down as if a bullet from a revolver strikes his knee rather than the foot of said Uruguayan. Now the referee calls both of them over but Evra won’t let it go. Suarez not only gets his goat, but also his cow and several other farm animals before the Frenchman receives a yellow card. We later find that Evra claims that Suarez repeatedly used the N-word. I really hope he didn’t but I have my doubts about the toothful dynamo.
Around about the 68th minute everything changes. Charlie Adam, showing great skill, dribbles toward the box as Rio Ferdinand steps up. Then, depending on your point of view, either Ferdinand catches Adam’s foot with an ill-conceived and poorly-timed challenge, or a well-rewarded dive ensues. I watched the replay no fewer than 15 times and it is hard to tell if Rio catches the edge of Adam’s foot. But given that I’ve never observed Adam diving before (and my clear bias) I give him the benefit of the doubt - such bias and conclusion not being congruent with the libelous accusations made by my esteemed colleague (he of this eponymous blog).
Helping the referee see a foul is part of the game – which is very different from trying to get him to see a foul that never was, a la Suarez (which apparently rubbed off on Stuart Downing). For the record, I’m all for retroactive yellow cards for diving. Quite frankly, as an ambassador of the game in my small circle of the world, diving is an embarrassment.
Meanwhile, back on the pitch, when Ryan Giggs protects the family jewels, creating a crack in the wall through which the talismanic (a cliché, but apt) Steven Gerrard threads his scoring effort, screams and clapping ricochet around my empty home, mocking my euphoria. And really, when you think about it – clapping all alone?
Twenty minutes until the final whistle is encouraging – but what is not is Wayne Rooney and Nani entering the game, with Chicharito warming up on the sideline. And for the next 12 minutes Manchester United press as Liverpool shrink back to their own half, content to see if they can just hang on. But as any sports fan knows, such defensive tactics never work and, after the Mexican comes on in the 75th minute, it is only 5 minutes later before he adds to his tally for the season and ties the game with a goal that is even more impressive when viewed later, not only for his uncanny anticipation but also for his ability to escape Martin Skrtel’s embrace.
While United is improved with all three of their superstars on the pitch, after the tying goal Liverpool is once again the better team. In the final 10 minutes, Liverpool creates four clear opportunities to win while United doesn’t manage any. That they fail to convert any of these chances merely underscores the kind of day it is. No matter your allegiance, it’s hard to deny that Rooney’s most notable play during his 20 minutes on the pitch was a defensive header inside his own six yard box.
It also says something that Manchester United’s man of the match was their goalkeeper. Speaking of whom….De Gea is the real deal. I was one of the many reserving judgment on the Spaniard after he seemed to lack composure during the first couple of games. But he has found his confidence and has settled down to be United’s savior, perhaps aided by sticky fingers from a certain now-infamous donut.
But no points are awarded for playing better than the other team. Goals matter and Liverpool didn’t score enough, despite a surfeit of chances. The opportunity was there….and it was wasted.
This is farlieonfootie for October 20.