Thursday, March 20, 2014

Penalties Rule The Day: Manchester United vs Liverpool from the Visitors' Perspective

photo by storemvia PhotoRee

Warning -- Fans of Manchester United Need Not Read Scott's Piece Any Further:
Liverpool stomped Manchester United last Sunday at Old Trafford.  In fact, you wouldn’t even know the game was being played at Old Trafford, such was the visitors’ dominance throughout, except for the white kits they wore.  Nor did the home side benefit from any close penalty calls, as one might have guessed.  In fact, it was quite the opposite with spot kicks, both missed and made, both deserved and undeserved, ruling the day.

Once I got over the sight of Raheem Sterling in Philippe Coutinho’s central midfield role, and over the sound of Tim Howard’s American accent commentating, I was pleased to see a series of true derby-style tackles and Liverpool playing well.  Sterling splashed the ball around well and weaved out of trouble when necessary, but needed to show more for his fellow players when they encountered resistance.  Steven Gerrard was playing as if it were his last United derby and Jon Flanagan, emulating his mentor, was calm on the ball and equally as tough in tackling.  Meanwhile, despite not scoring yet, SAS gave the defense fits throughout the first half.

At 33 minutes, Rafael should have been sent off with a second yellow when he purposely handled the ball to prevent Suarez’ deft touch from beating him in the box.  Subsequently, Gerrard soundly converted high in the right corner where, as Howard pointed out, David De Gea had no chance even if he had guessed correctly.  But then, at 36 minutes, Gerrard’s physicality caught up with him when he was rightly yellowed for an elbow to Marouane Fellaini’s head that bloodied the Belgian.

A few minutes later, the home team finally put together a dangerous offensive foray, even if the Robin van Persie shot was ultimately blocked.  Inspired, the Red Devils were spurred on by brilliant dribbling by Adnan Januzaj down the right who fed Rafael who then pulled back for Wayne Rooney.  Fortunately for Liverpudlians, Simon Mignolet was more than equal to the task and parried number 10’s shot high and wide.  Would this momentum push United to equalize in the second half?

No. Merely a minute after the restart, Phil Jones carelessly bump-tackled Joe Allen from behind in the box and the referee again correctly pointed to the spot.  Captain Fantastic again converted to the right side, this time low and into the corner.  Noticeably, both teams blatantly encroached in the area prior to Gerard’s kick, which meant I had to pause the game to explain to my 10-year-old son why the referee didn’t call it.  Quite frankly, I didn’t have a really good answer.  The best I could do is that it is for the same reason referees don’t call pushing, shoving, tackling and near-shanking in the box during corners – everybody does it and we’d never get the game played if it were always called. 

Up 2-0 away at the defending champions, and bitter rivals, Liverpool was full of vim and vigor.  As such, it was a shame when, in the 78th minute, Sturridge clearly dove in the box and won an undeserved penalty.  Brendan Rodgers, God bless him, can claim that England’s World Cup Hope saw/felt the challenge coming and went over when Vidic slid to block his way, but there wasn’t a hint of contact and it really isn’t that difficult for a World Cup Hope to step over a leg instead of trip before it.  But while Sturridge deserves a finger wagging, the question must be asked: what the hell was Vidic thinking with that sliding challenge?  It was so completely ill-conceived that it was practically deserving of the penalty even without the contact.

Alas, the Universe moved to right the transgression by causing the previously perfect Captain Fantastic to bang his shot off the left goal post.  That was all well and good, but when the Universe then went further and caused the referee to erroneously waive off another penalty claim in the 81st minute, when Michael Carrick clearly clipped Sturridge, it seemed the scales had tipped too far.  Fortunately, Liverpool, and Suarez in particular, had more in the tank and had no intention of leaving the field in disequilibrium. His brilliant move to create space, and subsequent blistering volley, in the 83rd minute elicited an equally brilliant reaction save from De Gea.  So impressed was the Uruguayan with the Spaniard’s stop that he trudged over and gave him a high-five soon after.  A minute later, Karma finished the job when a lucky deflection fell to Suarez who made no mistake in putting it into the corner with his left foot.

Liverpool are on a roll and everybody is now openly talking of their title chances.  I’m still not ready to join that conversation but now that Robin van Persie has shoved United to the final 8 of the Champions League with his hat-trick over Olympiakos, I have to admit a nagging fear – could they actually pull off a Chelsea-style improbably Champions League Championship, as the Blues did two years ago, and potentially boot Liverpool from Champions League qualifying if the Reds finished only 4th?  I’d like to think that there is no way that fate could be so cruel.  But just talk to a Tottenham fan…

Nah!  Liverpool are going to win the title.

This is farlieonfootie for March 20.

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