United Were Meek But The Ref Decided The Game
Predictably (at least I have predicted) United lost at Liverpool. However, the champions weren't undone by a superior fighting spirit but by a very, very generous referee, called Andre Marriner.
By and large, Liverpool were the better team. The basis of their control was simple: the nonstop hassling and harassing done by all of their players but particularly by Lucas and Mascherano, the two central midfielders who were allowed to get away with just about everything by Marriner. Several niggly and some ugly fouls weren't enough to get at least a yellow card for Lucas and Mascherano should never have been on the pitch by the time he got himself sent off for an ugly and unnecessary lunge at Van der Sar.
So, with United punished whenever trying to use a little force themselves they had difficulties in getting the ball back while Liverpool, trusting to the leniency of the referee set about to unsettle us physically which is all too easy to do with a midfield containing Giggs, Scholes and Carrick (it is no coincidence that Valencia was our best player - he refused to be sidetracked by their dirtiness).
So, Marriner generally leaned towards Liverpool which was very, very difficult to overcome. Yet United could and should have taken the lead from the penalty spot when Jamie Carragher slid on Carrick recklessly, without any care for his opponent. Yes, he got the ball - and everything else as well, risking an ankle break for Carrick.
The media, of course, won't pick up on this as it was committed by courageous Carragher and he 'got the ball'. Does not really matter chaps: rules state that if a player attemts to tackle an opponent in a manner that is careless or reckless a direct free-kick must be awarded - inside the penalty area it's a penalty, no doubt. But Marriner did not give that.
A quick yellow card for Evra's first, not serious foul meant he had to be very, very careful and that took some of the edge off his game - well done Mr. Marriner again. They riled even Berbatov with countless fouls that went unpunished and he also got a yellow after he had been kicked and pulled back by Mascherano and Insua respectively. Strange refereeing.
So while United's overall performance was disappointing, the mitigating circumstances (i.e. the referee) mean we actually held our own rather well. We even created a few chances (Rooney's header and Valencia's attempt rattling off the bar) which is difficult to do when the opposition is allowed to stop you by whatever means occur to them.
Jamie Carragher who should have been on a yellow after his reckless challenge on Carrick, committed another serious offence near the end of 90 minutes: he brought down Owen who would have been clear on goal otherwise. Marriner, for reasons best known to himself, failed to send him off, presenting him only with a yellow card. Was it in any way different than Vidic's foul against Gerrard at Old Trafford in March? No but Carragher survived.
Vidic, on the other hand, got his marching orders again. His second booking was justified but the first - that was for a fair tackle. Why he was booked is beyond comprehension.
With all these things going Liverpool's way it would have been a big surprise had they not won the game but they did, with an admittedly fine goal by Torres breaking the dreadlock. United responded well but the crossbar and the referee prevented us from equalising. The performance prompted Fergie to say Liverpool deserved to win but he's as wrong as he was in March when he suggested United were the better team for most of the game.
Liverpool did not deserve to win this because it was not a level playing field. They could slide in recklessly without fear of punishment, their destroyers in central midfield could commit series of 'tactical' fouls without earning cards (Mascherano got his first for his third bookable offence). We have to record this because the next few days will be all about a Liverpool love-in.
Of course it's no use complaining about the referee: it must be expected at Anfield as Liverpool are always strongly favoured there. What we can control is our own aggression and response and once again, we were too meek. We definitely missed the bite of Fletcher and of course Hargreaves who performed so well at Anfield in December 2007. With them, we might have got a result even against Marriner. Without them, it was an uphill struggle against Liverpool and the referee.