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Benitez's brinkmanship strikes again

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Phil McNulty | 06:22 UK time, Monday, 26 October 2009

Rafael Benitez's twin boyhood passions were football and a Spanish military board game called "Stratego" - both appealing to his calculating mind and analytical approach.

So when faced with a simple calculation on the coach journey to Anfield to face Manchester United, Benitez weighed up the odds and took a gamble that could shape Liverpool's season.

Liverpool's figures of influence, from Kenny Dalglish and managing director Christian Purslow to co-owner George Gillett, had formed an orderly queue to insist the club's worst run in 22 years had not shaken belief in Benitez.

But this most singular man, with an astonishing ability to polarise opinion, knew a fifth successive loss was not an option as he considered the appeal of playing Fernando Torres, despite a groin injury that left the Spain striker short of fitness.

"He was not 100% fit or fresh but sometimes 80% of Fernando can make a difference," said Benitez. So the decision was made after a conversation between the pair on the team coach - and as the circus left town in search of a fresh crisis with skies darkening over Anfield on Sunday, Benitez's brinksmanship had struck again.

Benitez had avoided the ignominy of having Liverpool's most wretched run of form in 56 years on his jealously-guarded CV by overseeing a resounding win played out in a seething, hothouse atmosphere only Anfield can conjure up when backs are pressed against the wall.

Not only had Benitez released the pressure valve on his own position, Liverpool's performance also performed the neat trick of shifting questions back towards Manchester United after their third successive win against Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

Former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness has been a strident critic of Benitez in recent days, but strange as it seems the pair may share common ground. Souness once claimed he was "turned on by the aggravation of management" - and you start to wonder whether the latest man in the Anfield chair feels the same.

How else can you explain Benitez's apparent desire to take himself to the brink, whether it is via poor results or some perceived political slight behind the scenes, before pulling back by producing the big one when required?

Benitez felt the first sounds of Anfield's opinion shifting against him near the conclusion of the Champions League defeat against Lyon, but gathered his forces here to oversee a victory that had him once more hailed as the hero of Anfield at the final whistle on Sunday.

liverpoolfansafp595335.jpg Delighted Liverpool fans celebrate on The Kop

And just in case anyone was likely to miss it, Benitez put on this show in front of watching Liverpool's co-owners Gillett and Tom Hicks, as well as their entourage.

The atmosphere at Anfield was electric from an hour before kick-off. Manchester United should have been on safe ground against a Liverpool side at odds with itself and a manager at a pivotal point of his five-year tenure.

Liverpool's political problems were also on show, with a demonstration before the game against the club's American rulers - a sideshow effectively rendered pointless by the performance of their players. No-one was interested in protests when Liverpool's fans had a triumph like this to revel in.

Instead United found themselves on dangerous territory, facing a manager, players and a set of feverish fans ready to rise up against charges of revolution in the ranks.

The secret of good comedy is timing - and it was clear Manchester United's fans were taking a chance in donning their Eric Cantona masks to taunt Liverpool about equalling their 18 league titles and blowing up their beach balls to mock the loss at Sunderland.

Benitez's track record of escapology suggested Liverpool might have the last laugh and an already charged atmosphere moved up another notch when Torres confirmed Benitez had taken his punt by charging out for the warm-up with intent.

Torres, 80% fit or not, provided an extra charge of adrenalin for Anfield and his Liverpool team-mates - and struck blind terror into Manchester United's defensive pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

Liverpool, without injured inspiration Steven Gerrard but fuelled by the noise rolling off the stands, should have been ahead by the time Torres, in a blinding flash, swept past Ferdinand with an ease that should be of immediate concern to Ferguson, and a more long-term worry for England coach Fabio Capello, to break the deadlock.

And the belief that Torres has messed with the head of the formidable Vidic since taking him to the cleaners in Liverpool's 4-1 win at Old Trafford last season was only underscored by the Serb's ham-fisted attempts to mete out his own form of physical intimidation.

Three times in three games he has failed to survive the 90 minutes against Liverpool and the cruel jibe is already doing the rounds that "trick or treat" children will turn up at Vidic's house on Halloween wearing Torres masks.

Liverpool's greater energy and heart for the battle also came in the shape of the outstanding Yossi Benayoun (surely Benitez can no longer contemplate leaving him out) and the derided Lucas, who was so influential in midfield.

Benitez did not look like a man who had ridden out a storm as he calmly dissected a vital victory in his post-match media briefing - although the manager who many feel treads too solitary a path broke with tradition to dish out praise in all directions.

He will know, he surely must, that even a victory as momentous as this cannot mask the disappointing start Liverpool have made to their season, although they now stand only four points behind the champions after showing why some pundits were audacious enough to even tip them for the title.

David Ngog's goal was met with deafening roars of relief and joy, with goalkeeper Pepe Reina showing how much it all meant with a sprint from one end of Anfield to the other.

Benitez may have survived the latest turbulence, but Liverpool need more than one lung-busting effort inspired by The Kop to prove this is a genuine turning point as opposed to mere temporary respite.

Liverpool and Benitez would be foolish to think the slate has been wiped clean on one stunning afternoon. No use raising the game for Manchester United if it slips back down at Fulham next week.

For Manchester United, the small cracks that have appeared in recent weeks opened just a little wider at Anfield - and suddenly Ferguson is in charge of a team that might just come under closer scrutiny.

Ferguson griped about a couple of decisions but had no serious complaints about the result. And how it must pain him that Liverpool are showing signs of becoming a Nemesis to United in their league meetings, if not yet in their overall pursuit of the title.

United escaped with a draw against Sunderland and hung on to beat Bolton Wanderers, but they have not been at their best this season and Liverpool were able to cash in on this uncharacteristic vulnerability.

Ferdinand's form must remain a concern. He almost sagged as he admitted defeat in his quest to contain Torres in the game's defining moment. He is currently nowhere near the player he once was, and for United and England's sake it is to be hoped his rehabilitation is swift.

Problems were also detected for United further up the field.

Ferguson cannot be criticised for selling Cristiano Ronaldo because the player wanted to go and the timing and the fee was right. It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that United must add at least one top-quality attacking addition to augment the arrival of Michael Owen and the promising Antonio Valencia.

United insist the Ronaldo money is not burning a hole in their pocket, but they are light in world-class attacking talent these days and Ferguson needs to address the problem.

Indeed there were times yesterday when even the nuisance value of Carlos Tevez would have at least posed questions for Liverpool's defence, superbly marshalled by Jamie Carragher, to answer and I was never totally convinced of his worth to the United cause.

Wayne Rooney was busy without being at his best, while Dimitar Berbatov's admirers might kindly label him as enigmatic. He still falls short of what is required of a £30m striker and the contrast between the Bulgarian and Torres was marked.

Torres struggled for much of the game, going to ground too easily, but when the big moment came he delivered with a surge of pure urgency and pace that appears beyond the languid, although lavishly gifted, Berbatov.

Berbatov, with a feint here and a flick there, seemed content to try and lazily pick the lock while Torres picked up the sledgehammer and banged the door down.

It was no surprise when Berbatov was replaced by Owen with 16 minutes left, a move that in my opinion brought the only minus mark for Liverpool's supporters on an afternoon when they provided magnificent backing.

The venom that accompanied Owen's arrival was out of proportion with the offence he is deemed to have committed. He has committed, in Anfield's eyes, the cardinal sin of signing for Manchester United, but does this really merit the scale of abuse he was subjected to?

No-one would suggest for a minute he should have bouquets lobbed in his general direction, but some very short memories were on show at Anfield. This was a player who was a great striker for Liverpool and who would have come back in the summer had they shown any interest.

Call me old-fashioned, but I question the logic when a player such as Robbie Keane is afforded a more generous welcome back to Liverpool by supporters than Owen, a man who brought trophies to Anfield, even single-handedly on occasions.

This complaint aside, it was emphatically Liverpool's day and further proof that both they and their manager are at their most dangerous when they are wounded and the obituaries are about to be written.

Benitez, almost inevitably given his previous form, lives to fight another day and the platform has been provided for Liverpool's season to lift off. Now can they take advantage?

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  • Comment number 1.

    First Comment...

    hey phil... nice one...
    when u gonna write some blog about arsenal

  • Comment number 2.

    "Ferguson cannot be criticised for selling Cristiano Ronaldo because the player wanted to go and the timing and the fee was right"

    Why can't the same be said about Benitez selling Alonso..?? IMO Benitez is very harshly criticized all the time and reading all the posts and forums these past few days I couldn't help but laugh when people came up with such gems as "why on earth did Benitez let Crouch go..?"

    These were the same people who were saying "why on earth did Benitez sign Crouch?" a couple of years earlier..

    Benitez is also criticized for not signing Owen and he can end all the criticism by just giving his reasons as to why he didnt.. But not saying anything surely means he doesn't feel the need to justify his decisions to the press or whoever and you have to respect him for that at least..!!

    And who is Souness to criticize Rafa? As a player Souey ruled but as a manager he just doesnt compare and Liverpool still haven't made a recovery from his good work there.. Just shut up Souey!!

    One last thought was the joy of seeing Ferguson jumping around on the touchline like a 5 year old throwing a strop in the supermarket while Benitez didnt even crack a smile when Torres scored.. You'd think Fergie was the one facing the all this ridiculous criticism..!!

    Well done Rafa.. Respect..

  • Comment number 3.

    Shame Owen was booed, but he returns with Manchester United. The result was fair and hopefully brings some impetus back to Liverpool's season.

  • Comment number 4.

    I disagree about Owen! The selfish welsh boy left us in the lurch when we most needed him! He showed no loyalty to Liverpool or the fans so he deserves all the abuse he got and more!

    Once a manc, never a red!

  • Comment number 5.

    "Berbatov, with a feint here and a flick there, seemed content to try and lazily pick the lock while Torres picked up the sledgehammer and banged the door down." This is a superb bit of observation. Sir Alex should take note. The midfield selection as a unit was the real problem with no ball winning or pressing strengths, I was amazed that Anderson did not get a run. Liverpool outmuscled United yet again and were deserved winners.

  • Comment number 6.

    Decent Blog, Liverpool deserved to win yesterday were the better side throughout the match. Man utd it is fair to say did miss Fletcher, which is something i don't think you would of found many man utd fans thinking 2/3 seasons ago. I don't think we miss Ronaldo but at the same time i don't think we have replaced him adequetly either, Valencia is a very good prospect, but we are lacking a cutting edge, someone with an ability to change a game in an instant other than Rooney, or less frequently Berbatov.

    Ferdinand will im afraid to say it continue to make these errors of judgement from time to time, when hes good he is in my opinion one of the best in the world, when he gets it wrong it is usually very costly.

  • Comment number 7.

    Congratulations Liverpool you have kept in the race.

    As it was siad on MOTD United haven't played well this season but are still 4pts ahead. That't your problem.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    all I can say, is shut up fergie, and what were you saying rafa? i'm listenin!

  • Comment number 10.

    What is Ferguson griping about? About the calibre of the usual? That Vidic should not have been yellow carded for hauling down Kuyt, thus resulting in a sending off as it was his second of that colour? Granted that Carragher launched at the ball and Carrick with such intensity that even the slighest miscalculation would have brought about a penalty. But he got the ball and he did not do it from behind or through Carrick, and that's a penalty? Owen was hauled down in a tussle when his intention was clearly to move away from goal with a defender likely to provide cover if Owen had managed to cut back towards goal, and that's a red card? Get real, United were outplayed, outclassed and outthought.

  • Comment number 11.

    It was a great game. MU was deservedly thrashed at Anfield.
    Now do us a favour by repeating last season's DOUBLE.
    Most of us know that 'Liverpool is a better side than MU'.

    IMO Ben is the MOTM. Ben is the most underrated and underhyped Liverpool player! Why is Sky & others ignoring him?
    IMHO he was the only genuine genius midfield player playing at the 'DERBY'.

    Contrary to the opinions of most members of the sandwich brigade, IMHO Ben has INTEGRITY, true intelligence, vision & PACE.

    City should be willing to pay a premium price for him if he is FOR SALE. We won't undervalue him.
    So do not be surprised that he is a City's target come January.

    Meanwhile enjoy and savour your victory. Kop's fans deserve it.
    " After all the week of groaning and moaning and self-ABUse".

  • Comment number 12.

    Torres simply makes Fergie look more stupid for spending 30 mil on Berbatov! Berbatov should look to torres and ask himself what man u fans want from him, Flicking and controlling balls or scoring goals?

  • Comment number 13.

    yes liverpool has done it once again against Manu. manu defender are scared of Torres. Alas! Benitez must sign 1 quality tormenetor in jnuary to comliment the absence of Torres. ManU were doomed the moment Vidic went out and no wonder apprentice Ngog added another goal. van de Saar has always been shielded by his defence and no fedinard is not as sharp has he used to be. Manu have been gaining point by the stroke of luck and it it showed on wednesday Cham lge when they won at the tail end of the game. To Liverpool that should not be the end. any slip again, they are doomed. They need to win againssgt Ars and city to avoid gate crashers into the top 4. To catch Chelsea? I dont know unless Chelsea drop point and liverpool pick. Time would tell, 6 points adrift is just 2 games to lose and 2 to gain by liverpool. surely when ther role is called into Champs lge 2010 the KOP will be there

  • Comment number 14.

    Bananazurri is dead right when players want to leave how can you blame the Mananger for saying if they don't want to play for us lets at least get a decent deal. And that is exactly what Owen, Heskey, Crouch, Alonso, Keane all did.
    As for the game, in a previous post when Ferdinand was criticised for England, I pointed out his complacency and it seems to me he thinks he can defend purely on reputation, rarely prepared to to the ugly things required - compare that with Carragher!
    Also worth pointing out is how well the much maligned Luceas performed, assured, clever, purposeful. when will his critics finally accept this player is only 22 and looks to be a fine prospect. David Ngog as well with a goal in front of 40,000 screaming fans and 50million viewers showed a real composure and he is only 19, When Macheda did a similar thing last sseason he was lauded so should Ngog be.
    As always the best you can offer about Rooney is he worked hard, for which he should always be praised, but again how effective was he againt Carragher who is not even considered to be international class by many of his peers!(Certainly not past and present England Managers)And Berbatov full of wonderful skills great vision and game intelligence but expects everyone elso to do the work arounf him really just not good enough. And Finally Vidic looked nervous from the start and very uncomfortable (like Nick Griffin on thursday, fully expecting a grilling) and sadly looking nothing thun a thug.

  • Comment number 15.

    A legend at liverpool should NEVER play for united and Im sure the united fans feel the same way. Im not saying ANY liverpool player shouldnt play for united (or vice versa) but if youre a legend with with one, you shouldnt play for the other.

    It would be like cantona signing for liverpool. Dont think he wouldve because he respected the rivalry between the clubs.

    Besides, like poster #4 said, he deserted us to win the european cup with real madrid. Look how that turned out. There is such a thing as Karma after all.

  • Comment number 16.

    "Torres, 80% fit or not, provided an extra charge of adrenalin for Anfield and his Liverpool team-mates - and struck blind terror into Manchester United's defensive pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand." succinctly expressed!

    Torres skinned MU's backline (Vidic & Rio) again. Vidic should also share the blame. It was a sublime CBs' split by Torres via a brilliant pass by the genius Ben..

    Torres 'trick or treat' was a real delight. What we need is an encore at OT.

  • Comment number 17.

    It sounds like people didn't even read or hear what Fergie said. He did admit that United didn't play well. But that doesn't change the fact that the ref was a joke. Even the Liverpool fans I was watching the game with fully concurred. How Carragher stayed on is really beyond me. The guy knew exactly what he was doing. The ref really bottled it. To show that he knew what he'd done, he booked Vidic for his foul on Kuyt instead of giving him a straight red. He was never going to get any stick for that cos Vidic was off anyway. United will bounce back, that's for sure. But refereeing this poor shouldn't be tolerated at that level

  • Comment number 18.

    I think anyone who wasn't expecting Owens reception at Anfield not to be a hail of boos doesn't know much about football. The United-Liverpool rivalry, outside of Celtic-Rangers has to be the biggest in British football. You go to the enemy like that you shouldn't accept anything less.

    Moreover, as you rightly pointed out, Owen at times single handedly brought trophies back to Anfield... Isn't that cause to make the reception even more venemous? We knew he was a star for us, we knew how good he once was which is why it's all the more hurtful when he leaves to your arch rival.

  • Comment number 19.

    Bananazurri i'm hearing you 100%, great comments. Shame on you bloggers who were calling for Rafa's head last week and criticising practically everything about the team.

    You'll never walk alone.

    Phil asks 'can Liverpool take advantage of this situation?' I think the team that invests in a world class player in January can go on to win the title.

  • Comment number 20.

    Surprise surprise! Man U fail to win, Ferguson blames the ref. Same old same old...

  • Comment number 21.

    Speaking as a chelsea supporter, I would have been really worried if liverpool had come out to the bridge and played like that - they always seem to save something special for your little tussles up north.

    Ok, so from a (relativly) unbias standpoint then, I think that overall liverpool should have won that match. Watching the game, they simply seemed to want it more than united, and I think Phils sledgehammer analogy can be applied to the whole team in this case. I'm sure that if they continue to play like that then they'll be right up their contending for the title come the end of the season.

    United haven't really looked the real deal yet this season, so fair play to them that they only sit 2 points behind us atm. Ronaldo has left a big hole to be filled, and I look forward to our meeting in november!

  • Comment number 22.

    Let's analyze the siuation following Man United's defeat. Ferguson's team is one point behind Chelsea having played two out of three of the other 'big four' clubs. A win against Chelsea on 8th November will enable them to overtake them at the top of the league (provided the gap is the same at the start of the match.) Ferguson will not have been looking too much at the outcome of this match but rather at the outcome of their next PL encounter with Blackburn. Man United fans have to be realistic. Any big trophy will be a bonus this season. Ferdinand is having a bad patch(by his high standards) but he will come out of it. Berbatov is showing that he can be a Man United player. He needs to take control of the side and be a leader. I feel at present that he is still 'in awe' of his team mates. This WILL subside. There is good evidence for it already. United still have a team to compete for the Premiership. Their record against the other big teams lasts season was not good (5 points out of 18) but there is too much focus on those matches. They are not the deciders of championships. The other 32 matches ARE deciders. There is no panic at Old Trafford. No major tinkering to be done. Disappointing result, yes but cause for concern? Don't think so.

  • Comment number 23.

    What you fail to recognise is that this was a very poor game of football considering this was supposedly 2 of Europe's best teams. Kick and rush at its finest!! Liverpool were all passion and commitment, the Torres goal being the only bit of genuine quality in the match, and for that alone they deserved their win. United were poor and off the pace all match. They both have problems on the basis of yesterday's form.
    By the way, how on earth can you make an assertion such as "United should have been on safe ground" when talking of this match. For heaven's sake it, was Liverpool at Anfield, the most hostile game United face every season regardless of circumstances!

  • Comment number 24.

    Think you need to get some perspective on this Phil. People were saying very much the same things last season after the defeats at Anfield and OT and yet where did the title go.

    It's no good Liverpool raising their game a couple of times a season against Utd and then dropping back down to their usual mediocre level against everyone else. The games against Utd are like cup ties and Liverpool look like a good cup side. Title contenders? No way. Liverpool played above themselves and Utd were below par. That won't happen every week.

  • Comment number 25.

    Yet another blog about Liverpool. Chelsea played brilliantly over the weekend, Arsenal and in lesser content Spurs have both showed that they are very good sides, but almost all coverage goes to Liverpool, while the rest is divided between Man Utd en Man City.
    The pundits should give more credit to teams playing well, in stead of focusing on a match in which both teams played quite poorly.

  • Comment number 26.

    Things I'd like to see before I die.....
    I would really like to see a pig fly.....
    I would like to see Man U lose bye 'n bye.....
    and without S. A. F. going awry.....
    Much more likely I will see a pig fly.....

  • Comment number 27.

    Can I say what has Owen won since he left Liverpool??? Real madrid went down hill once he signed, do you think Benitez has sent him to United to ruin them this season?? also I thought Lucas was man of the match, his best match in a Liverpool shirt, not A Alonso but hey give the man credit

  • Comment number 28.

    Man U and Chelsea fans everywhere will be happy - Rafa will keep his job and probably be safe for abother couple of years atleast... meaning that there is one less competitor for the league title.

    Good game though - i enjoyed it!

  • Comment number 29.

    Oh dear Mr McNulty, you do come across as being a little dewy-eyed and gushing as Liverpool, clearly your one defining football love, managed to put a couple of goals past a disjointed man utd at home.

    Now they can take advantage? Of what exactly? Advantage of the slim chance that Torress is not injured again? Or that some teams dedicated themselves to dominating Liverpool's tissue-thin midfield coverage?

    A home victory of no discernible consequence, except to those who yearn, beyond hope, beyond reason, that Liverpool's three points will carry them for the next six months. Poor dreamers.

    Once again Liverpool's season, the entire fortune of the club, is being defined by the current champions, Manchester United.

  • Comment number 30.

    Liverpool played their lungs out n got a much needed result. but pipo lets not get so emotional n lose focus, THAT GAME WAS A PREMIER LEAGUE MATCH, n THE TEAM THAT WILL WIN THE LEAGUE WILL HAVE THAT LAST LAUGH.

  • Comment number 31.

    Phil that is 3 blogs on Liverpool in a week i appreciate you tipped them to win the league but how about some opinon on the other 19 teams in the league it is getting tiresome seeing the same all the time!!

    Try and mix it up a bit.

  • Comment number 32.

    I cannot be the only one who has read this almost identical article every time Liverpool beat Man U. It may give players and supporters a nice warm glow, but as in seasons past, it only ever gets 3 points,or six if they do it twice. Is it not it about time Liverpool started thinking that the season has to be about more than just straining nerve and sinew only when Man U are the opponents? Man U have always seen these as bad days at the office and not season defining wins or losses. It will be ever thus,, I suspect.

  • Comment number 33.

    Very good assessment as always phil. One of my fears that a win yesterday and everybody would think we are ok, we won some bragging rights yesterday and 3 points, but thats all. Arsenal then Fulham away are massive tests, and we will probably play two different sides. I suspect aquilani will be on the bench against the talented Arsenal 'kids' but I fear for our second string on Wednesday.
    You are also bang on about Michael Owens reception, I know he run his contract out and left us on the cheap, but as Phil says he gave this club more than Keane Crouch and Fowler. all of whom have received good receptions on their return to Anfield, shame on the crowd yesterday we showed a lack of class.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.

    Utd were rubbish. Well done Liverpool (groan!). Round one to you boys.

  • Comment number 36.

    man u were totally outplayed agger and carragher were fantastic at the back

  • Comment number 37.

    Michael Owen's behaviour with Liverpool is strange.

    The summer Rafa arrived to Liverpool, Owen wanted to leave as he said he wanted to "win major trophies". As Owen had just another year in his contract, Rafa sold him to Madrid for £12 million.
    After spending a year as a sub in Madrid, Owen wanted to come back to England to "get more playing time". Rafa was prepared to offer Madrid the same amount they got for him a year earlier, £12 million, as he's said it a few times. But Owen failed to pressure Madrid to sell him to Liverpool(as Newcastle were offering £18), and he accepted a better contract from Newcastle and their assurances that he'd be playing in starting XI.
    So why would Rafa sign Owen when he's snubbed him twice showing no sign or desire for Liverpool? Why would Rafa be bothered to show his interest in Owen again?

    Don't know who's Owens advisor or agent, because he hasn't made a good decision in all his career.
    -Left Liverpool and went to Madrid to win major trophies(trophies won in Madrid : 0)
    -Left Madrid and went to Newcastle to get more playing time( Only 71 games played in 4 seasons)
    -Chose to go United(to be a bench player) instead of to a team where he'd be playing regularly, wrecking his chances to make the World Cup squad.

    Regarding Graeme Souness, I don't want to say that he's the pot calling the kettle black, because he's not half the manager Rafa is. What a cheek! after his disastrous 4 years as a manager of Liverpool, the less he can do is to keep his mouth shut!

  • Comment number 38.

    Hi Phil!
    Nice blog as usual, though a bit one sided if I may add.
    Surely you cannot judge Liverpool turn of events by their one win against ManU. After all last season they did double but who had the last laugh in May? We should wait for three or four games especially those against Arsenal and Lyon to know what impact this win had on them.
    What about the performance of the referee? It left me wondering whether they have decided to have a go at SAF for his rant on Wiley. Or what do you think. In any case he had it coming.
    As for United they did not look like surrendering as you impliedly put it. Did you see that combination of Owen and Valencia which ended up with the latter hitting the crossbar?

  • Comment number 39.

    The thing is with owen is that he is no robbie fowler yeah the guy was talented and yes he singlehanded won trophys.
    Most Liverpool fans from Liverpool class themselves as scouse not English look at Carra I would rather miss a pen for England than Liverpool.
    Owen cares about number1 as most people generally do but when your being paid 70 grand a week a bit of loyalty to your employers goes a long way.
    Fergie tried to sign god a few times and then went to play for Leeds and city gotta love him

    In Rafa we trust

  • Comment number 40.

    Phil, in my opinion United was cought gasping by a younger and more eager to win Liverpool. One would have thought that after the mid-week successful result and good performance the line-up would have been kept more or less the same with at least Anderson in, as well as Nani, to give this extra freshness that was needed for the game. Instead we saw ageing players, however experienced trying to keep the balance, , defend and provide, but with no effect. It seems the approach to this game was at fault from the part of Utd.
    Benitez I think gave the example of calculated risk taking by using a not fully fit Torres and earning the dividents.

  • Comment number 41.

    Have to agree with #23 there. The game wasn't at all pretty but I guess that comes with a derby, and a must-win for one of the sides involved. The only two moments of real attacking class were the move that led to Rooney's header in the first half, and the Torres goal (great pass, great pace, great finish).

    After all's done and dusted this weekend I can't help but feel that Chelsea fans will be the happiest - no-one else in the top seven (before kick-off Saturday) won a game and they got to bump up their goal difference significantly!

    p.s. Love Stratego - and a good family Xmas present if you're stuck for ideas!

  • Comment number 42.

    To a man we were immense yesterday. We defended like lions. We closed them down well and made it hard for them to play their normal game. And surprise, surprise Ferguson is at it again moaning about referees. Owen made a meal of the challenge by Carragher, which is why I think the ref only gave a yellow. Vidic can have no complaints with his two yellows - how Phelan can complain about the first, he must go to the same optician as Fergie.

    But the players can be proud, they stepped up when it was needed. Benayoun was superb, Lucas had his best game for us, and Carra was back to his best. Pepe was solid in goal. It was also excellent to see Nando make a fool of Ferdinand, and a superb finish. I also hope Ngog's finish at the end gives him confidence to improve too.

    We now need to go on a good run, as Hansen says we need to win when we don't play well, which is unfortunately usually something the mancs excel at.


  • Comment number 43.

    #2 Why can't the same be said about Benitez selling Alonso..??

    Because it was Benitez who unsettled alonso by publicly stating that he was going to sell him to Juventus to fund a move for Gareth Barry

  • Comment number 44.

    In the end the better team did win but there were some very strange decisions. I dont think the Carragher tackle was a penalty, he got the ball, but had that not been in the penalty area it would possibly have been given as a free kick as it is the sort of tackle that seems to be frowned upon these days. The penalty incident is when Giggs was barged off the ball by a liverpool player who made no attempt to play the ball and was only trying to barge the utd player off it.

    Utd were also denied a promising free kick position right at the end of the first half. Why not one of the two blatent fouls were not given is very strange. Evra being booked for 1 mild challenge and an accidental trip and Lucas seemingly able to foul at will without being cautioned. Both Mash and Vidic deserved to go but so did Jamie Carragher and that could have made it very interesting for the last few minutes.

  • Comment number 45.

    Congrates liverpool, i still think liverpool and man U will be fihgting for the champoinship come april/ may. But there are alot of things that happened in yesterday match which were not correct especially the officiating by the referee was very poor. I dont think liverpool have overcome their problems far from it, if the referee was man enough to give a penalty when carrick was fouled or give a red card to garrager, we will be talking on a different story, come wednesday next week liverpool will be confirmed to have failed to qualify to the knockout stage of the CL. For now liverpool can merry, but dont forget your problems.
    For Man U, we know how to come out such negative results, we are a united force, its a pity we are fightiny for our league even with the referees, and i hope the FA charges SAF for the comments he made on the referee yesterday.
    The league is still in its infancy.

  • Comment number 46.

    Never liked Owen in the first place - which is why it's so easy to boo him now. He was always talking about leaving if we didn't win more things and we immediately won the European Cup as soon as he left.

    He tried harder for England than Liverpool and he wasn't good enough to come back. Playing for the Mancs is just a really good excuse to give him stick.

    Robbie Fowler was a God, Fernando Torres IS a God, Owen is just a mercenary, always was.

  • Comment number 47.

    Why can't the same be said about Benitez selling Alonso..??


    Because Benitez created that situation the previous summer by trying to sell Alonso then in order to finance the Barry deal. From that poinht on Alonso was always going to go if a goood offer came in.

    I happen to think the sale was a good one, swapping Alonso for Johnson makes sense to me and it's only been bad luck with injuries to Aquilani and Gerrard this season that have left Liverpool exposed in the middle.

  • Comment number 48.

    As a Man Utd supporter, I'd like to say:

    Well done Liverpool.

    The game was hard fought and not particularly enjoyable to watch, however Liverpool certainly came out the better side. Utd did indeed look a bit timid and they're obviously not quite used to the lack of Ronaldo, especially with Rooney not quite 100%. When you consider Ronaldo was pretty much always fit and available it is understandable. They are showing signs of getting there in other games, but when up against such a hostile atmosphere it is obviously difficult.

    Definitely quite a dirty game though from both sides, that was a bit of a shame, no point complaining about the referee though I'm sure the FA will review his performance and realise he wasn't quite up to scratch for either side.

    However, my question is one which has come up many times before:

    Why does Phil McNulty continue to write in his tabloid esque single sentence per paragraph style?

    Is there a reason for it, such as his burning desire to try to inspire and delight in short sharp bursts?

    Or is there a deeper meaning, such as his inability to really put together a long, well thought out argument?

    Who knows what the answer is, all I can say is that, writing like this, I feel like a bit of a tool.

    And while Phil often comes out with interesting points and I sometimes enjoy reading his insights, I'm often left with a foul taste in my mouth by the manner in which he attempts to keep hold of people's attention span.

    It is as if he is writing to a bunch of teenagers and needs to constantly wave his arms around and change his pitch to keep their attention for five minutes.

    Ultimately, this style is, perhaps, rather insulting.

  • Comment number 49.

    Yeah, shame about Owen. A minority of Liverpool fans have no class. Lucas has been better than Mascherano all season and I, for one, would be happy to take Barca's money. The beach balls just revealed that the IQ of supporters has hit an all time low.
    As for Benitez, 114 wins from his first 200 games compares very favourably to Fergusons 87. 20 years his junior, but tactically his senior, given time he can eclipse Fergusons achievements, particularly in Europe.
    Chelsea still seem to be the favourites as they can boast a cohesive defence and top class keeper, something the others don't have and title winners always have, although Agger's return may remedy that. Arsenal have got no chance with that defence and keeper, same goes for City.

  • Comment number 50.

    but again how effective was he againt Carragher who is not even considered to be international class by many of his peers!(Certainly not past and present England Managers

    Rubbish. Carragher has pretty much always been considered the nations best defender behind Ferdinand and Terry (a vey fair assessmetn for most of their respective careers). He would probably be in the team ahead fo Ferdinand right now but DECIDED TO RETIRE FROM INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL. The presetn managers CAN NOT pick him as he has asked not to be picked.

  • Comment number 51.

    Berbatov was fairly poor but I am the only person who thinks MICHAEL CARRICK is a waste of space? He is slow, his passing is just ok, he cannot drive forward, when your team needs someone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck he is always found wanting....even Lucas was more dominating!

    I am a Villa fan and would not even like him at our club, let alone United.

    What a poor player he is!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 52.

    Valencia was a lot quicker than Insua, should have beaten him more and provided more.

    Ferdinand and Vidic couldnt cope with Torres.

    Owen deserved everything he got - boo's, chants of "once a manc - never a red" and shouts of judas. Not all that much to deal with surely? It was nice of Gary Neville to warm up first too, took a bit of heat off of Owen.

    And finally, Pepe is a legend :)

  • Comment number 53.

    Compare and contrast: Liverpool lose a match to a goal scored by a beachball and Benitez graciously accepts that the team didn't play well enough; Man Utd lose a match in which a couple of refereeing decisions didn't go their way - decisions which didn't make much of a difference to the end result and which the majority of spectators thought he got right - and Ferguson, as usual, starts ranting and moaning about the ref. The guy simply has no class.

    As for Owen, surely no-one can be surpised that he got booed. As a liverpool fan, even in his glory days, I never really felt like he was a true 'legend' for the club and personally believe that after a brilliant first couple of seasons for liverpool and england, he's been consistently poor ever since. I was glad when he left for Madrid and equally glad when he signed for Man Utd.

    Anyone remember his dad? Apparently did the exact same thing - had a good couple of seasons as a pro before fading away. The only thing i can't understand is why the BBC act like his own personal PR company...

  • Comment number 54.

    LABSAB9 - stop your moaning. McNulty has written about Liverpool again because it was the top game of the weekend! He's hardly going to write about anyone else is he. And correct me if i'm wrong, but isn't Phil writing about Man Utd in this article too??

    txomin - It was £8m plus Nunez actually, not £12m. Quite possibly the worst deal in the history of football.

  • Comment number 55.

    Moreover, as you rightly pointed out, Owen at times single handedly brought trophies back to Anfield... Isn't that cause to make the reception even more venemous? We knew he was a star for us, we knew how good he once was which is why it's all the more hurtful when he leaves to your arch rival.

    More tripe.

    Owen left for Real Madrid because he wanted the challenge of playing in another league and culture. At the time he and Liverpool had become very stale, the entire team and plan was written around gettign balls over teh top for him to chase making the team easy to defend against, he was also starting to lose his pace. The move at the time was the bet one for all concerned and the only dissapointing factor was the price.

    He would have come back to Anfield happily when he left Real but concerns over his fitness meant it was a non-starter. Then this summer again he would have returned if offered a deal but again no offer was forthcoming. Under those circumstances he signed for the best team who offered him something. If your team fails to offer soemone a contract when they are ona free transfer then it (and their fans) loses all right to complain about where he does go.

  • Comment number 56.

    Liverpool didn't really need to prove anything against United. They always raise their game against them, but it's the other games where thay seem to struggle. Didn't watch the game yesterday but to hear that certain players played out of their skin and showed their true potential makes me laugh. Where are these same players against Sunderland? Lucas for example. He's played well every time against United but then looks an average player out of his depth against smaller sides. Is it the case that the whole of Liverpool's season is built on two league meetings against United? Maybe that is why they have fallen short in their pursuit of the title. That to me says the manager is not doing his job properly and why Liverpool only seem to look like a decent side when their backs are to the wall and it's make or break time.

    Man United have problems. That is clear to see. Another striker and a CB wouldn't go amiss. But they are still able to grind out the results against the weaker sides when it matters. A cup meeting with Liverpool would be a good opportunity to break the mental block Liverpool have at the moment, but these things go in cycles.

    Let's hope now that Liverpool can push on from this and do their supporters proud. Raising the level for one game doesn't really do the Kopites justice. It just increses the frustration and raises more questions about the managers ability to take the team to the top. I still don't believe that Rafa is the right man for the job.

  • Comment number 57.

    Apparently United haven't 'been at their best' for the last two seasons. I'm begginning to wonder if this really is United's best, it just so happens that isn't actually very good.

  • Comment number 58.

    Where were you when God was handing out intelligence? In the stupid que?


    Nice way to shoot yourself in the foot there Einstein......

  • Comment number 59.

    I agree with the Michael Owen comment. I mean, he was an Everton supporter as a kid but then played for Liverpool. He could not be forgiven for leaving Liverpool - who at the time had just struggled to qualify for the Champions League - for Real Madrid. He has since been plagued by injury and he is left in a side that has just been relegated, a year before Owen's last realistic chance of playing in a World Cup. Also factor in that Owen has not won a single honour since leaving Liverpool. A team like Man Utd come in for you, and you don't really have a choice. People talk about loyalty in football. But football is a job. If I offered someone a job at a better firm working with better quality individuals for a higher salary, most people would take that.

    Jamie Carragher was outstanding yesterday. Much has been made of whether he should have been sent-off, although a red card would have been harsh in my opinion as Owen was running AWAY from goal. The improvement in Carragher's performance is not solely down to him being captain in a game of such magnitude in front of a fervent support. The return of Daniel Agger to Liverpool's central defence seems to have settled him. Even in last week's defeat to Lyon, Liverpool looked a lot more robust from set-pieces, which has so often been their downfall. Agger also brings a lot of quality on-the-ball, reminicent of Alan Hansen with his composure when bringing the ball out of defence. His ballstriking is quite special too, just take a look at some of his goals. In my opinion, Agger's return is as important as Gerrard and Aquilani.

  • Comment number 60.

    Rafa was prepared to offer Madrid the same amount they got for him a year earlier, £12 million, as he's said it a few times. But Owen failed to pressure Madrid to sell him to Liverpool(as Newcastle were offering £18), and he accepted a better contract from Newcastle and their assurances that he'd be playing in starting XI.
    So why would Rafa sign Owen when he's snubbed him twice showing no sign or desire for Liverpool? Why would Rafa be bothered to show his interest in Owen again?

    Yet more rubbish, How could Owen do anythign about the situation when he left Madrid? They are not going to accept an offer of £12m when there is another one of £18m on the table no matter what the player wants.

    Owen left because he wanted a different challenge, he had become stale and the team had become one dimensional playing to his strengths, it was the best situation for everyone that he left.

  • Comment number 61.

    old red nose complaining about the ref yet again! perhaps his players shouldent surround him every half time, or he could stop moaning it will hardly get them on his side now will it, the truth is we absolutley out classed united yet agian and we wanted it more NUFF SAID

  • Comment number 62.

    Benayoun must start every game for Liverpool, he is the key to the lock of all teams. Let's hope that this is the spark that will set the rest of our season on fire.

  • Comment number 63.

    -Left Liverpool and went to Madrid to win major trophies(trophies won in Madrid : 0)
    Something that NO-ONE predicted given the taletn Madrid had over Liverpool. Everyoen expected Madrid to win things.

    -Left Madrid and went to Newcastle to get more playing time( Only 71 games played in 4 seasons)
    He would have played far less at Liverpool, it was injuries that kept him out of thee side, not form or other players.

    -Chose to go United(to be a bench player) instead of to a team where he'd be playing regularly, wrecking his chances to make the World Cup squad.
    He wouldnt play any more regularly at Liverpool, Rafa would not change his formation and Torres would start more often than not up front, Owen's games would come as a rotation, sub or on the left most likely.

  • Comment number 64.

    ManU had their best team against L'pool of which you cannot say of the latter and they were beaten properly...this is a lot to talk about. I was supprised to here the likes of Alan Hansen on MOTD and even you Phil, not commenting about a Ryan Giggs, yes he was on the team sheet, but against a formidable opposition (or a team that has been faltering) he was out-run and out played, also Scoles. To imagin that these 2 players could not get anywhere Lucas(whom the press have demonised) and Insua doest it tell a good story. Rooney, where was he. As for Carrick well we could see why Capello doesnt think highly of him.
    For Fergie to complain about the ist yellow card Vididc received is quite absurd, he was walking a thin rope after his previous fouls in the game wich the referee waved on and his luck just had to run out for consistent fouling. Rafa won this battle fairly and squarly and Fergie should take it like he has on the chin, and leave the referees out of it, albeit he should gert an unprecedented fine/ban from the FA
    I feel for Capello with at the world cup, cos if england should play agains spain in the 1st knock out stage, i dont see any possible improvement from the likes of Ferdinand against Torres, or Rooney getting a kick, englad will be sorry packing

  • Comment number 65.

    Good article, Phil.

    Masterit, I read all the the comments on this page with interest, Liverpool fan or not. However, I cannot take anybody's comments seriously if they write with the caps lock on, make silly spelling mistakes and write in text language as well.

    Please repost it in May so I can have another laugh.

  • Comment number 66.

    Can someone tell me how on earth Carragher got away with that outrageous over the top tackle on Carrick?

    The best example of a potential leg breaker you could ever wish to see!

  • Comment number 67.

    How else can you explain Benitez's apparent desire to take himself to the brink +++++******************

    Easy Mr Mc Nulty, Benitez has not bought the right players, sent quality players away and generally is a control freak that won't give in.

    He doesn't just antagonise the directors and fans but the team too, OK at the weekend he "got out of jail" but we will see if Liverpool fall at the first hurdle in the Champions League how much forgiveness the directors and fans will have and how safe his job is then?

    I think his time is up, whether LFC can find a better manager is another matter but he's had time and money and he's wasted both (Liverpool should have won the league last year given the dismal seasons that Chelsea and ManU had).

    Without investment in decent players for the bench and without using the ridiculous rotation principles for the sake of it their CL and league title prospects will be dim, the trouble being that Benitez doesn't look to be the man that can pick this squad.
    I mean paying the same amount for an injured player as was paid for one of the most prolific (not injured) young strikers in Europe strikes me as somewhat odd.

  • Comment number 68.

    Great Blog:The Premiership is running out of referees to suit Mr Ferguson. When will they stand up to him and all his negative comments week in and week out???

  • Comment number 69.

    Lucas has been better than Mascherano all season and I, for one, would be happy to take Barca's money.


    I don't agree with the first part, Lucas has been poor in nearly every game except this one while Mascherano has largely been solid enough.

    I would however take the Barca money as well. £32m wasn't it? That would get you two pretty decent players if you ask me. A DM of course to fill the hole left by Mascherano and either a creative midfielder or a striker and there are plenty of good options around for both those positions.

  • Comment number 70.

    'Once again Liverpool's season, the entire fortune of the club, is being defined by the current champions, Manchester United.'

    Yes, I suppose interest from the oil states, the recent Standard Charter sponsorship deal and another complete display against the weakened, ageing current premiership champions is all down to United dictating events.

    The comment 'Liverpool's tissue-thin midfield coverage' (with Aquilani, Riera and, oh, Gerrard all out) is staright out of the pages of the Daily Mirror.

    Someone needs to stick to shelf stacking......

  • Comment number 71.

    Liverpool were only prepared to pay £12 million [what they had received the previous season] for Owen, whereas Real Madrid were demanding £18 million for him [which Newcastle were willing to pay]. However, Owen could have forced Real Madrid's hand by refusing to go to Newcastle and insisting on joining Liverpool [if he wanted to]. Real Madrid wouldn't have wanted to pay his wages for another six months before inevitably letting him go on the cheap, so I am certain they would have accepted the £12 million on the table from Liverpool.

    But then again perhaps he liked the challenge of playing in a relegation battle. Just kidding. ;)

  • Comment number 72.

    Great blog, Phil. Excellent way of responding to all critics by Benitez and although some decisions went their way, fully deserved win for Liverpool. Incredible to witness the heart and soul of the Anfield faithful. However, I still feel that Liverpool have taken a serious punch in the season start and will struggle to achieve consistency in their play and keep grinding out wins the way they did during last season's final months, orchestrated by a certain Alonso.

    I agree it would become the Liverpool fans even better to show Owen appreciation for his magnificent contribution during his Anfield years, and probably everyone knows he would have come back if offered the chance.

    But I would like to remind you that the Liverpool fans are not only disappointed with the fact that he joined United. The disappointment of seeing Owen leaving Liverpool to join Real Madrid at a pivotal point of time in Liverpool's history, in 2004 when Houllier was sacked and Benitez came in, was also being voiced at Anfield yesterday, as they sang "Where were you in Istanbul?"

    Deep down, every Liverpool fan still loves Michael Owen but his departure felt infinitely more like a betrayal than for example Robbie Keane's. To have him return in a United shirt just adds salt to the wound.

  • Comment number 73.

    If you honestly don't understand why Owen was so badly received at Anfield then you don't understand football.

    Another dull blog. You and the rest of the media spend your time trying to kill off Rafa. Article after article after article over the last couple of weeks about how awful a manager he is when his record since arriving at Liverpool withstands even the closest of scrutiny. His net spend is far lower than his two main rivals for the title. Chelsea's already champions league qualifying squad had 100s of millions of pounds thrown at it. United have regularly smashed british transfer records since Fergie has been in charge.

    When people list all the quality players in United and Chelsea's squad who are apparently in a different class to their liverpool equivalents, take a look at how much they cost.

    Essien, Drogba, Carvalho, Carrick, Hargreaves, Anderson, Nani, Rooney, Berbatov, Bosingwa.. the list goes on. When Rafa has spent this sort of money he's nearly always got it spot on, Robbie Keane aside.

    I heard a Chelsea fan saying that all the big money signings are still at the club...well what a luxury Benitez would love. How he'd love to lavish money on someone like Paolo Ferreira who barely touches the 1st team. How Rafa would have liked to have thrown big wages at the likes of Sissoko, Crouch, maybe Bellamy too, suddenly the squad wouldn't have looked so bad. Rafa has had to sell to buy. He's done a remarkable job all things considered - the lack of respect afforded from the apparently impartial media is disgusting.

  • Comment number 74.

    Dull stuff first:

    1. Man Utd sharing Ferguson's usual berating of the referee whenever the game goes against his team.

    2. Bloggers having a pop at Phil for writing about or being biased about Liverpool. It was clearly the biggest game of the weekend and Liverpool won. Quite an appropriate choice and tone for a blog, I'd say.

    Either way, both points very tedious. The true football fans - and there are many decent Man Utd fans on here doing this - will accept that Liverpool deserved to win the game.

    It's not the defining point in Liverpool's season and cannot mask the flaws and weaknesses in the squad, but it does give hope and confidence that the season isn't over yet - and what a season it's shaping to be for the PL.

    Final point: Fernando Torres was the only person on the pitch that could have scored that goal. The boy is simply lethal.

  • Comment number 75.

    Interesting blog, however I have to ask what you mean by,

    "How else can you explain Benitez's apparent desire to take himself to the brink, whether it is via poor results or some perceived political slight behind the scene...."

    Rafa picks the best team he has available to win every game, which manager doesn't? Rafa doesn’t have a desire to "go to the brink" of anything. The brink you are hinting at is the sack, which was never going to happen. "The brink" has been created by rent-a-mouth ex-players, teenagers who play football manager games on their computer or tabloid journalists. Why hasn't Mr Wenger been given the same headlines given his teams, albeit fantastic entertainment value, chronic underachievement?

    The "perceived political slight" from the owners includes his job being offered to another woefully inexperienced ‘owners favourite’, transfer money that should have been re-invested disappear into the abyss of the debts they have saddled the club with, spin statements regarding £20m transfer funds, but failing to mention that also includes any new contract re-negotiations. Why he hasn’t walked is a testament to the man, and why he is given the trust and backing of the vast majority of seasoned supporters. Thousands of fans protest marching doesn’t happen for nothing, and fans of all British clubs should take heed of what is happening to one of the biggest clubs in the world – it could happen to your club next. Look at for full details. Also have a look at for a superb article about a day he spent with Rafa which should help to dispel some misunderstandings about the man.

    The frenzy that has surrounded Rafa has been disgusting, mostly uninformed, sensationalist rubbish. He has brought my club forward in leaps and bounds and will continue to do so if given the proper support he deserves. He is re-building at every level and that doesn't happen overnight and mistakes can happen. I would love to buy a new Ferrari or Porsche, but I’m stuck with a ‘P’ Reg Escort cause that’s all I can afford. Good job MUFC didn’t buckle when they appointed their manager and he did nothing, with poor signings and bad results. I’m glad they didn’t because a strong Premiership is something we all gain from. In Rafa we trust.

  • Comment number 76.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 77.

    24. Red Knight, yo gazzer I know its you. A very unbiased view mate but despite all I reckon its Chelsea all the way this season. With that defence MU will lose again, and more than once.

  • Comment number 78.

    When Owen left for Real Madrid, he claimed it was like getting a promotion, as he was going to a bigger club, and that anyone would so so to advance their career. No wonder Reds fans enjoyed watching him win nothing there in a team going backwards while we won the European Cup the moment he left us.

    He then joins the team's bitter rivals and praises them as the biggest club in the world.

    As said above, not only would Robbie Fowler never have done that, he actually joined two other teams Utd hate.

    Keane and Crouch get good receptions back because they didn't push for a move away to what they imagined would be a bigger club.

  • Comment number 79.

    Of course defenders are scared of Torres, he dives and dives and dives until he gets players sent off and rarely if ever gets punished. Classic case in this match if you actually watched it, obvious dive but no card. But then he was in red and we all saw that even Lucas was immune from cards even after 365 fouls.

  • Comment number 80.

    Re: Benayoun... "surely Benitez can no longer contemplate leaving him out". He has appeared in all 13 of Liverpool's major games this season (11 starts), missing only the League Cup tie. Anyway, players needs a rest occasionally, as Ferguson has realised over the years with his constant rotation.
    As for Owen, in 2004 he was full of promises that he'd sign a new deal but then left for a fraction of his true value as he only had a year left on his contract. He later could have made it clear to Newcastle and Madrid that he was only prepared to go to Liverpool in 2005 but he was so keen to keep all his options open with a World Cup on the horizon that he ended up with the booby prize of the Barcodes.
    Even then he was met with amused indifference on his first return to Anfield. But signing for the hated enemy was completely beyond the pale and it was inevitable that he'd get the reaction he did. Did Mr McNulty express disapproval when his fellow Evertonians gave Nick Barmby the bird in his first Merseyside derby or did he shrug his shoulders and accept it as part and parcel of football rivalry?

  • Comment number 81.

    One predictable outcome of this match is that Fergie would choose to attack refs when things dont go his way. Look at how Torres brushed aside Ferdinand for the goal. Obviously Owen's small frame didnt have a chance against someone like Carragher. Even when he was playing for Livepool, he took advantage of others pushing him down easily.
    Concerning Owen, I dont believe Fergie signed him as a result of Ronaldo's departure or to salvage Owen's England career. Everyone has forgotten that Fergie refused to sell Henze to Liverpool not long ago but goes and gets the most celebrated Anfild player? What was Michael thinking? This is just SAF at his best, trying to put opponents under pressure. He also asked for respect from Liverpool for Owen.
    MU deserve every respect they get for being title holders, but they should also accept results like Sunday's with dignity.
    Hope Mr Capello is watching Feerdinand closely, he is reputed for picking players purely on form. And if Rio doesnt improve before the end of the season, he will be a liability against people like tevez, torres, christiano, etc. staring him in the face on the other side(to the deteriment of England.)

  • Comment number 82.

    Chelsea fans must be happy.
    Utd looked lightweight by their standards. They got bullied and hurried by Liverpool. They've already been holding on by the skin of their teeth in several games this season.
    Liverpool will continue as a fantastic side of underachievers sure to throw the title away in the most inconspicuous matches.
    Gooners, Citeh, Spuds... Chelsea are the only ones convincing me.

  • Comment number 83.

    I agree this was the big game of the weekend but you've covered Liverpool far too much already this season, the BBC is supposed to be impartial yet we get constantly barraged with pro-Liverpool drivel on the website and on MOTD. I really hope you will be covering Arsenal vs Tottenham next weekend and not Fulham vs Liverpool.

  • Comment number 84.

    Well done Liverpool. However, playing like heroes in a match that had become your cup final (and at home to boot) is all well and good; if you play as well against Fulham next weekend you might be on to something - I have my doubts.

  • Comment number 85.

    FAO - snowJacuzzi007

    Eh calm down calm down!!

    I was not disputing what the top game of the weekend was i was merely observing that this was the THIRD blog relating to Liverpool in the last week (i have not included the countless other blogs Phil has scribed relating to Liverpool so far this season) There are 20 teams in the premier league and there are plenty of stories to discuss about them all.

    All i was requesting was a bit of variety from the (supposedly) impartial BBC. Not too much to ask in MY opinion so get back in your box!!!

  • Comment number 86.

    If Liverpool could play Man U at Ainfield every weekend then their quest for the Nirvana of a Premier League title would be well and truly over. Unfortunately, they have to play 20 other sides, too. This result papers over the cracks.

    All is not well in the Kingdom of Liverpool. The biggest problem is, beyond the first choice players, there is no squad good enough to fill in. If you ake Torres out of the picture (injury) who is the next best striker capable enough of getitng the goals? Er....?

    At least Benayoun is an able stand-in for Gerrard when he's out. In fact, Yossi is a much better player than a stand in and should be starting more games for 'Pool, even when Gerrard is fit. But, for some reason, Benetiz leaves him on the bench.

    If Gerrard and Torres stay fit for the rest of the season, if Rafa plays Benayoun more and longer in games, Liverpool have a decent crack.

    If not, 4th place might be a pipe dream and the Europa league beckons.

  • Comment number 87.

    I am a United fan and I have to say firstly congratulations to Liverpool as they deserved the win. However I do agree with Fergie views about the ref and I felt he never had control of the game. He tried to stamp his authority on the game early by booking Evra for a couple of fouls, which is not a strategy I agree with but I'm not a ref and have seen it done many times, but then Lucas fouled ,well I lost count at 4, but wasn't booked. It was the same for most of the game for Mascharno until late in the game. Carrager foul on own was a stone wall red card and no one can argue with that and will the score then still 1-0 it could have changed the game, although I doubt it other than when we hit the bar we didn't look a threat. Also, I don't agree that we were unlucky with Vidic red card. I think his first yellow maybe a tad harsh but only a tad so no real complaints there but he should have just got a straight red at the end which would mean a 3 game ban and not 1 for two yellows. We can not really say that Vidic shouldn't have got his first yellow and then only a yellow for his rugby tackle at the end and then say Carrager should have got a straight red for the same foul, commiting a foul as the last man! Lastly, please please cut our losses and stop trying with Berba and Nani. Berba just goes missing to much in games and when he's not missing he isn't exactly giving us much. Nani, well I could go on for ages about him and his lack of quality. Sell them or give them away just get them out off the team bus they are not good enough and will not get better! Just to add I still think we were right not to keep Tevez and to sell Ronaldo and we are 2nd in the league and the pundits thought we would crash this year without them! Again it hurts me to say but well done Liverpool on your win you were the better team on the day. Right off to do some work! :(

  • Comment number 88.

    i am totally miffed as to why the liverpool fans acted like that. how on earth can they blame him for signing to a huge club when they themselves could have had him?

  • Comment number 89.

    "And how it must pain him that Liverpool are showing signs of becoming a Nemesis to United in their league meetings, if not yet in their overall pursuit of the title."

    Surely, three consecutive league wins (all convincing!) suggests they already are a nemesis?!

  • Comment number 90.

    Alot of people saying that carragher should have been sent off,before any of that happened has everybody forgor what berbatov did to kuyt in the first half?if the ref had of give the pen like he should have,surely berbatov qould have been off?

  • Comment number 91.

    #73 Kromkamp David

    On the point about the cost of Chelsea's squad, you will see from the link that in the period since Benitez has been at Liverpool, Chelsea have only spent £20m more than Liverpool, and that probably includes a bit of Chelsea paying over the top because of the money that was available.

    If that is correct, then Benitez could be said to have bought quite poorly when you see the squad that Chelsea have.

    As for your point about Owen, you are quite right. What people like Phil seem to completely ignore when making comments like 'who would have come back in the summer had they shown any interest' is that Benitez showed a lot of interest in the summer of 2004 by offering Owen a new contract. Owen didn't sign and was sold. These things are a two way street and Owen burnt his bridges. But that seems to be the thing with Owen - he wants things all his way. He may have been good for Liverpool but Liverpool were also good for him.

  • Comment number 92.

    "after showing why some pundits were audacious enough to even tip them for the title"

    Relax your grip on those straws, McNulty. That's more than a long way off yet, and one win in five hardly gives your case credit. They won both games last year and still lost. Nothing is new.

    I understand that, having backed Liverpool to the title this year, you must make every positive seem as bright as possible, but the way you write off the potential impact of getting away with innumerable fouls throughout the game, not to mention quite obvious red cards, is laughable. As laughable as Alan Hansen suggesting that the decision over Carragher's obvious last man foul was debateable.

    The referee was as one eyed as i've seen in a game of professional football for a long time.
    Simply, Carragher should have gone, no question about it. Last man, no one between Owen and the goal. Too big a decision for the referee though.
    Lucas should have seen two yellows for his constant fouls throughout the entire game.
    Mascherano should have gone much earlier for repeated fouls and backchat to the referee.

    It wasn't a penalty on Carrick, although it was a very close call. And we all know that it would have been a penalty at the other end. As superbly demonstrated by when Vidic wins the ball off Torres in much the same fashion as Carragher off Carrick, then wins it clean again, and gets a yellow card for it, setting up for the obvious second yellow.

    You write off Berbatov too, comparing him to a completely different kind of player to Torres (the best striker in the world, and completely wasted at Liverpool) yet fail to mention how he received a yellow for being fouled three times - first a kick, then a pull, then obvious obstruction. And he gets a card for the defender taking a dive.

    On balance, Liverpool deserved to win. Just. A moment of brilliance from Torres was the difference. But had it been 10 vs 11 in United's favour with Carragher being sent off, I wonder if it would have been the same.

  • Comment number 93.

    Whatever happened to the Respect campaign? It seems to me that each week the amount of bitching about referees goes up and the confrontations on the field increase along with the diving and play acting. Does football want to clean up its act or not? Ferguson should be banned from the touchline for a season along with most other managers. Plus send ALL players off for arguing. A few matches with 6 a side at the end should do it! Alternatively go for the old rugby trick of moving the free-kick up the field as they talk only stopping when they do.

  • Comment number 94.

    Is it me or is Lucas a big game player?

  • Comment number 95.

    Fair play to Liverpool for the win - Uniteds midfield was weak and didn't show up, but the referee was woeful.
    As SAF , Man United fans and any neutral would agree he bottled it from the first minute.
    If he wasn't Red all over yesterday, he was definitely the colour of his shirt YELLA !

  • Comment number 96.

    What a partisan piece of blog!

    Can't blame you, Phil, as the real fan(atic) has come out now!
    You're wrong -

    - Liverpool did the trick because of the atmosphere, the referee and our lack of creative industry.

    - Carragher was boxing, fighting judo, sumo & rugby to get something out of it! Clearly your jounalistic abilities fly out of the window!

    What a farce! Except Yossi, I wouldn't give anything to the Scousers. You still won't win it, read that the Pool and yourself, Phil!

  • Comment number 97.

    You got it wrong: Michael Owen was booed not because he signed for Man United but for what he said last week-- Man United was the biggest club in the world, a few days before yesterday's match. He showed total ignorance and disaffection to the loyal supporters who had followed him for over 10 years. Keane left graciously and deserved the reciprocal respect from Liverpool fans.

  • Comment number 98.

    "The midfield selection as a unit was the real problem with no ball winning or pressing strengths, I was amazed that Anderson did not get a run."
    RSA Footie Fan... the reason Anderson did not get a run is that he often disappears in high pressure games and last year in the 4-1 home defeat to Liverpool he was pathetic.
    It beggars belief that Fletcher didn't play in that game last season, and again it was him that we missed yesterday. For me, he can't get fit quick enough.
    It's true United have been poor by their standards most of the season, but so have Liverpool. We must also remember that yesterday was the first match they've won against top 8 opposition this season. They've still got Arsenal to play twice, Villa away, City twice, Chelsea at home, United away. A lot of loseable games given that they've already slipped up 4 times.

  • Comment number 99.

    Well I May as well have my penny's worth. Although Liverpool deserved to win, as SAF himself says, there were still some brilliant decisions by our friend the ref.
    1. awarding Torres a free kick when he tripped over his own feet. Well done, brilliant.
    2. awarding a free kick and booking Evra for a tackle where he won the ball. wonderful.
    3. not awarding anything when Carragher scythed down Carrick with a worse tackle than the one Evra got booked for. awesome. (now I don't think it was a penalty but the similarity with Evra's.....)
    4. not sending off Carragher when he pulled down Owen. best decision of the day. quite right, I mean he is Liverpool's best defender,and what are a few rules between friends.
    5. not booking Lucas for persistant fouls but booking and sending off both Vidic and Mascherano. wonderful consistancy.
    Ah well it's only a game

  • Comment number 100.

    I'm very disappointed with Uniteds performance at Anfield. Theres just something not right there with the squad. Fergie has to add something special to it when the window opens.
    As for Livepool they played badly too. It was a messy aggressive game. I Also think think this week Fergie got his comments right. He admitted United deserved to be beaten because they was poor but the ref was also very poor. How Carragher stayed on the pitch is just beyond me. Owen was clear though on goal. To only show a yellow is wrong. I thought the rules of the game was if you bring down a player who is clear though on goal then it is a straight red. If the Ref last week got relegated for allowing that beach ball goal then the ref this week should get punishment also.

    Also I hae to mention Torres's Diving yesterday. It was UNBELIVEABLE.. The man was was trying to get Evra and Vidic sent off all game.
    When he scored his goal I noticed that Rio was tripping and pulling but he never went down??? But when he is out side the area and not in a goal scoring position he tripping over his own feet and getting player booked??? But the FA wont look into this will they...

    Still no excuses for United not beatng Liverpool it was a bad day at the office for them and I'm sure fergie will be angry with that display.

    I also have to say I still don't think Rafas job is safe off that performance the fans need to look long and hard at what there supporting here. Rafa is a joke now. It's about time he moved on. They beat a United side that ever played well and that was tired. End off story. Liverpool wont win anything more with Rafa Benitez.


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