Rafa’s cracking up? Well given that is was the travelling Liverpool support who were singing those words, and that the vast majority of fans are still very much behind their beleaguered manager, not everyone thinks so. The song was a sarcastic message to the Manchester United fans, well, the ones who hadn’t vacated the premises early, and rapidly.
Liverpool beat Manchester United by four goals to one at Old Trafford.
After going a goal down from the spot on 23 minutes, Liverpool pulled it back level again five minutes later with a piece of typical Torres class. By half time Liverpool had the edge, Steven Gerrard scoring from the penalty he’d earned himself. In the second half Fabio Aurelio scored direct from the free kick that brought a red card for Nemanja Vidic. Nobody else got near his perfect set piece. By this time 76 minutes had been played, Liverpool were winning 3-1, and deservedly so. Liverpool’s win had been achieved when United still had 11 on the pitch; it was only the icing on the cake when Dossena added the fourth in injury time.
So, what did Manchester United’s manager, Alex Ferguson, have to say about this rather convincing defeat? He told Sky: “It is a hard one to take because I thought, really, we were the better team and the score does not reflect that.”
Hold on – who was it that was supposed to be cracking up?
The better team lost 4-1? Even Jose Mourinho wouldn’t try to claim the best team lost when he’s on the wrong end of that kind of scoreline.
Maybe Ferguson can get some help from some books. Commenting yesterday on Rafa’s January accusations about him, Ferguson was dismissive: “I would need to read more of Freud before I could really understand all that. I don’t know where it came from and I’m not really interested.”
Ferguson was also not really interested in talking to the BBC for post-match interviews after they reported some allegations he didn’t like. And interested or not, he won’t have liked what Rafa said, back in January.
Nobody seems to dispute the actual comments Rafa made. They are the type of comment normally resulting in an invitation from the FA to “explain” their meaning. But the FA didn’t extend that invitation to Rafa – preferring to let them pass. Perhaps they didn’t really want Rafa to go into too much detail over the sheet of “facts” he had been reading from.
Rafa said, in January, that Ferguson had been “complaining about the fixtures, yet they played on December 29, when everyone else played on December 28. How could he complain about that? The other option is Mr Ferguson organises the fixtures and everything in his office and sends them to us. Simple.”
Well Ferguson was still complaining about the same type of thing today: “One or two players were a little bit short today in terms of what we expect of them but I do know the football was good, we kept driving on and they showed good energy, even though we only had two and a half days to prepare for the match.” Rafa is more likely to crack a smile than “crack up” when he hears that excuse for the 4-1 scoreline, which gave Liverpool a double in the league against their arch-rivals.
Liverpool fans expected problems with the referee today. All fans do when playing away at one of their main rivals. But Steve Bennett’s performance in this fixture last season is difficult to explain – perhaps he’ll oblige on day, with the help a tabloid’s hidden tape recorder.
Rafa discussed referees at Old Trafford in January too: “We know what happens each time we go to Old Trafford,” said Rafa. “Mr Scolari [then Chelsea boss] needs to know so that maybe he can use zonal marking against the staff of United because they are always going man-to-man with the referees. They walk close to the referee at half-time and are talking, talking, talking.
“Only Mr Ferguson can talk about the fixtures, the referees and other things and nothing happens. We had a meeting about the Respect campaign in Manchester between the managers and the FA, and I was very clear. I said that we should forget the Respect campaign because Mr Ferguson was killing referees, killing Martin Atkinson, killing Keith Hackett. He was charged with improper conduct following comments about them but went unpunished.”
“He is the only manager in the English league who cannot be punished for these things. Respect started with the sending-off of Javier Mascherano at Old Trafford by Mr Steve Bennett. He was the referee when United played against Wigan and he couldn’t see the handball by Rio Ferdinand and didn’t give a penalty and they won the game and the title. I think it is the same referee who will be in charge of their game in hand against Wigan.”
Surprisingly, Bennett wasn’t given this fixture. But neither side had any legitimate complaints about the referee – Alan Wiley – despite two penalties and a sending off. Reina fell for an old trick from Park to concede the first penalty, Patrice Evra clearly tripped Gerrard in the box after being outpaced and Nemanja Vidic’s red came after he showed how they tackle in the rugby Super League Grand Finals that get played there every year. Ferguson didn’t even need to dig the old stopwatch out for injury time, with a reasonable four minutes added on at the end – although he probably wishes Wiley had just blown up on 90 minutes, when the score was still only 3-1.
Liverpool were just not supposed to win today. Starting ten points behind Manchester United – if you gave United the three points for their game in hand – had they lost then it would effectively be a thirteen point gap and Rafa’s critics would be out in force. But they won, and the gap is just four points, although the title is still United’s to lose, with a game in hand and a far-from difficult run-in.
Today is a day to celebrate what has been a momentous week for Liverpool fans, eight goals in two games against sides who thought Liverpool would be a pushover. But thoughts will soon turn to how Liverpool can put performances in like this yet struggle so much again some so-called lesser sides.
One thing Liverpool did right today, and on Tuesday, was take their chances. Van der Sar had less to do today than Casillas on Tuesday, but both keepers got backache from picking the ball out of the net four times. By the time Gerrard missed what seemed a sitter late on today, it was a missed chance nobody really cared about.
Liverpool were short on options today in terms of troops available to take part in the battle. Selling Keane without buying a replacement has left Liverpool short up front, and so a few days after playing with a pain killing injection and some meaty strapping around his ankle, Fernando Torres had to play through the pain again. But even half a Fernando Torres is more than twice the player Keane was in a Liverpool shirt.
At least Torres was fit enough to play today, unlike his Spanish team-mate Xabi Alonso. He missed out with a calf injury, his absence a worry for the Reds. Nearly sold in the summer, he has played arguably the best football of all his time at Anfield this season. His place was taken today by Lucas.
One position where Liverpool are very short of cover is right-back. And the only available right-back, Álvaro Arbeloa, did his hamstring during the warm-up. Rafa was forced into literally a last-minute change.
There were no other right-backs in the squad, so someone had to play out of position. Martin Skrtel is unlikely to play there again after attempts at Middlesbrough. Javier Mascherano played well there against Sunderland, but he was needed in midfield today to look after young Lucas.
So Rafa asked Carra if he’d move over, with Sami Hyypia starting in the centre of defence. Sami’s march towards legendary status continues, as he showed today, so that was no worry. The concern was how Carra would cope at right-back. He’s never one to shirk his duties, never afraid to throw his body on the line, but when a player like Carra has made it clear he now finds that position to be too physically demanding he really does mean it.
There was little need to worry, perhaps boosted by who it was he was playing against, he showed once again why Rafa has relied so heavily on him ever since he took the job on. Whether Carra will be watching footy on TV tomorrow or not depends on whether he’s got a TV in his bathroom, because he’ll probably need to spend the day bathing his legs in ice cubes.
Ji-Sung Park won the penalty that opened the scoring on 23 minutes. He pulled off one of the oldest tricks in the penalty-earning book. He had little chance of doing very much with the ball, but seeing the keeper go to ground in an attempt to take ball off him all he had to do was kick the ball away from the keeper. By then the keeper was committed, and with no ball to try and get a hand to first, he slid into Park’s legs. Reina will kick himself for that, although he had a good attempt at saving the Cristiano Ronaldo penalty that followed. It still went in, United were 1-0 up.
Surely United were about to start the rout. Not if the Reds from Liverpool could help it, and the grey-shirted side set about embarrassing the Red Devils of Manchester.
Fernando Torres started the rout, just five minutes after Liverpool had gone behind. Forcing a mistake from Nemanja Vidic, having a day he really wants to forget, the Spanish striker kept his head, used his pace and beat Edwin van der Sar. It was 1-1, and Torres was delighted. He knows what these matches mean. He showed much of the passion he showed on Tuesday when he helped to ruin Real Madrid.
Then Liverpool edged in front. There was a minute left until half-time, and Steven Gerrard left Patrice Evra with no choice but to bring him down. Referee Alan Wiley showed he wasn’t keen on being the subject of a future Rafa outburst, and did something referees don’t do too often – awarded a penalty against the home side at Old Trafford.
Gerrard took the penalty he’d earned for himself, beating Van der Sar and putting his side in front. He couldn’t hide his delight, his celebrations including kissing the TV camera in that corner of the ground.
It was Gerrard who was fouled as the game neared the end, when Vidic wrestled him to the ground 25 yards from goal. Vidic got sent off, despite the usual protests. Gerrard resisted the temptation to take the free-kick himself, allowed Fabio Aurelio to do the honours. It was a perfect free-kick, Van der Sar was beaten, Liverpool were 3-1 up.
Andrea Dossena, who had been brought on for Albert Riera, got his second ever Liverpool goal – days after getting his first. Like on Tuesday, he got Liverpool’s fourth goal, the one that didn’t make any difference to the outcome but helped to show the world just what Liverpool can do. Today’s goal came after a quick and perfect kick up field from Pepe Reina, Dossena lobbing the goalkeeper from distance.
By then, vast expanses of seats at Old Trafford were empty. United’s fans couldn’t get away fast enough.
After the game Gerrard said of the way Liverpool had played: “It was magnificent, a great team performance. From front to back we worked very hard today, showed great character after going a goal down and it was a magnificent win. In the end it was comfortable with a man being sent off, but I think we were men today, we controlled the game. It’s not very often you see Manchester United getting beat 4-1 at home.”
Speaking to Sky Sports, he was asked if this gave Liverpool a chance of the league: “The important thing is that we have made the gap smaller,” he said. “We realise that Manchester United are a fantastic team and there’s still a lot of work to do. We’ll need a little bit of luck along the way but hopefully that gives teams that are going to play here a bit of belief that they can be beaten. And hopefully it will give us a lot of confidence to go on and win as many games as we can.”
He’d never scored at Old Trafford before, and that added some extra gloss to what was a brilliant day: “I’ve been lucky enough to experience winning here before and that was also a magnificent feeling, but to score a goal after all the stick I’ve had from United fans over the last 10 years – well, it’s nice to score and rub it in a bit.”
Boss Rafael Benítez said Gerrard and team-mate Torres were vital parts of his team: “These two are our key players and when they are on the pitch the others have more confidence because they know they will score goals – the understanding between them both is better. When you don’t have one of them it’s a big loss.”
Of course as good a feeling as it is to win 4-1 in a game like this, it could be better. Rafa said: “The best weeks are when you win titles not games. We won this battle but we need to win the war. Obviously we are in a better position now and in football everything can happen. I’m more optimistic but I’m also realistic.”
And again, that quote from Ferguson, the man who said he’d need to read the works of a psychiatrist before he could understand Rafa’s accusations. “I thought we were the better team but the score doesn’t reflect that.”
Now who’s cracking up?
- For more information on Dementia, please follow this link: “Although most of the people who develop dementia are over the age of 60, it’s important to remember that dementia is not a normal part of growing old.”