Liverpool equalled a club record with ten consecutive clean sheets, a run that has lasted 15 hours, 25 minutes. It was Kenny Dalglish’s title-winning side of 1987-88 that set the record originally, and Steven Gerrard was asked afterwards whether the current team has a chance of bringing that title back home: “We’re improving all the time. There’s more improving to do but we want to win the league. It’s realistic. If we keep progressing as we’ve been the last six months we won’t be far away, either this season or next year.”
Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren was asked if he thought Liverpool had a chance of winning the league: “I do now. When they won the European Cup, it brought them a certain confidence and belief. They have got over what was a difficult and disjointed start to the season and they have an air about them – and a constant run of clean sheets. I have every respect for them. You get very little out of their back four and they are more than capable of offering a very real challenge for the title. They’re physically strong, confident and keeping clean sheets, and that’s a great platform.”
McClaren mentioned two refereeing decisions that upset him: “I was disappointed with the red card for Chris Riggott and I felt Fernando Morientes was a couple of yards offside for their second. I have seen the second yellow for Chris on the television and I have spoken to the referee, saying I felt there was no malice. It was a decision taken very quickly.”
The confusion over whether the second Liverpool goal was offside was thanks to yet another of football’s open-to-interpretation regulations. For example hand-ball isn’t awarded every time the ball touches a player’s hand, intentionally or not, and offside is rarely handled the same way from one official to the next. The assistant referee’s explanation was that Carragher’s pass had been going down the line for Garcia. At that point in time Morientes was in an offside position, but inactive as he was in the middle of the field and away from the area where the ball had been played. He only became active when Boro’s Queudrue diverted the ball. The yellows cards for reported Liverpool target Riggott were for a rough tackle on Morientes first, then for the second one yet another of those laws with a grey area – a tackle from behind, in this case on Steven Gerrard.
The referee also booked Liverpool’s Momo Sissoko who now faces another suspension thanks to his tally of five yellow cards. Matthew Bates pushed Sissoko to the ground; he got a yellow for that, on other days with other officials he might have got red. That’s interpretation again.
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez can now look forward to taking the Reds to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, where they play two games, before a return to domestic action with the busy Christmas schedule. Rafa wasn’t yet willing to talk in too much detail about winning the league: “Now we go to Japan with every intention of winning the trophy. After Japan we have four games in eight days. We are closer to Chelsea, but everything can change in a week with so many league games in it. Come back to me in two months and we’ll see if we can talk about the title.”
Who’ll be playing up-front in those games is yet to be seen, but the Spanish boss seems to prefer Crouch and Morientes in attack now whenever he uses two strikers. Morientes’ two goals yesterday will have done him no harm in his hopes of starting in Japan, and Rafa felt yesterday was the former Real Madrid players best performance for the Reds: “Fernando Morientes has been playing well but as a striker one of the most important things to score goals and he did that in this match. It is his best performance for Liverpool and he finished both his goals very well. The whole team performed well and it was a pleasing home display.”