If fit, Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano will almost certainly line up against his long-term friend Carlos Tevez in the clash with Manchester United at Anfield tomorrow. The duo arrived in England at the start of last season, signing for West Ham under what later turned out to be controversial circumstances. Mascherano left West Ham in January, Tevez in the summer, in deals that had to be carefully negotiated to ensure they didn’t breach the regulations in this country.
Mascherano says that he’s not spoken about the match to his friend yet, and won’t do so until the game is over: “We are very big friends because I played with him for a long time in the national team, at Corinthians and at West Ham, so I talk with him very often. He is my friend. Obviously I want to beat him on Sunday because I play for Liverpool and he plays for Manchester United, our big rival. After the game we will talk about the football. But we will not talk before the game because I know that he will try to do his best and I will try to do my best, so we will see what happens.”
Mascherano is part of the issue Rafa Benitez has with the current owners of the club, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Mascherano is currently on loan, a loan that runs until the end of the season, and wanted assurances about where his future lay. Although a string of clubs want to sign him, Mascherano wants to stay at Anfield if possible. But unless Liverpool can give him assurances that he can stay, he may start listening to the offers other clubs are making. He wants a settled future for his family, hopefully at Anfield, but if not he’ll go to a European side. Rafa doesn’t want to lose a player who has become so important, particularly in the wake of such a drop in form from Momo Sissoko, and so negotiated a deal to make Mascherano’s stay permanent. That was one of the deals Rick Parry is said to have complained to the Americans about, having been bypassed by Rafa in the talks. Rafa has still not had any contact with the owners since Tom Hicks rebuked him in public, and still doesn’t know if he can make any signings this January. He’s supposed to be getting the answers this weekend.
Mascherano wouldn’t speak about the issue in too much detail. He knows Rafa wants him to stay, he knows the fans want him to stay, and he knows that the owners are busily changing plans behind the scenes, and reneging on the vows they made when they took over. It’s down to the owners to show how committed they are to the club. He said: “I would like to talk about football. I have said a lot of times that I have done everything to stay in Liverpool. Now Liverpool have to decide to buy me or not. It’s their decision now, not my decision, because everyone knows that I have done everything to stay. We will see after the weekend. I want to think about the next game for us. It’s a big, important game, so we will think about football.” Whether the owners will make a decision this weekend remains to be seen, what they say they’ll do and what they actually do don’t always correspond.
Mascherano may have an uncertain future, as the owners go back more and more on promises they made, but he’ll give his all for the cause as long as he’s here. He went down injured worryingly in the Champions League on Tuesday but played on, and he is determined to make an impression tomorrow: “I had a kick in my shin against Marseille, a big kick, but I think I won’t have any problems. I think I will be okay for Sunday. That’s a big match and I don’t want to lose that match. I think I will be okay. It’s a big match for everyone, Liverpool v Manchester United, everyone wants to play and I will try to be ok to play.”
Liverpool’s players played on Tuesday like they were all playing for the future of the club, and for the future of their manager. That’s because it’s exactly what they were doing, with the nowadays silent Gillett watching from the stands. Javier reckoned this was the best they’d played so far this term: “The performance against Marseille was one of the best performances of the season. I think we showed a big character to play away. We needed to win and we did win, playing very well. When you play this way, it’s very difficult for another team. It was very good to score two goals in the first ten minutes and then we could keep concentrating on the game. I think the key was scoring too early.”
Liverpool’s next opponents in the competition won’t be a pushover, but for the Argentine star that’s something to worry about for another day: “Now all the teams in the competition are very strong, but for now we need to focus on the Premier League because we don’t play in the Champions League again until February.”
The owners claim that like the fans they are desperate for Liverpool to finally win title number 19. Manchester United are closing in on Liverpool’s haul, and that’s an extra incentive to win the competition. Now’s the time to concentrate on doing so: “We need to refocus on the Premier League,” says Mascherano, “The game against Manchester United is very important as we are both near the top of the table. We cannot fail and it is necessary to keep playing the same way as we did in Marseille.”
With both owners watching from the director’s box this weekend, tomorrow’s match will be bigger than ever.