The weekend’s biggest match saw some great, some solid and some absent performances from both sides. I believe the 2-1 scoreline in favor of Manchester United was a good indication of how United dominated possession and created more clear cut chances than Liverpool. That said, Liverpool impressed me throughout the afternoon as they refused to gift United the space they crave in attack to crush opponents by 3 or 4 goals. Liverpool were quick to close down United in midfield, stayed organized, and the ever-dangerous Fernando Torres probably should have equalized for Liverpool late in the game.
One could argue that Liverpool set up slightly negative against United implementing more defensive tactics than earlier in the week when a 5 man attacking front saw off Portsmouth 4-1. Such is it that Old Trafford isn’t Anfield, so Liverpool, more specifically, Rafael Benitez trudged onward with the formation he saw fit.
Early on in Sunday’s match, the tactics implemented by Benitez seemed to be working when Liverpool snatched an early 1-0 lead from a Fernando Torres header in the 5th minute. It was only the opening moments of the encounter, but with a 1-0 lead, Liverpool seemed to be in the ascendancy as United struggled with cohesion.
Big matches always seem to create moments of controversey when both sides are evenly matched and not looking to give even the slightest advantage to their opponents. Cue the 10th minute of the match when Liverpool defender Javier Mascherano bundled over United’s Antonio Valencia in the box prompting England’s #1 Howard Webb to award Manchester United a penalty.
In real time, the foul looked like a blantant penalty and Mascherano must have felt lucky not to have been sent off as he was the last defender between Valencia and the Liverpool goal. Replays due however show that initial contact was in fact made outside of the box while Valencia’s momentum took him into the box where contact continued and where he was eventually felled. The Liverpool players immeaditley pointed to a spot on the field directly outside the penalty area hoping Webb would award United a free kick outside of the box instead of the game changing penalty.
Rafa Benitez has since come out criticizing Webb for his decision stating Valencia took a dive to win the penalty. Although Benitez was quoted as saying he thinks Webb is a “good referee”, his statements of displeasure with the penalty being awarded originate from Webb’s decision to give it in the first place. As we all know, Wayne Rooney slotted home his own rebound when Pepe Reina saved from the spot thus leveling the score. The damage had been done for Liverpool when both teams were again on equal grounds. United went on to win the possession battle and found the winner in the second half while Liverpool were left to rue what could have been had the moment of controversy not originated.
Manchester United returned to top of the league while Liverpool sit 18 points behind in 6th with their potential 4th place finish hanging by a thread.
Do you think Howard Webb was correct in giving the game changing penalty? How do you think Webb will perform this summer at the World Cup Finals? Is Howard Webb really the best English referee who’s just having an off season?