Runaway table-toppers Liverpool encountered a Manchester United shaped speed bump on Sunday, with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. Goals from Marcus Rashford and Adam Lallana meant Liverpool maintained a six-point lead over defending champions and second place Manchester City. Manchester United, with vastly different tarot card readings, have amassed, 10, that’s right, 10 points from a possible 27, and are 2 points off of the relegation zone, in 13th.
We look at some of the talking points of the match and expand on what it means for both sets of fans, players, clubs and football in general.
A cup final for some
Manchester United vs Liverpool is a global affair. More viewers tune in to watch this Premier League fixture than the Super Bowl. Old Trafford was shimmering with sound, under the floodlights. The Theatre of Dreams, which has taken on the visage of a sideshow, on the night of this match always manages to find memory shards of lost glory: and so it was on Sunday as well.
To say the team from Merseyside looked dishevelled would be an understatement. Liverpool looked like an employee who slept through the snooze alarms and has somehow managed to clock in for work: with a lopsided tie, shirt untucked, unmatched socks, and bedroom slippers. In this context, Manchester United was the overly-caffeinated office colleague, who never missed a chance to peg a wisecrack at the former’s expense.
This was the case for the most part of the first half. Manchester United, as a collective, treated this game as a cup final, while Liverpool, with many of their starters returning from an International break, were not ready for the intensity. For Manchester United, Welsh youngster, Daniel James and Brazilian Andreas Pereira embodied much of that jock-like bravado and fronted their craggy countenance. Andy Robertson, usually, a man who Liverpool would have used to crack open a safe or defusing a bomb (such is his composure) was hassled by the combination of Aaron Wan Bissaka and James down the flanks. Fred played like someone who finally woke up from a bout of amnesia, determined to make up for the lost time. Scott McTominay was making the usually buccaneering Roberto Firmino wither under his challenges.
Firmino, a player who Liverpool use to siphon most of their creativity, the conductor of the tempo of their orchestra, turned up without his baton. His first touch appeared to be trapped in a limbo between the Dirk Kuyt and Mohamed Sissoko territories. Barely did a ball stick to his foot. Liverpool fans in the away end had a sinking feeling, while Manchester United fans had a knowing glint in their mind’s eye. The goal came on the counter for Manchester United. James swung in a rasping cross from Liverpool’s wide left, for Rashford to side foot home beyond a sprawling Allison. The circumstances leading to this goal has opened a can of worms perhaps only this fixture can.
Question of bias in VAR
Verschlimmbessern is a German compound-word which translates to trying to fix something yet end up making it worse. The VAR may as well turn out to be its synonym.
Coaches, ferries and flights docking in Manchester have a racial profile of a potpourri. This fixture over the years, some wanton, hurtful chants aside (regarding the Munich Air Tragedy and the Hillsborough disaster), has been a life-affirming showcase of multiculturalism - from players on the pitch to fans in the stands.
The Premier League recognised the opportunity to make a reticent statement regarding recent racial chants during Bulgaria vs England during the international break. England football’s governing body chose this occasion to launch their ‘No Room For Racism Campaign.’
Yet the VAR referral decision that led to United’s opening goal to stand despite every reason for it not to, has made veteran journalists raise their collective fingers at bias against international players, especially those of the darker skin tone. The VAR video showed Divock Origi being kicked fully on the shin in the phase of play. This resulted in him losing the ball and the consequent United counter-attack. Commentator Gary Neville called it a “blatant foul,” while Jim Beglin called the referral was a token gesture from “a band of brother” (the matchday officials and VAR) whose primary objective is to uphold the dignity of the on-pitch referee. Through the course of the match, Martin Atkinson was guilty of ignoring multiple fouls on Origi and Sadio Mane.
Liverpool’s equaliser through Mane was chalked off with a second VAR ruling going against an unavoidable handball when it shouldn’t have, by the letter of the law.
The official statement on the FA’s rulebook on deflection is as follows: Premier League players will be allowed extra leeway when it comes to ricocheted handballs. It is often impossible to avoid contact if it has deflected off the body of an opponent, teammate, or even another part of the same player.
Therefore, a handball will not be called if the ball touches a player’s hand, arm, directly from their own head, body or foot or of another player who is closeby.
Video evidence showed that the aerial ball brushed Sadio Mane’s upper thigh before striking his arm. Upon which he took the ball down, controlled it and, finished it with a punctuation mark, beyond a hapless De Gea. Despite this, the goal was overruled.
Senior Liverpool journalist Paul Tomkins pointed out how “even when Mane finally got only his 3rd penalty in 100 league games (in the last fixture) for Liverpool it was treated like he was cheating.” He and many others went on to to cite a deep-rooted suspicion of foreign players by English referees as an explanation. However, it can equally be incompetence on the part of the officials.
“For me it was so clear, I was 100% sure. I had to calm the whole bench down,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on the illegality of the foul on Origi.
Despite, the injustices, Liverpool rarely did themselves any favour up until the second half. Shoddy decision making, slow movement off the ball, wayward passing, lack of ball control gave Klopp equal amounts of heartburn on the touchline.
Liverpool had 75% possession in the second half of the game. And the equaliser came from the most unexpected source. Substitute Lallana had a free run into the box as an unconvincing cross from Andrew Robertson bobbled and bounced around until it was met by a man who has had only 2 shots on targets in over a year (since Liverpool's 2-0 win at Wolves on 21 December, 2018). Liverpool equalised, but even when they did, the away end and those watching around the world, were mostly quiet, half in dread of it being chalked off for some reason.
Liverpool missed the injured Mo Salah, but what they missed the most was perhaps consistent competent refereeing which didn’t use the excuse of a derby to shed responsibility.
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Updated Date: Oct 21, 2019 14:04:12 IST