Was it a Penalty? Manchester United 1 – 0 Liverpool
Only 31 seconds in, and Berbatov went down in the penalty area through a challenge from Daniel Agger, and Howard Webb pointed to the spot. Liverpool fans would only have seen the following events in their nightmares, as Giggs stepped up to beat Reina, with replays showing that the contact on Berbatov for the penalty was minimal to say the least. It was the worst possible start for Kenny Dalglish, as he stood, mouth open in disbelief at the decision that had been made.
It wasn’t a penalty. Agger didn’t get the ball in his challenge, but the contact on Berbatov was not enough to bring him down. Berbatov claimed afterwards that anyone who knows him knows that he doesn’t go down easily, but the challenge from Agger was enough to make him lose his balance. Two contradicting statements from the Bulgarian striker there, but the referee gave the penalty, and the game was basically won for United.
Half an hour later, and the situation for Liverpool became even worse. As a ball rolled in the centre of the pitch, Carrick and Gerrard ran to win it. Carrick just got there first, and nicked the ball away from the Liverpool captain, but with all the trademark passion and character that has made him a Liverpool legend and talisman, Gerrard dived in, intent on winning the ball and leaving his mark. He did the latter. The tackle was dangerous, he missed the ball, Carrick layed in a rolling heap on the Old Trafford pitch, and the 70,000 or so United fans called for Gerrard to be gone – all contributing to Gerrard’s dismissal, as the United faithful got their wish.
At first glance, we may have said that a sending off was a tad harsh being only half an hour into the game, but Dalglish’s accepting reaction to the replay confirmed that complaints to the red card were invalid, and Dalglish walked back to his seat without any complaints. He knew though, that the task ahead was a vertical climb up a giant mountain with resources that would not cut it. In other words, with the players on the pitch, and with the form they have been in, the task ahead was close to impossible.
United never really got into a groove. They were comfortable on the ball, and comfortable coping with the few Liverpool attacks that were attempted, but they weren’t cutting enough or ruthless enough in the game to get the goal to seal the game off – mainly because, they didn’t need to. United were easily the stronger side.
The big build up to a game between two old rivals ended up with a match being decided by two big refereeing decisions. It wasn’t the intensely gripping, passionate duel between two of the biggest names in English football that had been anticipated for the neutral, but the drama of the first half and Dalglish’s return was enough to keep curious and nervous eyes on the game, and see United hold out for what ended as a comfortable but somewhat disappointing win.
Gerrard will miss the next three games for Liverpool, which includes the Merseyside derby, leaving Dalglish with the unenviable task of looking for some decent and affordable players in the transfer market to help get Liverpool’s season back on track.
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