Monday, 26 October 2009

Media Round-Up: Liverpool 2 - Manchester United 0

What a difference a day makes! Today's round up of media talk is an interesting mixed bag of reviews. Having spent most of the week sharpening the guillotine in preparation of our managers execution, Rafa's critics had their hopes dashed after his team deservedly beat Manchester United. Not surprisingly some journalists appear to think Rafa has somehow done a deal with the devil and his execution has just been postponed, much to their annoyance. One would think that Rafa was responsible for war crimes such was their urgency to depose of the Anfield boss.

The chances of Rafa Benítez cracking a smile are as likely as Gary Neville being invited to turn on the Christmas lights in Penny Lane or Nemanja Vidic ever finishing one of these games. Impassive throughout, Liverpool’s manager should really have allowed himself a little grin after this richly-deserved, pressure-releasing triumph over Manchester United. He’d earned it.

This was Liverpool’s day from the moment the Kop brilliantly mocked the few beach-balls flying out from the United corner with hundreds of their own, from the moment the hairs on the back of local necks stood up in salute of a powerful rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

For all the talk of Benítez’s bad buys and the manager’s cold character, yesterday showed that with leaders like Carragher around, Liverpool must always be respected.

As he warmed up along the touchline, Neville kept lecturing the linesman in-between goading lippy Liverpool fans. Mike Phelan, Ferguson’s No 2, eventually had to bring the club’s stroppy No 2 back into the dug-out. Neville’s behaviour was disgraceful. No one expected anything else.

United’s keeper had no chance when Liverpool, palpably the better, hungrier side, came calling in the 65th minute. The ball flew from Kuyt to Yossi Benayoun to Torres, who was hurtling down the inside-right channel, pursued by Rio Ferdinand. United’s centre-half could not live with the pace and determination of Torres’s run, nor Van der Sar cope with the speed of the Spaniard’s shot, which arrowed past him into the roof of the net as Kopites raised their own roof.

The Guardian has an: 'Victory over Manchester United gives Rafael Benítez some breathing space', however the actual story doesn't live up to it's exploitational tag line, but does say: "victory over Manchester United rescued the Anfield club's season." Elsewhere the paper says:

United were merely 1-0 down when Sir Alex Ferguson sent on Michael Owen against his former club. With 10 minutes left, the striker was brought down by Carragher. It could have been a straight red card for the centre-back, but the referee, Andre Marriner, settled for a caution, presumably because he had some suspicion that Owen had not been heading straight for the target.

Liverpool can allow themselves a few moments when their minds are occupied by no more than a glow of satisfaction. The side was neither distracted nor apprehensive. That air of purpose could be sensed in the early exchanges when Fábio Aurélio's free-kick demanded an alert response from Edwin van der Sar. It is unarguable that Liverpool should be gauged by their efforts over a period far longer than that of an afternoon, but Benítez should enjoy a respite after getting most calculations correct against United.

After a week in which his regime has been questioned like never before — although not within the club, where his relationship with the board is infinitely healthier than two years ago — Benítez was entitled to enjoy this.

Ferguson complained afterwards about his team’s lack of penetration. He was brave to do so, since it gave rise to all manner of awkward questions. The dissenting grumbles had been kept to a minimum in the previous 11 matches — ten wins and one draw since that surprise defeat by Burnley in the opening week of the season — but they do not look the same side without Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Independent's review of the match reads more like a character assassination of the manager, with the headline:

'Torres picks the lock for Benitez's latest escape'

English football's great managerial escapologist once again picked the lock on the chains around him with a win that turned Liverpool's rapidly diminishing season upon its head.

Of course, the problems that afflicted Liverpool through the four defeats that preceded this game do not go away with one sweep of Torres' boot. Benitez has still made a lot of bad signings and is still prone to bizarre decisions, but yesterday he re-affirmed to the club's owners and his adoring fans the old Benitez mystique.

The result left Anfield the happiest dysfunctional family you will ever see. The day began with the protest march against owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett before the game; it ended with a directors' box full of middle-aged American blokes in suits exchanging embarrassing high-fives. In the Kop and around the ground, the divisions were put aside to focus on one common enemy.

Ferguson conceded that Liverpool deserved their victory, which was remarkable given that he did not even go that far when Liverpool won 4-1 at Old Trafford last season. Maybe he senses that for all the sound and fury around Liverpool yesterday, they are still a long way from title contenders.

The Mail
Not until the team were on the bus en route to the stadium did Benitez decide to risk Torres for this match, and how relieved he must be that he made that call. No other striker in Liverpool's squad would have scored the 64th-minute goal that ignited this contest.

No other striker would have possessed the speed, strength, composure and skill first to hold off the challenge of Rio Ferdinand and then to unleash the shot that flew beyond the reach of Edwin van der Sar and into the roof of the United net.

It was a wonderful example of why Torres is among the finest forwards in the world, and all the more remarkable for the fact that the Spaniard was not even fit. Not only had he hardly trained but he needed a painkilling injection just to get on the field.

His goal amounted to an adrenaline shot for Liverpool; a goal that revitalised a team who appeared to be on their knees after four straight defeats, and a goal that shifted the focus away from Anfield and back to Old Trafford.

It is no longer the durability of Jamie Carragher that is a concern but that of Ferdinand; no longer how Liverpool will respond to a morale-sapping defeat but how United will.

The Mirror
This was the day the title race was supposed to be reduced to a two-horse race, the day that Liverpool were exposed as feckless challengers whose hopes would be over for another season.
Instead, that ridiculously premature premise was exposed as the nonsense it most patently is, in what will surely be one of the most open, exciting and unpredictable Premier League contests in recent years. Two challengers? There could be six.

Rafael Benitez entered this game under so much pressure that his job was supposed to be on the line. At the end, with deafening adulation washing down the banks of the Anfield terraces, he was praised, not buried, as his side put on the sort of display required to reaffirm their elevated aspirations.

It was Manchester United, not the home team, who left unanswered some serious questions about their form and character, as they buckled under a second-half barrage inspired by rabid support of their side from a wide-eyed Kop.

In essence, this was a defining moment in the season, in the sense that it illustrated nothing can be defined so early. United have now lost twice already before the end of October, as have Chelsea, and both could easily have dropped more points.

There was still time for Vidic to be dismissed for a second - undebatable - yellow, and indeed he could have gone earlier for some unsavoury treatment of Torres, and Mascherano soon followed, again for two rash challenges conjured from the emotion of the occasion.

Benitez’s men added a second deep into a ridiculous five-minute stoppage time, when the tireless Kuyt cleverly held on until Lucas could eventually send sub David Ngog away to convert with no pressure, and from being out of the title race, Liverpool had their redemption and resurrection in one, magnificent moment.

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