There are very few match ups in football that are played with such passion, intensity and fire as the Liverpool v Manchester United derby. Last Saturday was the 21st of March 2010 and Manchester United played host to their Merseyside neighbours at Old Trafford. Liverpool have come away with three wins out of their last three meetings with Sir Alex Ferguson’s United. However Liverpool’s frustration has been growing over the years as they have watched United (under Sir Alex), catch, equal and now possibly even surpass their record number of League titles. 18 is the number they now find themselves tied on and that certainly won’t be improved upon by Liverpool this season. United, on the other hand have a great chance of becoming the all time leading title winning club in England. Liverpool are stuck in a battle (an uphill one) to secure a place in the Champions League next season – something they will need to do in order to retain their service of stars such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Both players are winners. They want to win. No. They need to win. Losing is not a disappointment; it is a disease they avoid at any cost. All this came to a climax last Saturday.
Fernando Torres (still not fully match fit) found himself in acres of space and slotted home a brilliant header to give Liverpool the lead at Old Trafford. His joy was short-lived however as Mascherano brought down Valencia in the box to concede (an obvious) penalty. Any team will contest a penalty decision and so it was with Liverpool. Torres’ frustration boiled over and what resulted was an intriguing series of events. Torres, who was standing on the penalty spot swung his leg widely and removed a chunk of green from the spot. Was it cheating? Some will say he could have been carded for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’. Whether or not he deserved a card isn’t all that important. Nor is it important whether or not he was deliberately trying to ‘cheat’. Rooney’s penalty wasn’t the best but in the end he did slot it home as Reina’s parry only helped it back into the England hitman’s path. The significance of the ‘hacked’ piece of turf may just have had great impact on the game in the second half. With the score poised at 2-1 (advantage United), Gerrard received a ball on the right flank and whipped it across the box towards Torres. The Spaniard got an unlucky bobble and the ball went spiraling off his shin. After studying the reply over and over, I am pretty convinced that the ball bounced up off the very divot dug up earlier by the striker. Poetic justice? Maybe it served him right. I’m not saying that Liverpool deserved to score, nor that United won because of fate. What I am saying however is that maybe, just maybe Torres dug his own grave. The striker would normally have buried that shot. Instead his side left empty handed and face finishing as low as 7th.
Rooney points to the spot after Torres took out his frustration.
Last night Manchester City, in their efforts to secure a win that would promote them to pole sitters in the race for 4th , allowed themselves to be out-thought, out-played and out- ‘cooled’ by Eveton. What do I mean by ‘out -cooled’? The title race and the battle for 4th are incredibly tight – possibly the tightest ever! The winners will be the team that can hold their nerve. Cool heads – that is what is needed. When the pressure is on and you need to be cool, the result can depend on who has the ‘bottle’ and who gets ‘bottled’. Torres showed a lack of ‘coolness’ when he had his little tantrum. It may have come back to bite him… United have won the League for the last three years in a row, not because they are the best squad, but because they are the ‘kings of cool’. When a cool head is needed, United have one. Even Rooney, the ‘perennial hothead’ is showing great maturity (and showed it with his reaction to Torres’ poor gardening skills). The old saying (at Wenger): ‘You can’t win trophies with boys’ is truer then ever. With Chelsea, United and Arsenal all in with a shot at the title, while Villa, Man City, Spurs and Liverpool all could go to Europe next year, the test of ‘coolness’ is on. Spurs have shown before that they can’t take the heat, but that was a long time ago and with a very different squad. Now that test (and pressure) is on. Torres lacked composure. Who else will kick the proverbial penalty spot and see the title ball bounce unluckily off their expensively-assembled-squad boot and watch their glorious chance of glory loop agonizingly over the goal mouth of success? Keep your nerve, have a cool head and you will reap the reward of not seeing your lack of self control coming back to bite you in the bum… à la Torres!