By Jonathan Gold
If there had been a way, this weekend, for referee Phil Dowd to use big wooden paddles painted red and yellow to dish out whacks on the ass instead of simply brandishing red and yellow paper cards, I’d have been all for it. Some of the behavior from both sides during Manchester United’s visit to Anfield was reprehensible and detracted unfairly from a great game.
How completely have Liverpool been transformed after the departure of Roy Hodgson? This was a team so mired in misery that the fans wanted Rafa Benitez back, poor demented souls. Contrast any of the abject results from earlier this season – I’m sure Kevin remembers them all – with the bright, authoritative performance in front of a rapturous home crowd this weekend.
OK, none of Dirk Kuyt’s three goals was exactly spectacular where he was concerned – but there were moments of genius in the build-up play, mostly from Luis Suarez, noted World Cup villain. His weaving dribble up the byline was electrifying to set up the first, and he produced a nice free kick that van der Saar couldn’t hold onto for the third. That said, the term “poacher’s instinct” is overused, but that’s exactly what he displayed to grab an unlikely hat-trick.
But on to the dirt. Jamie Carragher touched it off, as he frequently does, with a sneaky spiking of Nani, who behaved like a complete and utter infant, shooting to his feet to run ably in front of Phil Dowd and then collapsing in agony again. Pathetic. Even more so when you consider that he was actually quite badly injured by Carragher’s challenge. Minutes before, Nani had also produced an excellent header back in to set up Kuyt’s second. Not his finest hour, all told. This is not to let Carragher off the hook, either, whose sordid history of cynical fouling doesn’t make for particularly pleasant reading. You could make a case for him getting sent off, but the booking was probably JUST fair.
Then Rafael da Silva completely lost his mind and went screaming in on Lucas, nowhere near the ball, looking do to serious damage. It was reckless as hell and he should have been sent off right there, but he too escaped with a caution. It’s funny, someone – can’t remember who, apologies – on the latest Football Weekly podcast mentioned that da Silva’s got quite a number of awful challenges in his record already, and one of the Guardian pundits questioned whether he might not be receiving slightly softer treatment given his baby face.
At any rate, not having been there in person, I couldn’t tell you with complete certainty how the atmosphere at Anfield was, but it certainly sounded to me like the place was going berserk. Great game if you’re a Liverpool – or Arsenal – fan, and even a couple of terrible, cynical challenges could ruin that.
But of course, as an Arsenal fan, I feel obligated to point out here that it could have been SO MUCH WORSE. Sometimes when a player kicks another one in the knee, it doesn’t just result in an undignified scrum and a booking, it results in a trip to the hospital and doubts about the victim’s future career.
United fans defending da Silva’s tackle on Lucas – not that I’ve heard many do so – should know better, having the example of Valencia painfully in the memory. Or they could simply look at the ruinous history Arsenal has in this department – Aaron Ramsey, Eduardo, Abou Diaby, and any number of slightly less nauseating examples – for reasons why there’s a definite need to punish pumped-up jackass soccer players who play that recklessly.
And screw anybody who tells me ANYONE is “not that kind of player” after they lay someone out with a reducer. They are that kind of player! They just proved it.
Anyway, I’m impressed I was even able to string this together about the weekend game, given how nervous and obsessed I am about the second leg at the Camp Nou today. Until next time, unless this game gives me a heart attack.
Jonathan Gold is a contributing writer for The Soccer Guys.