Tuesday 21 November 2017

United do their talking on the pitch


Henry Winter

Welcome back Liverpool. Good to see some leadership at Anfield. Good to see Liverpool have remembered their old tenet that no one is bigger than the club, that the crest on the front of the shirt will always be more important than the name on the back. Or the name on the door of the manager's office.

Well done to the man from the Boston Red Sox for removing some unwanted stains from the Liverpool red shirts. Make no mistake, it took the intervention of the American owner John W Henry to lead Luis Suarez and Kenny Dalglish out of a moral maze.

The Americans were deeply concerned about how the Suarez racism story was playing out around the world. The brand was being damaged. It was time to staunch the haemorrhaging of credibility, to issue some apologies to avoid the apocalypse.

Wounds can begin to heal now, especially as Manchester United reacted with commendable magnanimity to Liverpool's statements. Having lost to United on the pitch, Liverpool won some dignity back off it yesterday.

The apology from Suarez over his snubbing of Patrice Evra's proferred handshake at Old Trafford, although unfortunately not for the original offence of racially abusing the Frenchman at Anfield, is a huge step along the path to contrition, to dousing the raging.

Never a manager to name and shame players in public, Dalglish's comment that he was "shocked" by Suarez's behaviour was extraordinary. He has backed Suarez relentlessly, even to the detriment of his own reputation, and not received similar loyalty in return from the player in the No 7 shirt he once graced. That will hurt.

For such a proud and reserved man, and somebody so devoted to Liverpool, it was remarkable also to hear Dalglish admit that he had not represented the club "in a way befitting of a Liverpool manager" during that interview with Sky. That confirmed the pressure from the US. Image matters. Decorum matters. Broadcasters matter.

The succession of public statements showed the private shift inside Anfield.

Dalglish, all powerful since his return 13 months ago, is not quite the dominant force around Anfield this morning. The owners have reminded everyone who is really in charge.

The club have reminded Suarez of his responsibilities.There comes a point with some players when a club must decide whether they are too toxic an asset to keep.

Liverpool have not yet come to that point with Suarez but the talented Uruguayan has to learn about his duties to his employers, his team-mates and to his sport. And fast.

The frustration with Suarez is that he has distracted from a terrific season, from the gradual development of Liverpool under Dalglish and to a famous fixture that can absorb for 90 minutes. Saturday's game was far from a classic, dragged down by undercurrents stirred by Suarez.

After Suarez had embarrassed himself with his failure to shake Evra's hand, the game struggled along. The first half contained little that will feature in any highlights package.

Paul Scholes was beginning to run midfield, almost scoring with a header after running on to a Ryan Giggs cross. Suarez briefly demonstrated his quicksilver strengths, escaping from Evra and denied only by Rio Ferdinand's exceptional sliding tackle.

Angered by Phil Dowd's (correct) refusal to intervene, Suarez drove a loose ball at the dug-out as the referee, outstanding here, blew his whistle.

The squall that blew through the tunnel at half-time seemed to fill United's sails. Within five minutes of the re-start, the champions were two goals clear. Liverpool switched off, perhaps their minds still on the interval contretemps.

When Giggs curled over a corner from the right, the ball flicked off Jordan Henderson's head and there was the alert Wayne Rooney thumping the ball into the net.

Liverpool's slackness was soon punished again. After Danny Welbeck, Rafael and Antonio Valencia had tried to build a move, Luis Enrique and Jay Spearing erred in possession, allowing Valencia to set up Rooney for his second.

Dalglish's midfield had been ill-conceived and he rejigged, removing Spearing and Stewart Downing.

Spearing is full of promise, but Downing, a full international, continues to disappoint. He is a good player struggling badly and there was an excruciating moment when the ball just bounced off him.

Steven Gerrard was too deep but there was some greater momentum with the likes of Craig Bellamy involved. When Ferdinand hesitated at a free-kick, Suarez made it 2-1, and David de Gea had to tip over another Glen Johnson special to ensure a deserved win.

Of the title race, United defender Jonny Evans said: "Us and City is going to be tight. Every game will be like a cup final. That is the position we like to be in.

"When the manager is giving team talks, you can see he relishes that. A lot of people forget about history and the fact that United under Alex Ferguson are great finishers towards the end of the season.''

As Liverpool rediscovered some old principles, United found an old groove. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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