A Wayne Rooney brace ensured a vital victory for Manchester United over bitter rivals Liverpool, but it was Luis Suarez who continued to steal the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
|The origin of the feud|
This was not one of those occasions.
Marked as the match to put tensions aside following Suarez’s lengthy ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra at Anfield in October, it was the handshake that never was which set the tone for an ill-tempered contest.
Tensions threatened to escalate out of control before a ball was even kicked, when the Uruguayan refused the Frenchman’s hand, causing Ferdinand to follow suit, denying that of Suarez’s.
The vital three points for United came courtesy of a Wayne Rooney double in a four-minute frenzy directly following the interval, when Suarez had sparked scenes of unhappiness in the tunnel after kicking the ball into the crowd.
The villain of the drama snatched a consolation but United were victorious in an ill-tempered meeting, climaxing in uncomfortable scenes, as Evra’s over-exuberant celebrations in retaliation sparked angry responses, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of football fans nationwide.
Obvious animosity was illustrated just eighteen seconds in, when Suarez in possession was viewed as a red rag to a bull for Evra and Ferdinand, who converged on the Liverpool striker with great venom. In their eagerness to go head-to-head with the forward, Evra sent Ferdinand into a somersault, landing on his head, causing play to be halted for several minutes.
Liverpool came closest to scoring ten minutes in when Glen Johnson, picked out by Suarez, found himself in acres of space down United’s left flank, cutting inside and stroking a left-foot shot agonisingly wide of David De Gea’s far post.
Three minutes later and Suarez was involved again, as Jonny Evans’ boot came in close contact with his face. In defence of Evans, the Liverpool man ducked into the challenge and to credit Suarez, he failed to make a big issue of a potentially controversial incident.
Paul Scholes, Danny Welbeck and Rooney were involved in a wonderful one-touch passage, allowing Ryan Giggs to roll back the years, whipping in a precise cross from the left wing, met by the unchallenged veteran Scholes, who somehow failed to convert from six yards out.
|Rooney hits form|
Pepe Reina’s reflex save prevented United from taking advantage in a game that failed to inspire in the way that so many previous encounters had done and with ten men behind the ball, Liverpool’s defence was proving difficult to penetrate.
As referee Phil Dowd signalled for half-time and with little between the teams, Suarez livened things up by aggressively lashing the ball into the crowd by the dugout. Clearly unhappy with such actions, United players reacted and a tussle ensued in the tunnel as the players trotted off to store their handbags in the lockers provided.
It was United who benefited from all the off-pitch antics and a fired up Merseyside man provided two killer blows to all but seal the three points, putting United top of the league.
Ninety seconds after the restart, the former Evertonian, Rooney, was in the right place at the right time as a Giggs corner, flicked on by Jordan Henderson, found him unmarked five yards out, slamming a volley past the helpless Reina.
|Tensions continue to flare|
Less than four minutes later a tenacious Antonio Valencia forced Jay Spearing to give up possession in a compromising position, allowing United’s in-form winger to release a well-weighted pass to Rooney, who calmly slid the ball past the oncoming Reina from twelve yards.
When Scholes dummied Valencia’s pass on the edge of the box, even Rooney was taken by surprise, squandering the opportunity to secure a twelve-minute hat-trick.
Liverpool managed to regain some composure, with a clumsy tackle from behind on Suarez earning Carrick a yellow card and Charlie Adam a chance to deliver a dangerous ball into the United box.
That he did and a ricochet off Ferdinand fell to that man Suarez who toe-poked past a helpless De Gea from three yards out, giving the visitors a glimmer of hope and setting up a nervy ending to a match the home team had dominated.
In a flashback to his save from a Gary Cahill drive in the dying minutes at Stamford Bridge, De Gea once again showed tremendous athleticism to tip over a last-gasp strike from Johnson, giving the champions an important victory to send them top of the league, if only for a day.
The final whistle sparked passionate celebrations from United fans and players alike, but none as fervent as that of Evra, whose wild prancing towards the Stretford End seemed to conveniently coincide with Suarez’s exit from the field, angering Liverpool players and causing security to intervene.
It was not the most diplomatic of actions from Evra who had kept his cool so admirably for ninety minutes, although he will argue his right to celebrate with his own fans and given the backdrop to this game and the events prior to kick-off, this was clearly a victory of huge personal significance to the Frenchman.
Suarez, banned for racial abuse and obscene gesturing, appeared to want to take on the world, serving to further disgrace himself, undermining the management and bringing the ethics of one of England’s greatest football clubs into question.
|Cameron vows to act|
Liverpool had stated publicly that Suarez would shake Evra’s hand before the game in an attempt to draw a line under the ongoing tensions caused by Liverpool’s refusal to publicly condemn their striker, despite having been found guilty on both charges.
It was not until news reached American owners John Henry and Tom Werner on Sunday of further misdemeanours, that Kenny Dalglish and Suarez were forced to make an apology, which many felt came four months too late.
With the addition of the racial abuse allegations against ex-England captain John Terry, Prime Minister David Cameron has become involved in a shameful situation by demanding a conference with football’s authorities.
|The good old days|
John Terry lost his English captaincy, but has received no punishment by Chelsea and despite being innocent until being proven guilty, most other industries would suspend such employees, pending the outcome of the criminal trial.
Carlos Tevez was initially dealt with accordingly by Manchester City for refusing to carry out the duties of the job for which he is employed to undertake. Yet, as the league leaders push to claim their first Premier League title, it appears Roberto Mancini is suddenly happy to have Tevez at his disposal once again.
Suarez, Terry and Tevez are all world-class players that their managers would not want to lose, but it is fair to suggest that until the clubs themselves take a harder stance, player power will continue to dictate the severity of actions taken or not taken against them for such abominable behaviour.
The football world will hope the end to a scandalous period in English football history is nigh and that we shall soon be able to witness these great historic fixtures without the surrounding controversy, which is polluting the essence of ‘the beautiful game’.
Written by Dom Wallace
Written by Dom Wallace