MANCHESTER UTD (2) vs LIVERPOOL (1)
TOUCHLINE squabbling between the two managers over a penalty decision provided a diverting sideshow but obscured what is now beyond debate: that the title is Manchester United’s to lose.
A fifth-minute header from Fernando Torres gave credence to pre-match suspicions that Liverpool’s visit to Old Trafford would be one of the biggest tests of their arch-rivals’ credentials.
But seven minutes later United responded and, with some inevitability, it was through Wayne Rooney, the in-form forward gobbling up the rebound after Pepe Reina had smartly saved the contentious spot-kick.
Ji-Sung Park then underlined the home side’s determination to regain top spot from Arsenal by bravely launching himself into a diving header that met Darren Fletcher’s cross and beat Reina.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez reignited his feud with opposite number Sir Alex Ferguson after the match, suggesting referee Howard Webb had awarded the penalty against Javier Mascherano for a foul on Antonio Valencia because he felt pressurised.
“We know about the influence of Sir Alex in everything,” said Benitez, whose side are four points adrift of the Champions League place he has promised. “I’ve seen three replays and the last one was suspicious. See the replay for yourself and how he fell to the ground.” Asked whether Valencia dived, he added: “Yes, I think so. There is contact but the way he fell down – it was strange.”
Benitez and Ferguson rowed at pitchside after Rooney’s goal, with the United manager insistent Mascherano’s had deserved to be sent off. “I thought it was a red card,” he said. “The law is if you stop someone from having a goalscoring opportunity it is a red card. Not today.”
Victory afforded Ferguson the luxury of forgetting the argument, but troubles deepen for Benitez, whose demeanour reflects the pressure he is under to deliver on his promise.
It could hardly have begun better for Liverpool, Torres again proving United’s tormentor by leaping unchallenged to meet Dirk Kuyt’s cross with a flashing header into the top-left corner.
Rooney’s 32nd of the season ensured the lead was short-lived and Park completed the comeback on the hour when he leapt headlong in front of Glen Johnson to head past Reina.